I recently organized a child abuse prevention training for youth workers and Sunday School teachers I know. We had a knowledgeable presenter who fostered some lively discussion with the eighteen of us present. I found it interesting how much the approach to talking to kids about safety has changed since I was a kid in the 1970s. People of my generation had always been warned "don't talk to strangers" when children are much more likely to be abused by a family member or someone known by the family.
One of the younger Sunday School teachers related an approach that no one else at the training had heard before. In addition to the general stuff a parent should talk to kids about, inappropriate touch, etc. his parents sat him down and said: "There is no such thing as a secret that you can't tell us. No one is ever allowed to make you promise that." Because young kids are concrete thinkers they helped him understand the difference between keeping a surprise (say, not telling about someone's birthday present) and a secret.
A few years later this young man was traveling with someone close enough to the family that he was trusted to provide a car ride. The adult asked him, "How good are you at keeping secrets?" The young man replied what his parents had taught him. The conversation moved on to other topics and he never thought anything else about it until a few years later when this adult, a respected person in the community, was arrested for molesting boys.
His dad and mom had a dynamite idea that saved their child from a world of hurt. If you are reading this and are a parent, I hope that you would consider working this into a conversation with your child. If you aren't a parent, I hope that you will share this column with every parent you know.
Ian Eastman, M.A. is a community educator with Family Services of Warren County, a charitable agency the helps people with counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.