Parenting and the #MeToo Movement
Posted on October 1, 2018 by Dr. Kathy Wu, assistant professor of counseling psychology .
I’m a licensed psychologist and an assistant professor of psychology at Delaware Valley University. My specialization is in the treatment of post-traumatic stress and related symptoms in children and adolescents. I have worked extensively with children who have been sexually abused, and have some helpful evidence-based interventions on how parents can talk with their children about sexual assault and misconduct.
I think one of the most important lessons to be learned from the #MeToo movement is that we, as a society, need to reduce the shame associated with talking about sexual victimization, and that prevention has to start from a young age.
When teaching our children about respect for personal boundaries and their bodies, we first have to provide them with language that is shame-free. Parents need to provide their children developmentally appropriate education about their bodies, what are “okay” and “not okay” touches, and how to say no when a "not okay" touch is used.
This means, starting off by using the doctor’s terms for private parts in everyday conversations — Yes, teach your children, as soon as they are capable of speaking, the words for penis, vagina, breasts, nipples, anus, and buttocks. For instance, when bathing your children, ask them to be sure to wash their vagina or penis too, in the same tone and attention that you use when telling them to be sure to wash their elbows, knees, and behind their ears. This way, there is not a sense of secrecy or shame when talking about issues related to sex or sexuality.
Next, help children identify what are appropriate touches and what are not appropriate touches while modeling and enforcing these boundaries by showing children that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone. This means that a parent/caregiver should refrain from forcing a child to give them, an aunt or a close colleague a hug or kiss on the cheek when the child has stated they don’t want to already. Avoid sending the message that the child’s discomfort is not to be taken seriously and that adults or others know what is best for the child’s body.
Another crucial feature of preventing future abuse is to empower children to go and tell a trusted adult/ally should they experience a violation of their personal boundaries. This is the sequence of actions that I teach my clients: NO, GO, TELL, TELL, TELL. Say no, run to safety, and tell until you are believed and action is taken to prevent the perpetrator from ever hurting or abusing you or someone else again.
Finally, when a child tells you that their personal boundaries were violated, believe them (period). Don’t blame the child or yourself. Blame the perpetrator.
About the Author
Dr. Kathy Wu is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Delaware Valley University. She is a licensed psychologist who has specialized training in post-traumatic stress and related symptoms in children and adolescents. Dr. Wu has worked extensively with children who have been sexually abused.