How to Prepare your Child to Recognize and Resolve Abuse and Manipulation

I’m going to continue on the theme of “Ways the Duggar Problem Could Have Been Avoided,” which dovetails nicely with my main theme of “How to Raise a Feminist”.

So let’s talk about the manipulation a child experiences.  You cannot escape the eventuality.  One of the things that is certainly bound to happen to a daughter at some point is manipulation at the hands of an adult (as a child) or a peer (as a young adult or teenager). If someone is unable or unwilling to force another against their will, violating consent, the next tactic is to emotionally or mentally manipulate their way into consent. This can be through intimidation, emotional posturing or intellectual trickery. My goal is to prepare my daughters for this moment as best I can.

I’m just going to assume that if you’re reading this, you aren’t emotionally manipulating your child yourself.  I may be wrong, but I’m just going to think that.

When it comes to children, a predator will probably concentrate on emotional manipulation and threats. If a child does not cooperate with an abuser he may tell her he is hurt by it or refuse to interact with her anymore. This can be devastating to a child who has grown close to an adult and has not developed the emotional maturity to deal with rejection or understand it.  While the best way to deal with this is to teach her that her body is hers (see my article on consent), she also needs to be aware that normal healthy adults do not rely on children for emotional support.  My daughters should know that as children they should not do things they don’t want to do to make an adult happy or help them stop being sad. This is something only another adult can do, but an adult can lie to you about it. If an adult tells my daughter that she made them sad or made them cry, I want her to go find another adult who can help, preferably me or her mother. Then we can address the problem as adults.

If a child predator knows what he is doing, he will tell his victim, “This is a secret between us. If anybody found out about it they would be very angry with you.” This can be terrifying for a child, and the only way to combat it is to constantly assure your child that you will listen to her without outlandish emotional reaction. I know it’s tough, even for a stoic like me. However, a child needs to know that she can tell her parents about anything without consequence of drama or overreaction. (Otherwise I can guarantee you have a long 10 years of silent, distant teenage girl ahead of you.)

This sort of thing can be carried into a daughter’s young adult life as well. Boyfriends can be terribly manipulative, and helping a daughter spot this and call it when she sees it is integral.  I intend to show my daughters articles like the ones at the bottom of this post as she reaches puberty. I want her to be sure of her value as a human. Boys will prey on her insecurities, so we as parents need to make sure she knows that she deserves better in a relationship.  It’s part of raising a feminist.

Also, a great deal of safety can be gathered simply by giving your daughter the knowledge she needs to identify when someone is molesting her, and the ability to communicate this to you as a parent.  There are many articles all over the internet with practical steps, but here are a few points:

I’m going to catch hell for this from certain members of my readership, I imagine, but I’m just going to lay it out: Proper sex education is essential.  What do I mean by “sex education?” I’m talking about more than a simple “Sex is bad and dirty so don’t do it, mkay?” Yes, my conviction is that God designed sex to thrive within the bounds of a lifelong exclusive pairing. However, turning sex ed into a moral admonition instead of actually, you know, educating about sex will hamper a daughter’s ability to know when sex is happening (for example when she is being abused).  Yes it’s important to keep it age appropriate, but I fear that in Christian homes we take this too far. The assumption seems to be that people who have no idea how sex works, only that it is bad, will abstain.  This doesn’t work.  Once a child reaches a certain age they are going to research it themselves. The result is children whose only knowledge about sex is their inexplicable (to them) compulsion for masturbation, or 20-something young adults who have no idea that women experience arousal too, or what the word vulva means.

The Advocates for Youth have a great resource on this subject (linked below).  My wife and I have agreed on the following based on those recommendations…

  • By Kindergarten, a child should know the correct names to their anatomy, even the sexual parts.  They should know that male and female anatomy is different. They should understand the concept of privacy, and that parts of their body are private.  They should know that babies grow inside their mother’s uterus.
  • By age 9 a child should have at least a cursory knowledge of what will happen to them during puberty, so as to avoid panic. They should also understand that these changes are connected to sexuality as an adult.
  • By age 12 they should have a deeper understanding of the conception process. They should understand the relationship between emotional and sexual feelings. They should understand that although sex is natural and pleasurable under the right circumstances, it is unwise in other circumstances because of the consequences it can bring.
  • And so on…

As a side note, it is important for a child to know that sexual abuse will not necessarily hurt.  They may not feel pain.  In fact, a child is likely to experience it as a “tickling” feeling. Don’t forget, the molestation could trigger arousal responses in the child’s body, and he/she will probably not know how to interpret or describe this feeling. This can also be used to further manipulate a child into thinking they participated in the sexual act because of his or her body’s natural response to stimuli. In other words, teach children that this kind of touch should be reported to you even if it doesn’t hurt. In fact, for this reason i would say it is probably best to never talk about sexual abuse interns of “pain” or “hurt”.

I’ll admit that this is something that is still “in the works” for me.  I had a great deal of trouble writing this post because it seems there is just too much material, and I haven’t personally experienced this.  If you want to continue reading on the subject, here are a few helpful articles:

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