If you had asked me this question a number of years ago the answer would have been a definitive NO. I would have explained ‘our children are growing up in an oversexualized world and we must protect their innocence for as long as possible’. I would have insisted that introducing the topic of body safety and consent ‘should come much later down the track, possibly around 8 years of age’..
Whilst my opinion back then, was coming from a place of love and an overwhelming desire to protect my children’s innocence, it was also coming from a place of ignorance and from parenting practices that had been passed down from the previous generation.
If you asked me that same question today, the answer is a definitive YES (and experts will back me on that). We absolutely need to begin educating our young children about the dangers of sexual abuse from at least 3 years of age and I want to explain why:
Children are at risk of sexual abuse at this young age:
Whilst it is extremely upsetting to think about, the horrific reality is that even babies and very young children are at risk of sexual abuse. So if our kids are at risk of abuse at this age, then we must begin educating them just as soon as they are able to comprehend the basics of body safety and consent (around 3 years of age).
Children are at risk of abuse from people they know and love:
As a parent it is essential that you acquaint yourselves with the truth about childhood sexual abuse statistics. The important points to realise are that:
- Only around 11% of victims are abused by a stranger.
- In almost 90% of cases the child is abused by someone known to them.
- In around half of these cases the child will be abused by a family member.
- In the remaining half, the child will be abused by a family friend, neighbour, acquaintance or someone otherwise known to the child.
Children are not only at risk of abuse by adults, but also from their peers and other young people:
A significant proportion of children are abused by children their own age or other young people. As shocking as this sounds Bravehearts are now quoting that ’somewhere between 30% and 60% of childhood sexual abuse will be carried out by other children or young people’. All children that act out in this way have experienced trauma, with many of them being victims of abuse themselves.
Children are still at risk of abuse even when you are essentially supervising them:
Now that you know that your children are at risk of abuse by both adults and children that they spend time with, you can appreciate that abuse can happen outside situations that you previously imagined. For instance, children have experienced abuse when on playdates with other children, at parks or playgrounds, whilst participating in extra curricula activities, at family or wider social gatherings, all when their primary caregiver is just metres away.
Understandably, these points are very overwhelming and the natural reaction for parents is to want to add another layer of cotton wool and hold on to your kids just that bit tighter. But we also know that we can’t be with our kids at every moment of every day and that it’s healthy for them to experience a measured amount of freedom, independence and autonomy.
So, what is the answer? My advice is that while you need to be vigilant in supervising your children and aware of who they are spending time with, the most important thing to do, is to begin, age appropriate body safety conversations from at least 3 years of age.
Beginning these conversations early will not only help empower and protect your little one against inappropriate behaviours, but by starting early, these conversations will become a normal and natural part of your relationship with your child. Essentially when you start early, it helps take away any awkwardness or embarrassment that you may experience talking about this topic, making it much easier to build and expand on these conversations, as your child grows and matures.
Whist I am still passionate about protecting my children’s innocence, I now believe that we can deliver the information to our young children in a way that is age appropriate, in a way that is gentle and dignified, in a way that won’t scare or alarm our children. To find out more about how Only For Me has achieved this head to www.onlyforme.com.au.