Disturbing Media Coverage Can Create A Teachable Moment

The most frightening thing about being a parent is that we know bad things can happen.  And we know, eventually, we may not be able to protect our children from them.  One day, they will grow up and may be faced with situations in which they are in danger.

And while it leaves a pit in our stomachs to even think about, the fact is, we need to teach our kids to protect themselves and to be aware of the fact that not everyone in the world has good and pure intentions.

Such is the case when we view all the recent media coverage about Hollywood elites and women coming out of the woodwork accusing them of sexual impropriety, sexual assault, or outright rape.  We are all shocked when we find out that people are not who they seem – and many of us put celebrities on a pedestal, compounding our indignation.

So how can we use this as a teaching moment with our children, especially if they have heard or seen coverage about sexual assault in the media?  Whether it’s Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, or countless others to be used as an example, we must teach our children to stand up and speak out if they or someone they know are ever put in a similar situation as the victims who have come forward.

Though we may think they are too young and the discussion of such a dark topic can wait, the truth is, it is never too early to help our children to keep themselves safe.

From U.S. News and World Report:

Children need to know, from a young age, that their bodies are their own, their words are powerful and nobody has the right to take advantage of them simply because they are bigger, stronger or outrank them. They also need to know that we can have these hard conversations – that my husband and I are safe people for them to speak to – now and in the future.

Our children today, especially our young girls, are facing a culture where teens and even young girls are sexualized, and sexual activity is promoted, accepted – even expected – at a young age.

Kids these days feel pressure to fit in, and the boundaries of what is appropriate become more blurred every day.

So what can parents do – right now – to make sure our child never becomes a victim?  U.S. News and World Report has some tips for opening up a dialogue:

Give them the age-appropriate facts. Your children don’t need to know every sordid detail. They need to know information that makes sense to them and why this behavior was wrong and detrimental to others.

When children see stories of sexual misconduct or assault in the media, the first thing to address is that it is never acceptable and that our children can always come to us when they have a problem or feel unsafe.

Relate it to being a victim. Many young children know what it feels like to be sad, angry and powerless. They know what it feels like to be ignored or told what to do. Some know what it feels like to be pushed around, left out, and made to feel small and voiceless.

We can tell them, “Sometimes it feels difficult to speak up because the other person is bigger, stronger, older or more popular than you. But we can’t be quiet when this happens. Even if it’s difficult and even if you are nervous, you can always come to us or someone else in charge and tell us what’s going on. Even if you feel alone in those moments, you are never alone. We are here for you, and we will listen.”

Explain consent. Tell your child that it’s not OK to touch someone or force them to touch you without their consent. Explain that consent is when a person says yes out of his or her own free will because that person wants to do what you’re asking him or her to do.

And explain how to say “no,” and what to do if someone doesn’t listen, especially if they are threatened not to tell or with harm to themselves or others.

We also need to give our children realistic techniques they can use if they feel like they are in trouble or a situation is getting out of control.  Even if we are not able to be with them every moment, our guidance is always there.

Give them phrases to use like, “Don’t touch me,” or “Leave me alone,” or physical cues like whether to bite, kick, or claw to get themselves away.  Teach them where to go to get help until you can get to them, and let them know they should never be alone with anyone they don’t trust – even if they are pressured to do so.

Role-playing is a good idea with older children so if they are ever in a situation where they feel they are going to be assaulted; they have some idea of what to do to get away. It is also a great idea to enroll older kids and teens in martial arts or a self-defense program.  These not only give them skills but build their confidence and make them more aware of their surroundings.

Ask powerful questions. Questions allow your children to think through how this information pertains to them. It also gives them the opportunity to talk through their ideas with someone they trust. Get them thinking about how they would respond by asking them to consider pertinent questions.

Say: “What can you say to the person who is making you feel this way?” “What if the person is much bigger than you or older than you or more popular than you – what can you do then?”

Relate it to being a perpetrator. Many people use power to feel more important than others, to get more privileges or to take advantage of various situations. It’s vital that we teach our children to use their power for good.

Explain, and make sure you make it plain; “If someone does not want you to touch them, even if you think it’s funny or you think you are just joking, don’t touch them. Does this make sense to you? Do you have questions about this?”

This can be an important conversation to have with our teenage boys, teaching them to respect women and always understand that certain behaviors are never okay, and never a joke.

Relate it to being an “upstander.” We all have the ability to make a difference. Many people knew about [these] despicable actions, just as they knew of others who perpetrated similar actions [in Hollywood]. Our kids need to know that they must speak up when they see sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying or assault happening – whether right then and there or privately to an adult they trust.

Although we pray that our children are never faced with a situation in which they are intimidated, bullied, or sexually assaulted, we must teach them early – and remind them often – of ways to keep themselves safe.  And the older they get, the more important these discussions become.

Have your children asked about the media coverage of sexual assault claims coming out of Hollywood recently?  Or have you used the attention of these stories to open up a conversation about what to do if they ever feel victimized?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.

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