Hi Readers: So here’s a “helpful” article on how to keep our kids safe from predators. It cites the oft-repeated notion that when we make our kids hug or kiss relatives, the kids get the message that from now on they must submit to any and all skeevy and revolting requests adults make of them.
To me this seems like a giant leap. I never liked kissing my aunts and I sure hated the lipstick smudges they’d leave on my cheeks, but I don’t think that gave me an, “I guess from now on I’m jailbait” mentality, either. This just seems like one more, “Watch out!” article that gets parents worried without actually giving them something sensible to do.
What IS sensible? DO teach your kids to be polite. And then do what David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, suggests, in terms of keeping kids safe from abuse: Teach them to understand, avoid and report it. In other words, teach them “good touch/bad touch,” starting as early as age 3 or 4. Let them know that if anyone touches them in a disturbing way, or asks them to do something that feels wrong or upsetting, they can say no. AND they can (and should) tell you what happened, even if the other adult says not to. AND you won’t be mad. Let kids know: It’s not their fault.
By the way, Finkelhor said he has seen no correlation between kids made to hug their relatives and kids who get abused. Neither has Amy Baxter, a pediatrician who did a fellowship in child abuse and teaches other doctors about it. Both agree, however, that if your child does express real distress about hugging or kissing someone in particular, there is no need to force them to do it. Once the person is gone, just ask your child some open-ended questions — “Can you tell me why you feel this way?” — to see if anything is going on.
The “Predators Love Polite Kids” piece I’ve linked to assumes that when we are teaching our children to generally be polite we are also turning a deaf ear to any of their pointed protests or hesitations. But we aren’t. It also assumes we are squelching all their instincts. But most of us grew up with that, “Don’t kiss me with your lipstick-y mouth!” instinct and it seems to be one that we could suspend temporarily, for the sake of good manners, even while retaining our other, self-protective instincts. And even while retaining an open line of communication with our parents.
The leap from kissing grandpa to being molested seems like a truism that we’ve just gotten used to parroting. — Lenore