Friday, November 11, 2011

Arming Our Children

So. Penn State. Pretty freaking awful, right? My mind and heart are having so much trouble with this. The idea that someone could victimize and abuse so many children, for so long... well, even one child is far, far too many, and yet people KNEW. There were signs, suspicions, ACTUAL EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS. These children were let down, by so many people. There is no excuse for that.

I know my outrage and sadness is amplified because I have children of my own. I feel this more acutely than I perhaps would have a mere 6 years ago. The last two nights I've been having disturbing dreams, about children dying. One was Finn. I actually woke myself up by shouting out in my sleep, trying to get someone to help him. In the dream, I let him out of my sight, let him go with another adult, and the next time I saw him, he was dead, floating in water near other people who were doing nothing to help him. In another, I dreamt another blogger's child, a person I don't even know, died. I don't remember why, those details are thankfully hazy. I do know that in my dream, I read her blog entry, many times, in disbelief that this beautiful little boy was gone.

I wonder if these dreams aren't related to this glaring evidence that it's just so, so hard to protect our children. I want to pull Finn and Lucy in close, never let them go, never let them out into the world. So many bad things can happen.

But I can't do that, not if I want to give them a good, fulfilling life. As parents, we need to teach our children to think for themselves, to identify and avoid potential dangers, to give them the tools to find help when they need it, to look for ways to know they are putting their trust in the right people. To find a balance between shutting people out and letting people in.

Those are not easy things to teach.

I do know that starting now, I will talk to Finn, and eventually Lucy when she's a little older, about sexual abuse, in terms they can understand. This was actually spurred, not by the Sandusky allegations, but by our pediatrician during Finn's latest check up. Near the end of her physical exam of Finn, she let him know that she would need to look at his private parts. And before and during that quick exam, she quizzed him on who was allowed to look at or touch those private parts. A subject I had never thought to bring up to him. Yes, I've told him that HE can't touch OTHER people's private parts, mostly because preschoolers love all things butt-related, and I wanted to make sure he wasn't running around touching people's butts (given his propensity to touch mine). But I've never talked to him in a way that let him know that no one should be touching him inappropriately.

The doctor's message to Finn was clear: The only people that can touch/look at Finn's "private parts" (we weren't too specific with actually anatomical names yet, but that will come) are Finn himself, Mommy/Daddy, and the doctor. No one else. I'm going to reinforce that message, of course - repetition is the most effective way to get a child to learn something. But these abuse allegations have made me realize that I need to do more. I need to tell Finn that he doesn't need to do ANYTHING that makes him feel uncomfortable. He should not touch anyone else's private parts, even if (especially if) they ask him to. And most of all, if someone does touch him, or get him to touch them, IT'S NOT HIS FAULT. He doesn't need to hide it. He can tell M. and I anything, anything at all, and we will always do everything we can to help him.

Because that's the thing, right? You need to know about abuse before you can stop it. How can I make sure that, god forbid something did happen to Finn or Lucy, they tell me about it? So many victims of abuse are afraid to come forward, in part because they are embarrassed that they did something wrong. I know there are other reasons, too - they might be protecting the abuser, particularly if the abuser is a family member. They might fear retribution. But I think many times (speaking from the point of view of someone who has had no formal education on this whatsoever), abuse victims are made to feel complicit in their abuse, and that's a large part of why they don't seek help. I want to do what I can to combat that notion, preventatively, with my children. I don't really know the best way to go about that, yet, but I'll start with words. Simple conversations. Telling them over and over again, as I always do, always have done, that I will never, ever stop loving them. That they can tell me anything at all, and I will always love them.

I hate that I have to think about these things. But I do. We all do.

Are you addressing this subject with your kids at all? If yes, how are you approaching it? If no, when do you think you will?


  1. Yes, we have discussed it many many times with the kids. And our crazy hippie church starts sex ed at age 6 where they talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching.

    I think what kills me about this case is the other adults who knew about these things and did nothing. How can you work with children and not protect them?

  2. I actually have a list of things I talk about to the boys on various occasion. Usually in the car. They include:

    Strangers/abduction and what to do

    Eating candy/drugs from others

    Inappropriate touching

    Guns and not touching them.

    This is just a short list. My 5 year old knows all the right answers at this point. I am just starting to get my 3 year old to understand. But early is better,I think.

  3. Can't even express how sad I feel, reading your blog. And how lucky our generation was not to have to worry about these things--not that we didn't worry, (and still do!), but not about safety from sexual abuse. Think that you are very wise and that your children are very lucky! Love you, Mimi

  4. We have talked about this, and stranger danger, and "what do you do if...?" (e.g., they get lost in a store, an adult makes them feel uncomfortable in some way). I think with all this, we are due for another refresher.

    So sad what happened to those children. Sadder that there are people who would defend adults who had information and did nothing.

  5. Excellent article in the WSJ recently on this: "To Skip the 'Talk' About Sex, Have an Ongoing Dialogue"

    Polly Klass Foundation website also has some good guidance:
    including internet safety:

  6. Excellent article in the WSJ recently on this: "To Skip the 'Talk' About Sex, Have an Ongoing Dialogue"

    Polly Klass Foundation website also has some good guidance:
    including internet safety:

    (sorry if I posted twice, technical difficulties here, you can delete my post from Jen H)