When it comes to sexual abuse, protecting teens is complicated. Teenagers seek relationships outside the family for friendship, security and even advice. In addition, they may be confused or embarrassed about their own developing sexuality, which makes communication difficult and protecting them yourself nearly impossible.
What can Parents Do?
One of the first things a parent can do is get realistic. Contrary to what you may want to think abuse is common, statistics quote about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. Secondly, most abusers are known by the victim (most studies suggest 80-90%). Lastly, teens are learning about sex. Often their sources may not be the best places to learn sex education, these sources include their friends, pornography or first hand experiences.
Don’t Put Discussions Off
By the time your child reaches puberty it may be too late, either communication lines have already been shut down or something may have already happened to them. It is your job to take the first steps in opening the lines of communication and talking to your child about their personal rights and personal boundaries in an age appropriate manner.
Generally, by the time your child is four or five they should fully understand that their body is theirs and that no one should be touching them where their bathing suit covers and that they have the right to leave a situation that makes them uncomfortable. They should also know that if someone does try to touch them or does touch them to tell you. By the time your child is eight they should be aware of the changes that are soon to take place in their own bodies. By 11 or 12 kids should fully understand the consequences of sex and know what is appropriate and inappropriate in dating.
Build a Strong Support System
Studies show that incidences of high-risk teen behavior are less in families where teens feel that they are respected and supported as an individual. Before your child reaches the teenage years they should feel that they can talk to you about anything without worrying about being yelled at, ridiculed, embarrassed or experiencing fear. Even though some topics may be hard to discuss, it’s likely your child will not talk to you in the future if you become excited and overreact. Speak to your child logically and with respect and try to understand their needs as an individual. With this kind of support, hopefully your teen will feel comfortable discussing their concerns with you or coming to you for help.
The more you learn the more you can help your child. Before any major discussion with your child study the topic so you can answer their questions and they can learn to depend on you for valid answers. If they come to you with a question and you respond by giving them a pamphlet they may begin to think that you are not a good source of information. Pamphlets can be helpful but they should be accompanying real conversations.
Help Your Children Define Their Personal Rights
Believe it or not, many teens who get caught up in a “relationship” with an older adult (or even someone their own age who is an abuser) feel like it is their fault. They do not know what their personal rights are or what kind of behavior to expect from adults. Teach your children that it is OK to say no and that they do not have to do anything they don’t want to. Often kids think they are supposed to “respect their elders” and “be nice” so they go along with things that make them uncomfortable because they think they have to.
Teens should understand that:
If they are in a relationship they should also understand that:
All states have different statutory laws. But basically, kids should only date other kids who are the same age as the kids in their school, they should not be dating those who have graduated or those still in junior high. Most states consider over 18 as an adult with some room for difference in age, for example many teens turn 18 their senior year in high school and may be dating a 17 year old. Or about three years difference, if one is 17 and the other is 14 (in states where age 14 is over the age of consent) is not illegal if both parties are consenting. Generally, the age of consent is considered somewhere between 14 and 16, but never with an adult.
Help Them Build Up Their Self Esteem
Often self esteem is a pivotal factor in risky teen behavior. Teens who do not feel good about themselves or who are at odds with their family may turn to other adults for support. This type of behavior is extremely dangerous, this is exactly what abusers are looking for. They approach the teen and take advantage of their low self esteem, give gifts (perhaps liqueur or drugs), further isolate them from the family and attempt to become their “friend.” In addition, teens that do not have money are also often a target and are bribed with gifts or money.
To counteract this danger you should help your teen find something that they can feel good about; it could be a hobby, a sport, work or art. If you are low income, teach your child how to earn money legitimately without having to give up their pride or self worth. Hobbies or employment can help them keep their mind occupied with positive progression, feel a sense of accomplishment and value their individuality. Also, teach them how to take care of themselves and rely on themselves for their own progress. So they can feel empowered to take action in their own lives and learn to live life instead of feeling like a victim of life. Give them responsibility and communicate how much you value their independence, accomplishments and their ability to be responsible.
If All Else Fails or It Is Too Late
Get help. Abuse is something that needs to be addressed and not looked over. Offenders should be turned in so they can be monitored and counseled. The child should also seek counseling to help alleviate confusion, anger and possible self esteem issues. Never blame the child for the abuse, teens who have been with adults are considered non- consenting. Parents should also seek help to learn how to get through their hurt and anger and find ways to help their child and family connections heal.
In summary, it is important that your teen feel comfortable talking to you about sexual topics and they should know their personal boundaries and have the self esteem to voice their rights. And if abuse has happened, get help and turn the person in, silence only protects the abuser.