Have your child sign in online, and you risk an adult asking them to have sex. Sadly, this is the risk parents face daily, and the reason so many predators have been able to victimize millions of children. The number of incidences of online child sexual abuse images skyrocketed during lock-down. We can access them within seconds if you know where to go. See BBC’s report, which outlines the sharp rise in images of children that are sexual. Prevention is one layer of protection, while avoidance and action are the others.
Like driving, interacting on the internet is an activity that people must do daily. If someone has a terrible auto accident and develops a deep fear of driving in cars, that individual will still need to use travel to function. Going to the store, work, or grandma’s house requires machines on wheels. At the level of prevention, it is imperative that we educate children on the aspects of abuse, give information about sex, and can recognize when a person is attempting to exploit them. I began those conversations with mine as soon as they could conceptualize such information.
1. I cannot, cannot, absolutely cannot emphasize the importance of discussing what sex is with children. Education is power. At an age-appropriate level, children can realize what aspects of predators are. How they lure children; the language they use; the incentives given; fear instilling; We examine every corner of these positions. If you hope to safeguard your child against sexual violence, coercion, or luring into more dangerous situations. If it is embarrassing or scary to do so, get over yourself. Really, for the sake of your child.
2. Children do not need to know intricate details of sex. It’s as simple as saying it’s touching of inappropriate bodily regions, putting a pee-pee into another pee-pee, or forcing of a mouth onto any area that is inappropriate. They do not need to understand the reasons and are not at developmental levels to do so until they develop their own set of hormones. Sadly, many households will never bring the subject up because of fears of discussing the subject. Shame, condemnation, and discomfort inhibit these talks.
3. Discussing separate contexts of abuse and delineating examples at a comprehensible level helps a child to recognize what is inappropriate versus appropriate in conversation or interaction. Talk about bodily areas, references to sexual, grooming behaviors, and fear-based tactics are just some examples of how a predator can gain access to your child’s trust. The more able your child can recognize this, the better they will avoid putting themselves into dangerous situations.
4. There are thousands of articles that list strategies to protect your child from contacting these offenders. Read them. From parental controls to banning certain games, parents can keep children from exposure to strangers online.
5. Have a no information policy. We never give our name, address, phone number, or any other bit of personal information to anyone, anytime. They may not take naked photos of themselves and send that to strangers no matter the situation.
6. Have a plan for if your child is exposed to someone online who attempts to exploit them through messaging or expose them to sexualized language. Because it likely will. Sure, the reality is scary. I get no parent wants to think about this, let alone talk about it with their children. However, not having the conversation and exposing the child to dangerous situations is abuse. Neglect is abuse.
7. Do not shame or punish the child for the dissemination. Shame is more traumatic than the act of abuse alone. Shame is abuse. Ask me how I know. For a child to have the willingness to come forward about something so deeply painful and confusing, putting the fault on the child in any way is abuse. Parents are the safety net of their offspring. Without that, there is no safety in this world, for them, as they perceive it. Shame is the deep feeling of being inherently bad or defective, and there is a different shame. Healthy shame is that which warns you from engaging in an act that conflicts with one’s values. Toxic shame is that where a person has a sense of being broken, unwanted, and unacceptable for simply existing. Toxic shame kills at worst it creates the motive for terrible mental health disorders. If you have done this, do not shame yourself. Learn, correct, move on. We are human and we all make these mistakes. You cannot practice something they have not taught you.
8. Keep an open door for discussion with your children. Create safety for them. Normalize their experience and shift focus to the predator for responsibility. If they fear your response, they will not tell you about personal issues. They will hide information, leaving you powerless to help. When you encourage safety, you remove judgment, the child will feel more able to talk about frightening topics with you. Remember, you’re still a parent, not a best friend, but also not an abuser.
9. Report incidences to the authorities. Fear of rejection, judgment, or criticism stops most from reporting online assault. Still, report it. Fear is not a fact, and the more information authorities have, the better they can do their jobs. Believe your child. The greatest abuse is when a child does find the courage to speak out about their abuse, and no one believes them or there is no action to keep the child safe. That neglect is more damaging than the abuse itself.
10. If this happened to you, or your child, do not shame yourself for the event. It was not in your power to control something you were unaware of occurring. While we can take all the safety precautions in the world to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, there is always an inherent risk. Because something tragic happens does not mean necessarily that it was due to a weakness or worthy/worthlessness on your part. It has no reflection upon your quality as a human being. Focus on limiting the damage, holding those responsible in accountability, and getting healing for yourself or loved one.
My heart sinks when I treat an adult who someone gross violated sexually as a child. I am thankful that this topic is on society’s radar currently. For all the new victims being created daily, we are still fighting, and you are not alone. And, you are completely capable and worthy of healing despite what anybody tells you.
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