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Nikita Gupta stresses on the importance of talking to kids about sexuality and safety NOW, if you have to ensure that your kids are safe.
It feels like only yesterday when I had watched the Satyamev Jayate episode on child sexual abuse that moved me. When Aamir Khan speaks, people listen and it was a memorable episode. It would have definitely helped parents understand the issue better and in turn understand their kids better. Years later, the Bollywood film ‘Highway’ addressed the issue and people loved Alia’s performance, in a way, appreciating the theme of the film.
I was browsing my Facebook timeline as usual the other day when I came across a video shared by the 3 minute stories page (run by Amrit Vatsa) about ‘School of Life’, an organization dedicated to sexuality education and child safety.
My takeaway was: Who apart from celebrities do their best to tackle this issue? I feel there is a lack of awareness among families and that family plays a huge role in providing the support system a child needs so I decided to speak to Nikita Gupta from School of Life to share her experience about interacting with many parents about the same.
Picture Courtesy: School of Life
Nikita Gupta said, “Many parents I meet now are keen to teach their kids about sexuality and safety from sexual abuse, and they want to learn how to do it. Among their biggest fears is saying the wrong thing, or saying things the wrong way. They are simply not equipped with the adequate knowledge or skills to comfortably have this conversation. They are also not sure what information is ok to give the child at a particular age. So they often ask, when do I start talking about sexuality and safety – when my child is 3, 8, 11, 15…when? Will I snatch away my child’s innocence by telling them too early?”
I have noticed that this comfort level is lacking between parents and children. Parents want to be there for their kids but don’t know how to. Sharing is a two way process. Your child might approach you and share a problem they are facing if only they feel you are receptive and are open with them. Maybe try to sit down and talk about your day with them. Spending time just talking to them can go a long way.
“And then, there is the social stigma and other implications.” Nikita Gupta adds. “Like, if I teach my child about private body parts, will they go around saying those words aloud in front of family and friends? How do I handle the embarrassment if my child is vocal about it in public? Or, if I give them sexuality-related information, will they see it as tacit permission to be sexually active or to experiment? That aside, particularly when it comes to abuse, they may at times be wary of scaring their children- no parent wants their child to walk through the world feeling unsafe or hyper-vigilant. Of course, there’s an equal number of families that are either in denial or too conservative to broach this topic. They find it culturally inappropriate to discuss sexuality with their children, or think they are ‘protecting’ their child by not talking about it. But in times when even an eight year old has access to the internet, these parents are grossly underestimating the risk their child runs of getting the wrong information from the wrong sources.”
In my family, open communication has only helped. There is no awkwardness because taboo topics are discussed as normal topics too. A topic becomes taboo only when you treat it as one. As Gandhiji said, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ If you are like a friend to your child and discuss things openly with them while the rest of your family looks at it as ‘weird’, it doesn’t matter. Your kid is the most important to you right?
I asked Nikita for five points that could be helpful to parents who do not know how to tackle the issue of talking about sexuality and safety:
Most parents wonder what’s the right age to start teaching their child about their body, about sexuality and safety. Well, the right time was yesterday! Even with a 2 year old, you can start by giving them the correct names for their private parts, instead of using cute/slang names. This communicates to the child their private parts are as ‘normal’ as any other body parts, and you are open to talking about them. Continue age-appropriate conversations as the child grows up.
Don’t force physical affection. Ask for permission when you want to kiss or hug them, and don’t force it if they refuse. Just simply saying something like ‘Papa really wants to give you a hug’, or ‘Can Mamma kiss you?’ goes a long way in giving the child ownership of their body. And you’re setting the stage for them to learn and value consent!
Most adults tell their child only about ‘good and bad touch’, but not the other ways in which sexual abuse can happen. Among other things, showing pornographic material, exhibitionism, sexual conversations or remarks, or clicking nude pictures are also ways in which someone can violate a child. Make sure you discuss all these possibilities so that the child can identify unsafe situations and report them. (Note: It’s ‘Safe and Unsafe Touch/Behavior’, not ‘Good Touch-Bad Touch)
Many parents miss early signs of abuse. Being vigilant can often mean catching abuse before it intensifies. Apart from obvious factors like injury or pain in private areas, or bruises and scratches, there are some behavioral signs that warrant investigation. For instance, if the child starts avoiding a particular place or person, seems to have age-inappropriate information about sex/sexuality, becomes too withdrawn or aggressive, try to understand the root cause of the behavior (Note: These are just examples, there can be many other signs. Take some time to read about them online).
There is no substitute for keeping communication unconditionally open with your child. All the information in the world will remain inadequate if your child doesn’t trust they will be heard or supported when they raise a concern. If they can’t otherwise discuss their body or sexuality with you, then there’s little chance they’ll discuss abuse. So create the platform, at least within the family, to allow these conversations to happen without stigma or embarrassment.
Watch Nikita Gupta talk to parents here
I thank Nikita for sharing her valuable tips. Hope this helps parents be more receptive with their children.
April was Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. We need not wait till next year, we can start now.
Image source: YouTube