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Train Your Kids to Resist Child Abuse

May 25, 2013

There has been a lot in the cyber-sphere and on the news about child abuse lately, especially sexual.  I’m sure you agree that it is quite heart breaking.  According to, an instance of general child abuse in reported every 10 seconds, and 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator.  This should not be, but tragically it is all too common.  The cases are both in secular and religious spheres, so no one can point fingers at other groups of society.  Penn State, Sovereign Grace Ministries (particularly embarrassing to reformed Christians like myself), the Catholic church, a sister’s boyfriend,  radical wackos like Brian David Mitchell, that friendly charity worker, a stepdad.  It doesn’t necessarily come from anyone, but it can.

It is incredibly troubling that most kids know their abusers personally.  Why don’t kids put up resistance? Don’t they know that their relative or friend shouldn’t be doing this to them? That this nice person my parents let babysit me shouldn’t be touching me like this or raping me?   These kids are manipulated, deceived, and shamed into allowing themselves to be abused by people they should be able to trust.

This should not be.  This must not be.  And I believe there is more that mindful parents can be doing to stop it, simply by candidly discussing the issue with their kids and giving them confidence in themselves, before someone tries to abuse them. Schools and children’s programs at church and the community can do this too, but I think it is especially effective coming from parents, the most important influence in a child’s life.

Daniel_Dale_Johnston_missing_child_on_a_milk_cartonMy parents did this in a number of ways.  I don’t recall all the specific instances except three or four.  I think it was the year we studied general safety principles  in homeschooling that we also focused on resisting abuse during several of our family mealtimes.  One time after a lengthy discussion over breakfast, our whole family (my dad is a pastor who works mostly from home) went outside and while my mom held my baby brother, my sisters and I were in the car with Dad pretending to be kidnapped.  It was kind of fun because we got to pull his hair and hit him and stuff like that (playful roughhousing was actually a ritual in our family life, we called it “Mess Time” and it was started before my only brother was born) and we practiced yelling “KIDNAPPED!” out the window- but not “I’M KIDNAPPED!” because that was one syllable too long before the kidnapper might muffle us.  Of course, some kidnapped children can’t fight because they are threatened with a knife or a gun, as in the case of Elisabeth Smart.  But the experience was not merely teaching us physical resistance, it was teaching us to have confidence that this was not supposed to be happening and we should resist in whatever way we can. 

Another instance I recall is a solemn, slightly uncomfortable lecture that my parents gave us at another family meal that we should never, ever let anyone touch us in our private parts unless it was a doctor in a doctor’s appointment or our future spouse. (On that note as a side, abstinence education does not necessarily cause children to be susceptible to abuse because of shame from loss of virginity, as Elisabeth Smart recently asserted was the case.  It all centers on the reason for abstinence:  avoiding shame vs. knowing that God loves you unconditionally and honoring/trusting his commands in response to that.  Back to the main subject…)  We talked about this at length- no one, meant no one.  No relatives, friends, church members, anyone we would normally trust, no one was to touch us in that way.   And, as kids, if someone we would normally trust came by in a car to take us somewhere, we should not go with them unless Mom or Dad knew.  This was not helicopter parenting, it was teaching us to make wise choices.

Protecting your kids from potential abuse might be awkward, but it is worth it.  One time when my sister and I were sleeping over at a friend’s house, my parents stopped by later in the evening to drop off some bath robes, or they gave them to us before we went, I forget exactly.  They told us that we must wear them over our pajamas, and we protested because it was weird and we hardly ever wore robes at home.  They explained that our friend’s single uncle lived with the family, and he might be a good man but we must be careful to be extra modest in this situation just in case he did not have self-control over unsatisfied desires.  We still weren’t thrilled about wearing bulky unfashionable robes, but understand why and did it.  This was not because if we got raped it was our fault for being immodest- rather it was just a wise move to protect ourselves from potential danger.

My parents did not prohibit us from interacting with questionable men- for a few years my dad would take us monthly to a men’s addiction rehab center in Paterson, NJ with another home school family to lead worship singing together.  It was a lot of fun.  But they taught us how to protect ourselves.  If a questionable person rang the doorbell and parents weren’t around, we were supposed to talk to them politely through a locked screen door or something like that.

Fortunately, these ways of training kids to resist abuse haven’t been tested in our family, to my knowledge.  I have never been approached by someone who tried to abuse me.  Still, I believe I would have had the confidence to resist in whatever way I could if I found myself in that situation.

What do you think?  Is this an effective strategy to protect kids?  What are some other ways that could be wise?  We don’t want to be helicopter parents- kids need freedom to grow into healthy, emotionally stable adults.  But somehow we must protect them.  Also, how can we as communities avoid having kids suffer from abusive parental neglect without infringing on the freedom of parents with good intentions?


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Caitlin permalink
    May 26, 2013 7:01 pm

    At my last job, we used a curriculum to talk to kids about safe and unsafe touches. I always thought it was great until I found research on those types of materials that showed they are good for increasing kids’ knowledge of abuse, but were pretty ineffective at preventing it or getting kids to disclose it. It turns out the problem is that kids are scared. They might have all the knowledge they need, but usually the abusers threaten the kids by telling them they will harm the kids or their families. So I like what you wrote, but I’d just add to it to make sure your kids understand that if ANYTHING inappropriate ever happens, they need to tell an adult they trust NO MATTER WHAT THE ABUSER TELLS THEM. And talk about specific things an abuser may say to scare them.

    Good post. =)

    • Elizabeth permalink
      May 28, 2013 1:38 am

      I agree that a huge problem is that they don’t tell anyone, especially for older kids and teenagers. However, I also know from my studies that many kids just don’t know what’s normal. What they grow up with is normal. If the abuse starts when they’re older then they know it’s wrong and they are just afraid to tell. But if they’re kids, they have no idea what the rest of the world is like. I have heard many stories to that extent. In fact, I know several people personally who were sexually abused as a kid and they all say that they didn’t realize it was a big deal or that they though it was totally normal. That’s not to say that it didn’t hurt them badly, but rather that in the midst of their pain, their paradigm said “you just have to deal with it, that’s the way life is”. Anyways, not trying to contradict you, but rather to say that both are serious issues and I think the main issue depends primarily on the situation but significantly on age.

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