The past week, for us Australians, has been traumatic. We’ve been glued to our TVs as we’ve watched the final days of the Brett Peter Cowan trial. We’ve cried for the Morcombe family as they’ve had to face the monster who murdered their young son, Daniel, in court day after day.
This monster, Brett Cowan, showed not a shred of remorse for ripping away the life of thirteen year old Daniel Morcombe to satisfy his own sick pleasures. I won’t go into my anger at the justice system that released Brett Cowen twice after brutally raping two other little boys. One of those boys, Timothy Nicholls – only seven years old when he was abducted and raped repeatedly and so brutally that he almost died, says Brett Cowan took his life that day. For that crime, Brett Peter Cowan was sentenced to a hideously inadequate seven years in jail and was set free.
I have chosen not to rail against this inept system here, however, because that’s a post that won’t achieve anything more than fuelling more anger and pain. What I will do is, in the small way I can, attempt to help other parents to arm their children against the sick predators, like Brett Peter Cowan, in our world. That way, something positive might come of the horror that Timothy Nicholls, Daniel Morcombe and countless other children have endured at the hands of these sick pedophiles.
After much research, I’d like to share with you these 10 ways to empower our children:
1. Don’t force your child to hug sweet Aunt Bertha.
Why? we need to teach our children to trust their instincts – to listen to that inner voice that tells them that it doesn’t feel nice to be touched sometimes. Let them know that you back them up, even if it hurts the other person’s feelings. Chances are, Great Aunt Bertha isn’t a pedophile – but the lesson here is that they are allowed to choose who touches them and how they are touched. They need to know that they, and only they, are the boss of their bodies. They need to know, one hundred percent, that they have their parents’ backing to say “no”.
2. Teach your children to say NO.
Of course, our kids should have a healthy respect for authority, but they should also understand that that respect should never be at the expense of their own self-respect. Teach your kids to feel comfortable saying “no” if an authority figure asks them to do something that they are uncomfortable doing. Allow them the experience of listening to their instincts, acting on them and being supported. If they know they can say “no” and that their parents will support them and listen to them, they are less likely to be targeted. Pedophiles target children who fear authority and lack confidence to speak out.
3. Show your children that you trust them.
Listen to your children when they are talking. Really listen, and do so without judgement, brush-offs or over-reaction. Children who feel heard and validated are less likely to be coerced into keeping ‘bad secrets’. Children who trust that their parents listen when they speak and trust what they say will be less likely to keep bad experiences from their parents and more likely to discuss bad feelings when they crop up.
4. Teach your children the difference between good secrets and bad secrets.
Good secrets are secrets that are meant to be told and ones that feel good to keep – like surprise parties, new baby siblings, the macaroni-necklace that’s being made more Mother’s Day. Bad secrets are secrets that feel bad to keep and that will never be told. They are secrets that have bad consequences attached. Tell your kids that no matter what anyone says, no matter who it is that asks them to keep bad secrets, they should never be kept. Good people will never ask kids to keep bad secrets.
5. Teach your children the difference between good touch and bad touch.
Good touch is simply touching that feels good – like cuddles with mum or dad. Cuddling can also feel bad – that bad feeling is your child’s instincts kicking in. Teach your children to listen to their inner-voice that tells them when a hug or a stroke feels off. Bad touch is not only sexual touching – pedophiles groom children, and often start with cuddles, back tickles and so on. If someone touches your children in any way that makes them feel bad, they have the right to say, ‘no’ loudly and assertively and immediately tell.
6. Never go with a stranger, ever.
Drill scenarios with your children. Role play situations where a stranger might try to lure them. Brainstorm ways of dealing with it. Work out a family password for the exceptional time you may need a stranger to pick them up. Educate your kids that there are adults out there who want to harm children and teach them to be aware of their surroundings. Teach them to stay in groups and avoid being alone in public places. If they notice anyone looking strange, teach them that it is okay to point that person out to a trusted adult. However, be aware that the majority of sexual abuse happens at the hands of a known adult. Similarly, not every friendly stranger is a pedophile and to create a disproportionate fear of strangers isn’t the aim here, either.
7. Teach your kids to fight and make a noise.
A brilliant word of advice I was given was to teach my kids to yell as loudly as they can, “This is a stranger!” because we have all looked at the mum or dad leaving the playground with a kicking, screaming and tantruming child and thought, “that poor parent.” That could easily be someone abducting that child. If the child was yelling that it was a stranger, we’d be more likely to take notice and hopefully jump in and help.
8. Define boundaries.
Make sure your child is aware of the roles of the adults in her life. If she understands what to expect from each person, she is also better equipped to identify when a line is being crossed. The vast majority of sexual predators are known to the children they abuse. If we make it clear to our children what each adult’s role is in their lives and are clear about the boundaries, our children will be more likely to identify the line that is being crossed.
9. Give your children positive attention and lots of it.
A child who is given affection and attention at home is less likely to fall for the seduction of a pedophile. That child is more aware of what good touch feels like and can more easily identify bad touch.
10. Keep your eyes open.
If there is someone in your life paying extraordinary attention to your child, it’s a red flag. If you know someone who regularly comments on your child’s physicality, it’s a red flag. If there’s someone in your child’s life who persistently offers to babysit, drop or fetch, take your child on outings, it’s a red flag. Of course, not all these people are pedophiles, but they are worth watching.
These are tips I have picked up after extensive research. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section. If we work together, I do believe we can give our children the tools they need to freely explore their world, not fearfully, but with confidence and joy.