This article was originally published on the Boca Raton Synagogue blog.
When I was a kid, the most difficult and awkward conversation between parents and children was the talk about “the birds and the bees.” Due to the Internet, increasingly graphic pop culture and explicit billboards and ads, today’s children can be considered precocious in this area and likely know a great deal about the topic before “the talk” ever even occurs.
Instead, the most difficult talk today between parents and children is one that is unfortunately not taking place enough. While the world is generally a safe place and the people our children are exposed to are almost always appropriate and safe, sadly the threat of abuse is real. Research has consistently shown that the most important and effective tool to protect our children is education. As loving and trusted parents, we have the capacity to safeguard our children, but it means having a difficult and uncomfortable conversation.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a respected voice on the topic of child safety education, identifies four points to communicate to our children in order to empower them to protect themselves and to transform them into difficult targets for predators.
- No secrets from parents – In a non-anxious, calm conversation we must remind our children that we love them beyond words and that they can feel confident confiding in us about absolutely anything. We must make them recognize that we take them seriously, we will honor their concerns and fears, and we will always do everything in our power to serve their best interests.
- Your body belongs to you – It is crucial for children to understand the concept of personal space and that our bodies belong to us, and us alone. Our private parts are ours and absolutely nobody, not a friend, family member, or person in any position of authority can have access to them.
- Good touch/bad touch – Not every touch is bad and qualifies as abuse. However, there is touch that is categorically wrong and should set off an alarm for our children. They must understand the difference so that they can be aware and respond appropriately.
- No one should make you feel uncomfortable – Lastly, we must communicate to our children that no one should make them feel uncomfortable. If they do, they have a right to walk away and tell someone they trust.
Too many parents are avoiding this talk because they think they will introduce their children to a topic that will make them fear adults and worry excessively. However, the experts explain that rather than fear adults, children will feel safer knowing they can trust their parents and they will feel empowered to protect themselves going forward. While it is never comfortable to broach this subject, good opportunities for bringing it up can be bath times for young children, clothes shopping for older children, or at the time of a doctor’s appointment.
Should God forbid an issue arise, the best way to respond to our children is to tell them that we believe them and that we will react swiftly and appropriately. Halacha (Jewish law) is clear that safety concerns must be reported to the appropriate authorities and all mandated reporting laws must be observed. Remaining silent, covering up, or excusing inexcusable behavior leaves other children vulnerable to abuse and trauma that will haunt them their entire lives and do what can be irreparable damage.
With our children off from school, many of them heading off to camp and others having more leisure time roaming the neighborhood, there is no better time to rededicate ourselves to best practices for safety for our family and community in general.
Review stranger danger. Have proper and working smoke detectors & carbon monoxide detectors in appropriate locations (If anyone cannot afford them, please contact me). Lock the doors to your car and home, no matter how safe you feel. Make sure your pool fence is sturdy and closed. Don’t let children swim unsupervised or alone. Be vigilant with reviewing with your children where they are going, what they are doing, who is driving them, who else will be there, what movie they are seeing, etc.
May our children remain safe and may Hashem grant us the courage and strength to be vigilant in protecting them.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.