What are we teaching children and young people (CYP) about their bodies?
Body safety is a topic that most find uncomfortable to discuss with children. As a result, we tend to avoid it. Parents and teachers alike. It is not always explicitly discussed and bodily consent, in particular, gets swept under the rug during PSHE lessons.
In so doing, we are doing CYP a disservice. Below is a list of key points related to body safety that all children and young people should know.
1. Use the proper names for body parts
The first step is teaching CYP about body safety us to teach them the proper names for their body parts. This teaches them how to communicate using the proper names if someone were to ever touch them inappropriately.
2. Be clear on what parts are private
CYP should be taught what body parts are private and that if someone touches their private parts, they need to speak to a trusted adult immediately. They need to understand from an early age that although mum and dad can see them while naked if they’re helping them get dressed or take a bath, people outside of the home cannot. A doctor can see a child’s private areas during a check-up as long as a parent or guardian is in the room with them. If someone asks to see or touch a child’s private parts or asks the child to see or touch an adult’s private parts or shows a child images of private parts, this is all unacceptable and needs to be shared with a trusted adult straight away.
3. Clear understanding of what is safe and what is not
Unsafe touch doesn’t have to strictly be in regards to private parts, although this is the biggest component of body safety. Pushing, hitting or kicking, as well as not respecting the person’s boundaries when they ask another to stop an action such as tickling are all considered unsafe touching.
Safe touch may be when a CYP shares a cuddle with a parent, holds hands or gives a hug. Pushing boundaries when a child has asked another to stop an action, but they will not, such as tickling or wrestling, changes safe touch into unsafe touch.
When a CYP asks an action to stop, the person is supposed to respect you and listen because the child decides what feels safe and unsafe.
Additionally, if the CYP does not feel comfortable giving hugs or snuggling with someone, they shouldn’t be forced to do this because another person sees this as “safe” although the CYP is not comfortable with it. Body autonomy is important to respect from an early age.
4. Uncomfortable Feelings
CYP may experience an “icky” feeling in their stomach, heart racing, sweaty palms, uncomfortable, and an unexplainable sense something isn’t right about the situation or person.
If a CYP experiences any of these early warning signs about an unsafe person or unsafe situation, they need to tell a trusted adult right away.
5. No secrets allowed
Most perpetrators will ask children to keep secrets of the abuse, often in a casual and friendly way.
“I love hanging out with you, but if you tell your parents or anyone else, they won’t let us play together anymore. You can’t tell anyone, Ok.”
“This is our little secret. If you tell anyone I’ll get in big trouble and so will you.”
If anyone tells children to keep a secret, especially body secrets, this is never OK and should be shared with a trusted adult.
6. No pictures of private parts
This is one of the most missed parts of teaching body safety and nowadays with the evolution of technology, it’s extremely important to teach CYP about the dangers of sending and even requesting indecent images. There is an entire online community that will take naked pictures of CYP and share them with a large network online. We must teach CYP that no one should ever take pictures of private parts, or be shown pictures of other people’s private parts.
7. How to get out of uncomfortable situations
When a CYP is in an unsafe situation and needs to get away from another child, peer or adult who makes them feel unsafe or has asked them to do something unsafe, teach them it’s OK to excuse themselves to leave or use the bathroom. The point is that the child needs to get out of the situation quickly and if they need to lie to leave the room, this is OK in this circumstance.
8. Even if it’s someone the child knows, it is never OK
TV and movies villainise child predators to look big, mean and scary. The truth is, child predators look like you and me – and sometimes, are children themselves! The point you need to get across when you teach body safety to a child is that no one can touch their private parts, whether it’s another child, family member, friend or stranger.
9. Speak to a trusted adult when something does not seem right or feels wrong
CYP must know that they are the boss of their own body. They can stop the actions of an unsafe peer or adult who is asking to touch or have their private parts touched by shouting, “NO! or “STOP!” and pushing the person away from them. Then, go tell a trusted adult straightaway.
10. Children should never get in trouble for speaking up
It is important to keep the line of communication open. We must reinforce that we will always believe children to create an enabling environment where they can tell us anything without the fear of getting into trouble – no matter what happens.
Source: 10 Body Safety Rules Parents Must Teach Children by thepragmaticparent.com
Our focus for 16 Days of Activism this year is on the importance of engaging with young people now, to prevent incidents of violence and abuse in the future. For more on our MENgage and EmpowHER programme and our Haven In Schools campaign for 16 Days of Activism 2021, visit here.
Video: Keep your hands to yourself