As we label the socks and pack up the duffels, we scan the emails about the “pre-camp safety talks” and try to arm our kids with a specific type of personal awareness. Our communities have, thankfully, been making progress in the area of educating children towards body boundaries, good vs inappropriate touch, reporting to safe adults, and general safety. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but I would like to add a piece that I’m not sure gets as much attention, but could help this cause:
We tend to focus on trying to make efforts to protect our children from becoming victims, which is vital, but equally important is educating our children to minimize the likelihood of their becoming perpetrators as well. And I’m not only talking about the teens.
Very, very often in therapy, we hear that a child’s first experience with sexual touch was with another child. Sometimes the other child is a bit older, but other times, they are peers. Sometimes these experiences register as consensual, but sometimes they register as traumatic. Even when it does feel enjoyable for them, often their bodies and minds encode the episodes with guilt, shame, disgust, and other feelings and associations that create problems and impact sexual, emotional, or relational functioning later on in significant ways. What some may not realize is that a child who knowingly or unwittingly takes advantage of another child in this way, is also at risk for psychological damage, not to mention legal repercussions.
So when you are sitting your child down and discussing how no one is allowed to hurt them, touch them in private parts, ask them to look at or touch them in sexual ways, etc., please take the extra minute or two to teach the reciprocal message as well: You are likewise not allowed to hurt, stare at or touch anyone else’s private parts, or ask them to do that for you.
The thought of one’s own child being at risk for such a thing is difficult to imagine, but this is going on in most camps and schools, often right under the noses of caring adults and counselors, and often involving children from wholesome families. And sometimes, (though not always) children acting out sexually with one another, is an indicator that one or more of the kids have been touched inappropriately by an adult or older teen, and is mimicking the behavior.
If you have a teen child who will be responsible for younger children, I would encourage them to not to even allow themselves to get into situations where they are isolated one on one with a younger child; it decreases the likelihood of secretive, inappropriate touch, and the danger of mistaken or false allegations, both of which can ruin lives.
So while we need to continue to educate children for their own protection, we should also add education and instruction that promotes the safety of others around them too, and hopefully shrink the epidemic of child sexual abuse to whatever extent possible.
Please feel free to share this important message. Wishing everyone a healthy and safe summer.