Goshen News, Goshen, IN

June 16, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: Teach children to recognize inappropriate touching


— I am sure I speak of things of which others would not speak. Occasionally I feel the bristle and think, “Oops, I did it again. Was a little too honest there.” It’s possible I lack some couth.

But more likely my boldness comes from two things: One, it’s an occupational hazard of sorts. In my line of work, we think it nothing to speak of human reproduction and its parts — routinely chatting about placentas and baby stools over a cup of coffee.

But more significantly, I think, I speak so freely because I am free. More than a decade ago I took a hard look at myself and my life — called a “searching and fearless moral inventory” — and got a lot of things put in perspective. I’m not riddled with grief, fear, guilt, shame, remorse or resentment anymore, though some days, admittedly, I do have to work to keep it that way.

Hallelujah, by the way, for that stuff was killing me.

The freedom I enjoy means I can talk about this with no shame, only with mild sadness and a hope that it will be helpful to others: When I was a little girl, a man touched me inappropriately. I do not remember vivid details — perhaps by choice I forget — but I do recall a few things.

One, he was a man unfamiliar to me but a “friend” to the friend my parent and I were visiting that day. He appeared trustworthy. Two, I and another young girl were alone with him in a room, but responsible adults, including my parent, were nearby in another room. Three, the man made it seem like a game, like we were “playing.” Four, I felt sick inside, and I knew something was wrong.

When I went into the other room and mentioned the “game” to my parent, that “friend” fled the house and sped away in his car. We did involve the sheriff, if I’m recalling correctly, though I don’t know what ever came of it. I understand that man was sick. He is forgiven, and I am OK.

BUT NOW I HAVE two little girls of my own, and I find myself sickened at the thought that something like that could happen to them. I recognize boys are at risk, too, and I have two of those. So when I recently drove my children to be dropped off for three hours of summer camp at a local school, I found myself talking to them.

“You know,” I said to my 7-year-old daughter, “always have someone with you — a buddy — if an adult asks you to go off with them, even a teacher. And you know, no one should ever touch you or ask you to touch them.” Good advice, but it made me wonder, “How can I possibly tell her every scenario and how to avoid it? How can I, really, equip her?”

It struck me then there have to be a set of principles, rather than a list of dos and don’ts, that can protect my children from sick people. Here are some of them:

• You don’t judge PEOPLE; you judge ACTIONS. So if anyone — from the little old lady to the cheery sports coach — asks you to do something you’re feeling is not right (and that applies to anything, not just sexual touch), don’t do it and get away.

• A non-threatening adult will never ask you to “not tell” things. I recently told my children any adult who says, “It’s our little secret” about anything is not trustworthy in general. I told my children they can always tell me ANYTHING, regardless of threat or promise, without worry.

• It’s important children get “good touch” opportunities from parents and others. If so, they will quickly recognize inappropriate touch. In my case, it didn’t take long before I knew something was wrong; every other adult who’d ever touched me theretofore had only done so in an appropriate way.

• Teaching children they must be polite at all costs is not fair to them. Polite to the point of being violated? Never allowed to say, “No!” to an adult — even one who’s doing something acutely wrong? Not fair. Consider what message we send our children when they’re made to hug and kiss strangers or say hello to anyone who wants to just to be polite.

• Consider overall prudence in all things — no matter who thinks you’re over-the-top paranoid or rude, even. Rarely would one of my children be alone with any adult I don’t know intimately. And it’s a known fact most sexual abuse (75 percent, I read) is perpetrated by a family member or close friend of the family. So Aunt Sally might be offended if you don’t let the littles go off alone to play with her husband, Uncle Norman. Too bad, Aunt Sally. We can all play right here.

• Overall, make sure to bolster in your children their internal focus of right and wrong. Many times they just “know” something doesn’t feel right. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s extra scary and when they need to rely on hard-and-fast rules, but help them to be confident when they do know.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”