The Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, which have largely centered on decades-old allegations of sexual assault, have led many Americans to come forward and share their own stories about past traumas. This ongoing national conversation has opened old wounds and triggered old memories, sometimes repressed, for many women and men alike.
If you have had some traumatic event happen to you, please find someone who is a professional counselor to start that dialogue and help the healing process begin. If you cannot afford a counselor, seek out someone whom you trust to share your story and try to find the help that you need through available services.
If you are a parent or a caregiver for a child, you might face a situation in which you must give guidance to a child who has been traumatized. If a child who has experienced abuse opens up, you need to be prepared to handle the conversation and to contact law enforcement immediately.
NPR recently ran a story which offered tips for adults, including to act as educators for their children about sexuality. While having this conversation too early might create awkwardness, waiting too late can create long-term issues. Ignorance or naivete about sex and sexuality can contribute to everything from inappropriate touching to teen pregnancy, which Oklahoma is unfortunately a national leader in.
The story also emphasized the difference between the conversation about the mechanics of sex and educating children on consent. Consent conversations can start very early and can focus on things a simple as not taking toys or crayons from other children without asking them first (aka getting their consent). These “asking permission” conversations can later evolve to ensuring young children know which parts of the body are off-limits to touch and to tell if something happens.
These discussions become crucial in the teen years when your children might hear stories shared by other teens. It is important for your own children to be educated so they can help when another teen opens up to them with how to handle a situation and what adult can be trusted to share this information with.
It is important to be the “askable” parent and let your children know they can always come to you. Bringing up tough topics, even when it is uncomfortable for you, will increase the likelihood that your child will do the same and be willing to open up. It is also suggested that you ask your children to name a trusted adult outside the family with whom to share hard topics, and together to share with this adult that agreement.
It is equally important to help avoid potential assault by having conversations with your children about when they have feeling for someone and if that person rejects them. You should educate them about when it is not okay to act out on feelings when someone does not feel the same, or if senses are impaired due to alcohol or another substance.
With so much sensory overload for young people due to different forms of communication, it is important to retain that one which is most significant: direct conversation with your children. The involvement you have in their lives helps shape their future, and this is a very important part of ensuring they understand that you will be there for them and they know how to handle a very tough situation.
For parents wanting more information on handling child abuse disclosures, there is a 45-minute session (available either in-person or on-line) by The Care Center. This course is free for any adult and teaches participants about recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect and handling disclosures. For more information, go to www.carecenter-okc.org/education for the course.