It’s all over the news – the MeToo movement – and there are many outspoken opinions about its being shared on social and other media. Regardless of our personal opinions about the movement and how it is being handled, it presents parents with an opportunity to discuss child abuse. This parenting column will share ideas and strategies to help children learn to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate touching, as well as what to do if someone is making them uncomfortable.
The “Uh-oh” Feeling
As long as 20 years ago during my career as an elementary guidance counselor, I taught a classroom guidance unit (with parental consent) that gave children three rules to follow if someone was touching them inappropriately. (I wish I could give credit to the authors of this unit but my memory will not take me there.) The lesson told the children, “If someone touches you in a way that gives you the “uh-oh” feeling:
1. Say No
2. Get away
3. Tell someone
These rules are a good start, but they are not enough. Adults understand that stopping this behavior is much more complicated than following these three rules. What if the perpetrator is a loved one?
What if he or she is threatening the child’s family? What if he or she is very powerful and the child is scared to be disrespectful and tattle on them?
You get the idea. From the news stories we hear, we know these complicated factors do not apply just to children; many adults have been victims and cannot stop the abuse by using the above three rules.
Discuss Rules and Trust Your Gut
How do we protect our children? First we can teach them the rules and talk to them about touching, but just as important is to stay connected to them. Be aware of who they are around and how they talk about the people they see when you are not there.
Children who may be confused or not sure what to do about an adult (or another child) who is making them uncomfortable may be ashamed or embarrassed to ask you for help. Your job is to watch for any signs of a change in behavior, attitude, or sleeping and eating habits. If your parental gut tells you your child is worrying about something or is unusually tense or irritable, trust your instincts and don’t take shoulder shrugs, “I’m fine” replies, and other dismissive verbal and nonverbal clues for an answer. Find a time, place, and opportunity to dig deeper into what is bothering your child. Many times he or she is hoping you will, and just doesn’t know how to ask for your help.
Model Respectful Behavior
We can also help them learn respect for others so that they are never tempted to be the perpetrator themselves. Our children watch us more than we know, so make sure your home is a place where
people treat each other with respect. As they grow and become interested in the opposite sex, we can talk frankly and honestly with them about handling feelings and respecting others. Preteens and teens will roll their eyes and act embarrassed, but inside they are glad you are broaching this touchy topic. They have many questions and if they are not getting answers from us, they will go to the movies, social media, friends, etc., for their information. We all know how much misinformation is out there to confuse them even more.
If your children are old enough to be aware of this MeToo movement, plan a time when you can talk about it with them, and be available to answer their questions.
It is certainly a dif cult, disappointing, and tragic development in our culture, but if future generations can be saved from the pervasiveness of this inappropriate behavior, our children will bene t. Our jobs are to help them interpret it, learn from it, and not repeat it or become a victim themselves.
Betts Hunter Gatewood is a National Board Certified school counselor with 28 years’ experience in elementary and middle school counseling. She holds an EdS degree from USC and has authored or co-authored four books on school counseling strategies and activities. She and her husband are the proud parents of three adult children and have four granddaughters and a grandson.