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How to prepare before talking to your kids about sexual assault

It is important as a parent that you open the doors of communication about sexual assault and what exactly that means with your children. Starting the conversation early with them will help prepare them in case they are ever faced with an uncomfortable situation they aren’t sure of, and it will also help them to feel safe speaking to you about it.

In my past 10 years as a sexual assault counselor, I have coached many parents on having this extremely sensitive conversation. It is hard for both parties and there are a few things every parent should follow:

1.)Plan a time to sit down and talk as soon as possible. Don’t wait until your child hits puberty. They need to know what is right and what is wrong and what they can do to feel safe. 

2.)Get your mental game in order. Before you even think about having this conversation think about the words: sexual assault. Say them. How does that make you feel? You want to make sure you are calm and collected when speaking with your child so you don’t make them more uncomfortable. 

3.)Define sexual assault. Make sure you know exactly what sexual assault, rape, catcall, stalking, etc. means so you can explain it properly to your child. You might not want to think about it but it is important that you do. You are the leader of the family and you need to get comfortable before you approach your children. 

4.)Know your resources and develop a protocol. Think about what you will do if your child discloses that he/she/they has been assaulted. Contact child protective services, visit a hospital or doctor for a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit, more commonly known as a “rape kit,” to preserve evidence. In many counties the survivor has the option to press charges and they don’t have to until they are ready. Do your research. 

5.) Know the rights of an assault survivor. Many states have survivors advocates. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Take some time to do an internet search, write out your resources and your plan so you are more prepared for the worst. 

This is an extremely difficult topic to approach with your child, but also extremely important. They need the correct information and the best place for them to get that is you. They need to know they have someone on their side who will fight for them if something happens. They need to know they have a safe place to turn. 

Sometimes We Are Not What Our Teen Needs

As a parent, I understand that “I know what my child needs” feeling. We are, after all, the ones who have been with them since they were born. We have changed their diapers, kissed their boo-boos, and held their hand every step of the way. So, when the time comes where you find out your teen might not always need you the way you think, it can be hard. 

I had a parent of a teen say to me once, “my teen told me she talked about XYZ during therapy. I have never heard about those things. That’s not even the issue, her issues are ABC. I know, because I am her mom!” I told the parent how great it was that her teen was confiding in her and opening up to her about what she had talked about in therapy. Then I asked how the parent approached the conversation. She said, “I told her that she should have talked about ABC.”

Ask what is important to them?

Sometimes as parents we are looking too much at the big picture and we miss the fundamental details. We think we are helping but we are actually not. We forget to look at what matters to our child, our teenager. We fail to ask what is important to them? 

I asked the parent how she felt that the teen was opening up to her about what she was talking about in therapy, and expressing what was important to her? The parent stopped for a minute, stunned. She admitted that she had never thought of things that way. She was spending too much time hovering that she missed the opportunity her teen was giving her to connect. You don’t need to hover, you don’t need to be the “cool” parent, sometimes you just need to be a “still” parent. Take it in, be the ears your teen needs instead of inserting what you think you know they need.