Susan J. Kline
When communicating with another individual, what is being expressed by the speaker isn’t always the same thing that is being heard by the listener. Therefore it is incumbent upon the speaker to ensure that their message is being correctly conveyed to the listener, leaving as little room as possible for misunderstanding.
Nowhere is this more true than when a parent or guardian is speaking to a child. Parents all have stories about how telling their child something as simple as “Please clean up the mess in your room” gets interpreted by the child to mean “you are the only one here who makes a mess, your siblings are all perfect, you are the slob, and your job is to clean the entire house”.
Parents need to be extremely cognizant of this when speaking with their children about child safety matters. Unfortunately, there are too many stories where the child misinterprets or misapplies the parent’s instructions of “Don’t let anyone touch you inappropriately” and “No one is allowed to touch you inappropriately”.
One issue here is the vague term of “inappropriately”, vague terms are exactly that, vague. A parent needs to be as direct as possible here. Let the child know exactly what they are trying to convey. Body parts should be referred to by name. Double check with your child to make sure that they understand what you are saying. Don’t just ask them “Do you understand?”, ask them, in their own words, to repeat to you what you have said. This ensures that the message has been conveyed properly.
An additional and much more important issue is: “What will the child do with the information that I have just provided to them?”. Let’s say that the child now knows that no one is allowed to touch their private parts, what safeguards have been provided to ensure that should something happen the child will report the event? Unfortunately, if the child only gets told “Don’t allow someone to touch you…”, should someone abuse this child, this child often won’t report it. “I was told not to let it happen, and I let it happen” will often be the thoughts of the child. The child will feel like they have let down their parents. They will feel guilty. These feelings will create a reluctancy to come forward.
The goal of all parents should be as follows: To try their best to ensure that their child doesn’t become a victim of abuse. But the goal doesn’t stop there. The goal is to also train their child that should any abuse happen, they need to come report it as soon as possible.
So, whilst “Don’t let anyone touch your private parts” is important, it is incomplete in accomplishing this goal. I therefore tell parents that what one needs to tell their children is as follows “No one has permission to touch your private parts, do as much as you can to make sure that this doesn’t happen. However, if it does happen, you must tell me. There is a Mitzva to tell me. I want you to do whatever you can to make sure this never happens, but should it happen, I won’t be upset at you. I promise that you will not get into any trouble from me for telling me this.” I also suggest that parents also use this discussion to educate their children that such reporting is not Loshon Hara.
By doing this the parent has now planted both seeds. They have planted the seed of protection, and the seed of reporting. And just like seeds can’t be left alone and be expected to reach their maximum potential, the child here can’t either. Refreshers and reminders every few months are the water and sunlight that this figurative seed needs.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.