I used to be a teacher sometime back. One day I had visited a 6th grade class, where one girl was trying to reply to a questionnaire secretly. I saw the words, “How did it taste?” I realized that there is something wrong in this one. I took that paper away from the girl and started reading the questions. It was about kissing. It is a different matter that I took this matter to the class teacher, etc. But later I found the whole issue hilarious. All parents teach children to kiss them, albeit on their cheeks. Movies openly show male and female kissing. Are we giving contradictory messages?
Children are also naive as far as sexual advances are concerned. What and how should a parent teach their children how to tackle such situations? A Journalist Reveals contacted Dr. Sharmila Banwat. Consulting Pediatric Psychologist from Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital to learn more about this crucial issue and know how to deal with it.
What would be the right way to tell them what is right? How do we differentiate between right and wrong touches for them?
A Child Psychologist or Parent or teacher can arrange a small 15-20 minute talk with children in a mixed group of 4-6 in the age range of 4-6yrs, 6-10yrs, 8-12yrs, or teenagers. Have an interactive discussion about what they understand about safe/unsafe person and safe/unsafe touch – a Touch Session.
- There are different forms of touch- hug, kiss, pat, slight touch, etc. The touch from people whom we know, love and trust is a good touch which the same touch from people we do not know or like or do not trust – is a bad touch.
- Children are sensitized about touch sensations and the feelings it arouses in us. When we get touches we get good feelings inside like happy, loved, wanted – is a good touch. Bad touch gives us bad feelings inside namely sadness, fright, unwanted or unloved feelings.
- Tickling can be good touch if it is short, brings laughter and stops. Tickling is a bad touch when it is long, starts to hurt, you start to cry, gets you hard to breathe or it is on your private body parts.
- Kissing is an expression of love – parents, family members, relatives may kiss on cheek/forehead. Lip kissing is done by teenagers or adults especially in western countries. Due to uncensored exposure in Indian television advertisements, daily soaps and movies, children have seen it many times and tend to become curious to experiment it themselves. The forbidden fruit always sweeter, the child should be provided information about the spread of diseases due to mouth-to-mouth contact…. rather than prohibiting them from lip kissing.
- There is no room for secret – explain to them not to agree to keep any form of touch experience as a secret, touching in a secluded place, touching in darkness, touching in unknown locations. etc.
- Three parts of body are not allowed to be touched by anybody except parents while bathing or cleaning and doctors while examining in presence of at least one of the parents. They are – chest, buttocks and between legs.
- If anyone touches the child inappropriately, teach them to go away to a safe place and talk about it to the person whom they can trust – namely parents, elder sibling, grandparents, teacher or other school authorities.
- Tell them to be vigilant while using building or public lifts, school transport, etc. particularly when they are alone.
Right/wrong touch, good/bad touch and safe/unsafe touch are synonymously used.
Today even little boys are not safe from lecherous people. How to tell children what is the right touch?
There are several myths in our society about sexual abuse:
- It happens only in western countries.
- The media will wrongly taboo you if reported.
- Only children from slums are abused.
- Only children from broken families go through this.
- It happens only to girls.
There are almost equal number of cases occurring in girls and boys. The abuser can victimize any timid and vulnerable child (due to younger age, delayed speech, intellectual dullness, poor assertiveness, ignorance, lack of awareness, etc.), irrespective of the gender. But the girl child cases seem to be reported or hyped more.
The Touch Session is therefore done for all children independent of their gender.
How do we broach the subject of sexuality in children?
Sex education is an important aspect of the education system. Std. VII-VIII is a good time to introduce this. It should cover bodily function of a girl and boy, menstrual cycle, sexual choices, birth control, contraceptive methods, psycho-socio-medical risks of teenage pregnancies, etc.
What would be the right age in which we should inform them about the above?
4 years is the right age. Smarter kids will be able to comprehend by 3 ½ years too. The group exercise should be done every six months to get feedback and exchange new notes.