For the parents
August 13, 2012 4 Comments
I was reading some blog posts on the weekend about sexual abuse, written by people who are now adults but were abused as children and thought it might be worth my while to bring that subject up here. I wasn’t 100% sure what exactly I wanted to say about the subject since I know a lot and could go off in a million little tangents in a million different directions.
So maybe a few pointers for the adults. I hope you all never have to deal with this in your personal life but let’s face it; 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually assaulted / abused during their childhood and teen years. And those are ‘safe’ numbers. I would guess the stats are much higher considering the amount of people that never tell.
1. Most kids don’t disclose to their parents. They disclose to a friend and then a friend tells someone, who tells someone and then next thing you know, the parents or police or child protection services are called. They don’t do this because they don’t love you (parents), they do this because of how incredibly difficult it is to tell. It is not a good idea to become offended by this. As an adult, it seems so easy to tell someone. Just say something and poof, parents will fix it all up for you. That’s kind of like that old “just say no” to drugs campaign. Great slogan but kind of dismissing all the millions of other influences that motivate you to try drugs in the first place. Same with disclosing, there are a million small but valid things that keep kids quiet. Some are real threats and some are imaginary but to kids, the whole pile of it is like a huge mountain that is in the way.
2. The very, very best thing you can ever do for your child is believe them. Contrary to popular belief, it is extremely rare for kids to make up a sexual abuse disclosure (or teenagers) or for their parents to “coach” them into a sexual abuse disclosure. You will feel an incredible amount of disbelief simply because you are in shock but it is critical that you not challenge your child, that you don’t question your child, that you don’t ask them things like “are you sure?”, that you believe them and tell them how sorry you are that this happened to them and how glad you are that they’ve told someone. Your believing them or not believing them is a critical factor in their ability to recover from whatever has happened. You hold the key to their future success and mental health at this point and you really don’t want to mess that up.
3. Chances are your kid will have had a lot of time to learn how to deal with this and pretend that everything is fine when it’s not really so by the time they tell you / you find out, they’re MILES ahead of you in terms of finding a way to deal with it. Because of that, their reactions and attitudes may seem really, really off and not right and just not make sense. You need to not challenge how they’re reacting because it looks so different than you and in fact, it may be a good idea to ask them to be patient with you while you get yourself ready to ‘catch up’ to them.
4. Being sexually abused / assaulted as a child or teenager is not a death sentence and doesn’t mean the individual is doomed to a life of issues. That being said, it is normal and common for folks to need therapy or counseling at various points in their lives, preferably by someone who is trained in childhood sexual abuse . That is an experience that will not just “go away” if you and everyone else around you pretends it never happened. It needs to be addressed and dealt with. Some kids are not ready for counseling and that is okay, as long as they are coping in a healthy manner – but sometimes parents need to be the ones to call the shots on what is a healthy manner and push the issue. It’s important that counseling is not seen as “fixing” the bad kid because then whether to go or not becomes a power struggle.
5. All kids and teenagers will decide in the first 30 seconds whether or not you are a safe person to tell. They will determine based on your body language and your unspoken communication whether or not you are going to believe them and whether or not you are going to be able to handle what they have to say. If you carry in your mind the thought that this is not true, couldn’t happen, is a lie, the kids will know without you ever having to say it. Come to terms with what you need to as an adult in your own head so that you can deal with your kid. Their ability to ‘read’ what you are thinking or what you believe is much more acute than yours and you will never fool them. They read people based on the instinctual part of the brain and adults read people based on the logical part of the brain. Theirs is way more effective.
6. Treat your kids the exact same as you would before this happened. This may explain some behaviour that didn’t make sense before but excusing the behaviour will not do them any favours. They need you to treat them the same so that they can start to feel normal. If you act the same and treat them the same, they will have the chance to feel safe. If you change how you treat them or treat them differently, they will react and behaviours will escalate and things may not go as well as you would like.
As a parent, it’s your job to do what you can to help your kids through this. You will likely need someone to talk to yourself but your priority should be helping your kid and that is tough, tough work because it means putting off your own meltdowns for times when you can fall apart without it impacting your child. Difficult? You bet. But worth it.