Where to Begin and What to Discuss?
Beginning the discussion: Approximately 4 to 7 years of age
- Teach children to start to take ownership over their bodies:
- Encourage children to begin to dress themselves;
- With supervision, have children begin to bathe and wash themselves; and,
- Introduce privacy to children and encourage them to use it when using the toilet.
- Teach children how to be assertive. Create opportunities for them to practice matching their body language with strong verbal messages that demonstrate they mean business ("NO!", "Stop!","I don't like that!", etc.).
- Foster self-awareness around children’s rights to make decisions about touching. If a child is reluctant to express affection, do not force it. Remember that teaching respect does not mean teaching obedience. Respect children's decisions to avoid physical affection, such as hugging.
- Teach children the correct names of body parts.
- Teach children that their private parts, the areas covered by their bathing suit, belong to them and shouldn't be touched by others (present exceptions such as times when they are hurt or sick and they need help from a doctor or parents/guardian, etc.).
- Teach children to tell you if a person:
- asks to touch their private parts or asks them to touch another person's private parts;
- wants to look at their private parts or asks them to look at another person's private parts;
- wants to take naked pictures of them or shows them naked pictures of others;
- tells them sexual jokes or talks to them about sex;
- wants to bathe them and/or washes their private areas; and,
- does anything that causes them to feel scared, hurt, sad, or uncomfortable.
- Explain the difference between secrets that are okay to keep and secrets that need to be told to a safe adult. Explain that any secrets about touching or secrets about picture taking should be told to a safe adult. Read Teatree's Keep and Speak Secrets.
- Teach children how to label and express their feelings (e.g. happy, sad, mad, scared, mixed-up).
- Help children identify safe adults in their lives who they can turn to for help.
- Teach children to start to take ownership over their bodies:
Continuing the discussion: Approximately 8 to 11 years of age
- Teach children the difference between public and private behaviour.
- Discuss the importance of privacy tied to changing, bathing and going to the bathroom. It is common for children of this age to begin seeking some privacy.
- Set limits with regard to what information children are exposed to, such as adult subject matters. Although children are interested in adult information, they do not have the knowledge or experience to handle it.
- Have children practice assertive behaviour. Create opportunities for children to engage in 'what if' situations where they need be assertive with someone, including with adults they do and do not know. Have them practice being assertive by using their voice and body to send a message that shows they mean business.
- Talk to children about how difficult it can be to be assertive with an adult they know. Knowing that being direct and shouting “no” is not very realistic in this context, reinforce that it is never okay for an adult, including those known to the child, to behave in a way that makes her/him uncomfortable. Reassure children that it is never their fault and encourage them to tell you or another safe adult if this happens.
- Discuss with children what friendship is and what it isn't. Individuals who are a risk to sexually abuse a child may use the idea of friendship to manipulate the child’s perceptions. This may desensitize the child to inappropriate behavior and increase their risk of victimization.
- Encourage children to identify and label their feelings. This will promote self-monitoring and increase self-awareness.
- Explain the difference between secrets that are okay to keep and secrets that need to be told to a safe adult. Explain that any secrets about touching or secrets about picture taking should be told to a safe adult.
- Have children identify safe adults within the family, at school, and in the neighbourhood.
- Discuss healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and the importance of adults respecting and maintaining appropriate boundaries with children. An adult's role is to protect children, not to be friends with and confide in children.
- Explain that sexual attention from an adult is never okay. It is important to explain that when an experience like this happens to a child, it is never the child’s fault. Under all circumstances, it is always an adult’s responsibility to interact appropriately with children.
- Continue setting limits with regard to what information children are privy to (e.g. adult conversations, television, music, Internet, games). Strengthening appropriate boundaries between adults and children increases their personal safety.
The supervision of children is very important and isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Children require different levels of supervision based on factors such as age, development, environments and individual characteristics. A more challenging stage to supervise is adolescence, when youth are seeking autonomy and independence. People often worry about being overprotective, but it is important to find balance and stay involved in what our children are doing. The following provides information for healthy supervision of children from 4 to 16 years old.
4 to 6 years old
- This age group needs direct supervision
- The child needs to be visible to the parent/caregiver at all times, such as when playing in the front yard, on the street, at the playground or park, etc.
- Note: If another child is supervising, they are required to be at least 12 years old
7 to 10 years old
- This age group needs close supervision
- At this age, some indirect supervision and monitoring occurs, such as when children are walking to school and having play dates outside the home
- If possible, ensure your child travels to and from school with other children and/or an adult you trust
- Know the routes children are taking to school and remind them to avoid shortcuts
- Ask your child's school to implement a call-back program if one does not already exist so that you will be alerted as soon as possible if your child does not arrive at school
- Make arrangements to get children to and from play dates and activities
11 and 12 years old
Use technology to your advantage to stay connected to your children. Adolescents prefer and will often respond quickly to texts.
- This age group starts to seek more independence
- At this age, children still require adult monitoring and supervision
- Establish the expectation that children need to check in to get permission before going anywhere so parents/caregivers always know where they are, what they are doing, who they are with and when they will return
- Build in regular check-in points, such as texting or calling when they are out
If children are not being picked up or dropped off when they go out:
- Ask them to check in once they arrive at their destination
- Ask them to check in before they leave to come home to know what time to expect them, and check in on their whereabouts if they are late
13 to 16 years old
Check in with one another to avoid miscommunication between parents/caregivers as to the whereabouts of the child.If children have special needs that may increase their vulnerability, they will require a more protective environment. This means more direct adult supervision is necessary to increase their safety.Use technology to your advantage to stay connected to your children. Adolescents prefer and will often respond quickly to texts.
- Peers often have increased influence at this stage
- At this age, parental monitoring continues to be very important
- Continue with expectations that youth need to check in to let parents/caregivers know where they are, what they are doing, who they are with and when they will return
- Continue with check-in points; connect via text or by phone while they are out; remind them to have their phone fully charged whenever they go out
- Establish the expectation that youth check in with parents/caregivers when they arrive at or change locations, or if they are going to be late
- Stay up until youth get home to make sure they arrive safely
- Remind youth that under any circumstances, they can call you if they need help, such as if they need a ride home late at night or if they get separated from friends
Continue discussion about the parameters when accepting rides from people, such as:
- Making careful decisions about who they accept rides from
- Making sure they are with another person (even if they know the person well who offers the ride)
- Informing a parent/caregiver when they have received a ride – even from people that they know
- Making sure the person who is giving them a ride knows that their parent/caregiver is aware that they have given them a ride
If your adolescent is seeking babysitting jobs, provide guidance such as:
- Avoiding posting ads online, or responding to ads online
- Avoiding giving out personal cell phone numbers and avoiding responding to new opportunities from a personal cell phone
- Inquiring about babysitting jobs for people known by people connected within the neighbourhood
- Providing parents/caregivers with information about where they are babysitting, and having a way to be contacted while they are there