A mother showed JCW’s summer safety video to her children and then reached out to Pattie Fitzgerald with the following question:
I speak to my kids about body safety regularly and have been doing so for a number of years now. my nine year old watched the video and then said to me: “well if that happened, i guess i won’t be telling you because you’d come to camp. that means whoever did it will get in trouble, and maybe go to jail and i don’t want to put anyone in jail.”
They are under the impression that what we’re trying to teach them is that any kind of uncomfortable touch is an emergency, and they don’t understand the urgency of “telling” or having me come to camp. How exactly do I convey the urgency?
I spoke to my 11 year old the other day and we made a pact that he would keep his cell phone shut and hidden, and would only turn it on and text/call me in case of an emergency. After watching the video he asked me if this is what I meant when I said we discussed emergencies I said of course, what else did you think i meant? he said “I thought you meant a real emergency”.
I’m kind of at a loss here…. and these are kids who I’ve been talking to about this for years….any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Here is Pattie’s response:
it’s not uncommon for a child to “not want to share or disclose” any type of uncomfortable feeling with their parents. There is fear, guilt, shame, and mostly the concern that they or someone they care about will be in trouble. A child often thinks “I don’t want to start some big thing, I can handle this so I’ll just keep quiet”. This is why children remain silent even in the most disturbing cases of abuse.
Knowing this mindset of a child, it’s important to speak to them in “their” language and with an approach that reassures them on many levels. First, acknowledge what your child has said to you. In other words, verbalize: “I understand why you might worry about my coming to camp and or getting someone else in trouble. That’s because you’re a compassionate kid, and we’re proud of who you are.” The first step is to understand and agree on a certain level, not disagree or tell them this is so urgent that they don’t understand — that approach will keep them further away from you. Building a communicative trust is key here.
Next, let your child know if if they had some kind of weird or uncomfortable feeling about someone, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to be pulled out of camp or that you are going to send someone to jail. It simply means that maybe someone at the camp will be able to help you reinforce a boundary or make sure that you’re ok.
Next part of the conversation: let your child know firmly that most people are safe, but that once in a while, there are adults or older kids who break rules concerning private parts and uncomfortable touches. You simply want your child to know what to do if they experience any kind of “thumbs down” privates parts touch at camp, because when it comes from someone you know, it can be confusing or even a little scary. That’s why mom/dad want to make sure you have the right information and some good “exit strategies.” Remind your child that you won’t freak out, lose control or make a huge scene. This is why kids don’t tell.
In this particular case, it sounds like the kids are not really clear about what constitutes an “uncomfortable touch” that they’d need to speak up about, so give clear examples. For example, if someone pats you on the back too hard, it may be uncomfortable but it’s no cause for alarm, unless that person keeps doing it to try and hurt you in some way. So, you wouldn’t have to start reporting to parents or anyone about something in that way. But a thumbs down touch is more like uncomfortable stroking of the hair, back, arms, etc. and it goes on longer than beyond a simple touch or a pat of encouragement. Another “thumbs down” touch is anyone who blatantly tries to engage in privates parts touches, either by making you feel guilty or telling you it’s a special secret. Be clear about this!
Finish the conversation by saying something along the lines of most touches aren’t dangerous or urgent, but there are some touches that just mean a little intervention by the parent or director is needed. It doesn’t mean jail, or that you’re some kind of “tattle-tale” that everyone will know about. You can even use an “example from TV” as teachable moment. Just say that you had heard a news story about a child that was touched inappropriately and didn’t know what to do about it. He was sad and confused, and wasn’t sure what was the right thing to do. The point of JCW’s videos and parent communication is just to give a little “safety net” to their kid and teach them how to be independent in the healthiest way.
The tone of the conversation must be positive, non judgmental, and without a sense that the parent is going to go off the deep end making the situation 10x worse!