Reflections from Alli Neal, Co-founder of Revved Up Kids
Ever wish you could have a parenting do-over? We founded Revved Up Kids in 2010, when our children were 14 and 10 years old. Learning about the frequency of sexual abuse and exploitation was chilling, and it certainly helped us to be better protectors of our precious babies during middle and high school. The fact is, the median age of a sexual abuse victim is 9, and we were definitely not equipping them properly at that age.
If I had a parenting do-over with my children, here is what I would do differently:
- From the beginning, I would have labeled all body parts with their correct labels. When they were babies learning body parts, we used "va-jay-jay" and "peeper" as our nicknames for private parts; I now know how wrong that was. Children need the real names and they need to be comfortable using them. That's about disclosure, and about shame. If a parent is unable to use the real name, or have a candid conversation about private parts, the child will perceive that there is shame attached to those parts and will be less likely to come to their parent if there is an issue. If I had a parenting do-over, penis and vagina would be body parts.
- From the time they started preschool, I would have been clear that privates are private and no one should see, touch, or photograph them. I would have reminded my kids constantly that seeing and touching other people's privates, or having them see or touch yours, is against the rules and if it happens they need to tell a safe adult. I would also have told them that no one should take photos or videos of their private body parts. If I had a parenting do-over, my kids would have had great clarity about this.
- When they were in elementary school, I would have talked to them about safe adults and safe neighbors. We would have made a list of people and they would have memorized that list. These would be the people who could pick them up them in an emergency, and the people they could always go to if they were upset or in danger and they needed help. If I had a parenting do-over, we would have made a list.
- When they had play dates and sleepovers, I would have been more vigilant about getting to know EVERYONE in the house. Instead, I relied on my brief interactions with the moms of their friends as a barometer about whether that home was safe. All too often, sexual abuse is a crime of opportunity, and many times the abuser is in the home of a friend or neighbor. If I had a parenting do-over, I would have spent time getting to know those families better.
- I would have talked about sexual abuse and safety more often than I did. Wow, did I remind them about brushing their teeth, picking up their toys and saying please and thank you; it was constant! Yet I only talked about safety here and there. Yes, I was working behind the scenes to keep them safe, but now that I know how masterful predators are at manipulating children, I can see how my kids easily could have become victims because of my failure to maintain an open dialogue. If I had a parenting do-over, we would have talked about safety a lot more frequently.
- I would have been better at letting them trust their instincts. If there is one safety tool that could be labeled the best one, it would be instinct. I've had countless conversations with victims of violence over the years, and whenever I ask "did you know something was wrong before you were attacked?" I always get the same answer….yes, my internal alarm was ringing. If we could just learn to trust it instead of ignoring it, and if we could learn to allow our children to trust theirs, we would all be a lot safer. If I had a parenting do-over, my kids instincts would have been more important to me.
- I would have done everything in my power to build up their self-esteem. Low self-esteem is the number one characteristic that predators seek in their victims. They want the kids who lack confidence, who look for compliments, who need to feel valued and important. I once read some advice, "for every one time you say something negative to your child, you should balance it with FIVE positive things." How many of us, when we truly take time to count, are building our children up five times more than we "constructively" criticize them? If I had a parenting do-over, I would have been more deliberate about building them up.
My children, now young adults, were thankfully never targeted by a predator. I feel blessed in that regard, and we at Revved Up Kids will continue to work diligently to help other adults keep their kiddos safe, too.
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