Thursday, July 6, 2017

Having the Talk

By Becky Palmer, MS, ATSA Prevention Committee.

Here we are, all educated folks who talk about sex, sexuality and relationships every day at work. Words like intercourse, masturbation, consent, safety, penis, and vagina are regular parts of our work vocabulary. Yes, we work with adults and juveniles who have committed sexual offenses and our children and families wonder silently or aloud, “why do you work with these people?” Did you ever think in your wildest dreams you would be talking about sex every day at work?

Now comes another matter, which began amongst some of my friends and colleagues on Facebook. Here’s how the conversation began, “Hello friends and colleagues. I have a question for you. Half-professional, half-parenting. My daughter is nearly 5 and my wife and I are wondering what to do in terms of "Abuse proofing" her. Maxims like "don't talk to strangers" are dated and misguided.”

We want to give our children the best possible information and we want to provide the most appropriate safe guards, however, even though we can easily talk about sex, having this conversation with our children really is different. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend many years ago as I was preparing to speak to a group of parents, providing guidance about how to “have the talk”. I asked my friend if he remembered the first time his parents talked to him about sex. Here is his recollection of the talk, “I really don’t remember a thing my Dad said, but there was a lot of sweat coming off of his forehead.” Well, we certainly don’t want our children to have a similar memory as my friend. The resulting conversation over Facebook provided many helpful tools. We all agreed it would be useful to share this information with the rest of our ATSA colleagues. The ATSA prevention committee has also weighed in with some helpful direction and tools. This blog may not be able to contain all the information but following are some highlights for parents to use when talking with your children about sex, sexuality, consent, and safety.

-       One of the most preventive steps you can take is to be an attentive and engaged parent, as you’re doing.

-       Jan Hindman's   A Very Touching Book may be useful.

-       I talk a lot about respect, both from a receiving and a giving point of view. As she gets older, I have found Harris and Emberley to be very helpful in the regular conversations.

-    For us, it includes a lot more than talking about sex or safety - it also includes things about relationships with friends and others, feeling comfortable being in control of body, thoughts, & behaviors, and knowing how to set limits with friends.

-     We emphasized we wouldn't blame or punish him if he told us about something going on or something he was worried about, even if that included him doing something "wrong". What mattered was that he would talk with us and we would try to help.

-       It was always important that both of our boys know they could talk to us when they were worried, scared, happy, concerned. Our younger son also added that there were lots of "teachable" moments along the way. As our sons got older we ordered free material from Planned Parenthood.

-     "If someone asks you to do something that makes you feel scared, worried, or uncomfortable, or if it's something you feel like you can't tell us or someone else, then it's probably something not okay." That covers a lot of ground, obviously, but it's actually helped them contextualize it, and we've had them tell us a lot as a result.

-       We made and had many opportunities to talk about respect, consent, relationships which to me were the foundation for all the sex talks that we had throughout their lives.

-      Take a look at our ( tip sheets on Safety Planning, including our  Family Safety Plan. You may also find the following resources helpful when developing your safety plan: Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, Talking to Children and Teens, Ten Things To Remember When You Talk To Kids About Sexuality

So, while some of the learned experts have provided you with books and printed and online resources, there seemed to be a common thread throughout our conversation. The sex talk is the easier conversation to have. Building and nurturing an open dialogue is the foundation for answering and teaching your children that you want them to come to you with their questions, concerns, worries and hurts. 

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