By Joelle Casteix
It’s July and summer is in full force. Kids have had time to shake off the last remnants of school projects, report cards, and tests, and are now focusing on what’s important: having fun.
They are off to camp, playing video games, and running around outside well past dinner. Community pools are at capacity. You’re surrounded by sunburn, bug bites, and bickering.
But summer is about more than just hot weather. Children are relishing the new freedoms summer offers. Without the constant watchful eyes of teachers, kids can interact freely, test new boundaries, and have the ability to be far more self-sufficient and creative with their time. When they aren’t complaining about being bored, of course.
With this freedom comes challenge. No one wants to think about bullying and child sexual abuse when we should be focusing on swimming and lemonade stands. But anytime your child is out in the world, he or she can encounter people and situations that are scary.
If you armor and prepare your child with real tools, self-esteem, and decision-making skills, your child will do much more than have fun. Your child will blossom and grow. By the time fall rolls around, you will send a more mature and confident child off to school.
Here are five things you can do to help your child have a safer summer:
1) Teach your child to have strong body boundaries. Do not force very young children to hug or kiss adults. Tell your children that they have power over their own bodies and must show respect for their own and other people’s bodies and space. For older children, reinforce the fact that no one is to ever touch them anywhere if they don’t want it. Tell them that “no means no” when it comes to wrestling, tickling, hugging, etc. Encourage your child to take a self-defense class. Tell your children that no one if to look at, touch, or take pictures of their genitalia, and vice versa.
2) Show your children the importance of following their “gut.” Summertime is full of new people, situations, locations, and events—many of which will be totally unfamiliar to your child. Fortunately, your child has a special weapon: the gut instinct. Even scientists call the gut our “second brain,” with capabilities to harbor emotions, reactions, and instinctual decision-making capabilities. Talk to your child about his or her gut feelings. Discuss times when you or your child didn’t follow that “gut instinct” and ended up in trouble. Show that when your child’s gut tells says it’s a bad idea, it probably is.
3) Explain sleepover and overnight camp rules. Now that your child has stronger body boundaries and understands how to use his or her gut, talk about sleepovers and overnight camp rules. Make sure your child knows that he or she is never to be behind a closed door with an adult. Reinforce that an adult should never ask a child to keep a secret—especially if someone is hurt or there may be abuse involved. Tell your child that it’s always okay to report suspicious or bad behavior, even if someone threatens them if they do. Tell your child that it’s okay and safe to tell you anything, even if your child has done something wrong or against the rules.
4) Empower your child against bullies. Most children will be bullied at some time in their lives. Summertime is no exception. Tell your child that it is okay to stand up to aggressors if they see or experience bullying. Show them that it is safe to report bullying. Help prevent cyber bullying by requiring that all internet-enable technology remain in common areas of your home. Teach your child Internet safety and monitor your child’s use of the Internet. Do not be afraid to step in and respond if your see bullying behavior at the beach or playground. Do not tolerate or condone aggressive, bullying behavior in your child. If your child is bullied at a camp or organized activity, report immediately and demand action.
5) Communicate, communicate, communicate. The most important weapon in your child safety arsenal is open communication with your child. Encourage frank and honest conversations with your children. Ask open-ended questions (questions that require more than a yes or no answer). Answer their questions as honestly as you can. Spend time together. Time with you is the best gift you can give your child and the best thing you can do to prevent child sexual abuse.
A former journalist, educator, and public relations professional, Joelle Casteix has taken her own experience as a victim of child sex crimes and devoted her career to exposing abuse, advocating on behalf of survivors, and spreading abuse prevention strategies for parents and communities. She has presented to hundreds of audiences all over the world, including on the TEDx stage, on subjects such as abuse prevention, victim outreach, victims’ rights in the civil justice system, and parenting safer children. She is a regular speaker for the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma and The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Casteix’s blog, The Worthy Adversary, is one of the leading sources for information and commentary on child sexual abuse prevention and exposure. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completed graduate work in education at the University of Colorado, Denver. A wanna-be ski bum, she lives in southern California with her husband and young son.