Stranger Danger

playgroundI’ll never forget our conversation. We were snugly sipping hot tea at my kitchen table. Night was falling as blizzard snow fell from thick Cumulus clouds. While our children played nearby, we swapped stories from our journey of motherhood, laughing at how precocious our kids were even as toddlers. The conversation turned serious – my friend’s eyes grew sad, and I knew something was wrong.  “with Kelley growing and being 8 and all, I sat down with her last week to share with her about her body changing” she began. My friend shifted in her seat and continued, her gaze far off. “She closed up. Freaked out. She was scared. Scared. Why would my daughter be afraid of this topic?”. My wise friend went on to tell me she had gone to her daughter’s room and grabbed a Barbie doll. “Holding her doll up, I asked her to point to any part of her body that someone had touched”. My friend choked up, tears spilling down her cheeks. “She pointed to her private areas”. With this, the tears of my friend flowed heavily. “I asked her enough questions, that I finally got out of her who it was. It was the 16 year-old homeschool boy who works in our Sunday school”.

This is something that no father or mother wants to hear. Consider this: many cases of early childhood sexual abuse remain hidden until the grave. The shame associated causes most individuals to stay silent, but these buried memories change their lives. Early sexual abuse, or even inappropriate touching alone without healing and help, can lead to many issues later in life – sexual promiscuity among them.

My friend and her husband went to the elders of the church. No one could believe this ‘good kid’ would inappropriately touch their daughter. Yet the dark, sad eyes of their 8 year-old told them he could. My friends finally did the only thing they knew to do; pulled their daughter out of sunday school and ended up switching churches.

I shared this story with you for several reasons. I don’t want to frighten you mom and dad, but for the sake of our precious children, we must be aware of these possibilities. One of the toughest things for me has been the balance between teaching my children to trust; but also equipping them to know when someone is not to be trusted. I’ve benefitted greatly from the counsel of experienced friends, pastors, counselors and fantastic books. I read a study awhile back that said children who knew correct names for their body parts (this means no silly names) are less likely to be sexually abused. Why? These children are most likely to tell a trusted adult if someone has been touching them, and where. Because early prevention is key in avoiding abuse, this is something I’ve tried hard to do. “This is your elbow, this is your”….you get the idea (for more on this, check out my article “Name that body part”). My friend Jon Holsten wrote a book called The Swimsuit Lesson, and I have read this over and over with my kids. Fun illustrations make the book non-scary, and Jon carefully and appropriately tells the story of a mom who shares with her young kids that swimsuits cover ‘special’ parts of our bodies. There is a helpful parents section in the back that gives you more information about how to prevent sexual abuse. Books like this inspire crucial conversations with your children. The bottom line is, the only way your children will know what appropriate touch is, is if you tell them.

While conversations from books such as The Swimsuit Lesson are of great importance in preventing abuse, there is something even more powerful: prayer. I prayer daily for the safety of my children. I pray that no ‘weapon formed against them shall prosper’ (Isaiah 54:17). I pray that they will be ‘wise as serpents, harmless as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). Prayer puts to flight the plans of the enemy against our kids. Never underestimate the power of prayer. The most critical thing you can do to prevent sexual abuse in your family is to pray.

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