In recent years, the sexual abuse of children has been highly publicised due to the likes of the Jimmy Savile Inquiry and more recently with the FA abuse scandal. With the release of these reports and investigations, it has become more and more necessary for us to take some kind of preventative measure against child sexual abuse. Let’s face it, these horror stories are incredibly scary and all too common!
I have to admit, the idea of talking to my girls about sex scares the life out of me. I try to be a progressive, open-minded dad but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of it. But it is important – VERY important – to make sure that my girls are safe and that they can recognise when somebody else’s behaviour isn’t appropriate. My wife and I are very aware how crucial it is for our girls to be able to trust us and confide in us.
Earlier in the year, the NSPCC launched their ‘Talk Pants’ campaign. This campaign aims to help parents to have open conversations with their children in a less scary way – without having to talk about sex. It comes with an (annoyingly) catchy song and video created in association with Aardman Animations to equip children with the vocabulary they need to keep them safe.
Talk PANTS and stay safe
It is the hope of the NSPCC that by talking PANTS, us parents will have a simple way to keep our children safe from sexual abuse. Each letter of PANTS represents an easily remembered concept that tells children that their body is their own, they have a right to say no and that they should always tell an adult they trust if something worries or upsets them.
Privates Are Private
The clue is in the name. Privates. Your child’s underwear covers up their private parts and nobody else should see them or touch them, or ask them to do the same. Occasionally, there will be times when doctors, nurses or other family members MAY need to, but they must explain why first and ask if this is okay.
“What’s in your pants belongs only to you.”
Always Remember Your Body Belongs To You
It is important that your child knows that their body only belongs to them. With Olive, we are very careful with making sure that we ask her if she wants to kiss or cuddle somebody – even if that person is Grandma who she sees regularly and always gives her a kiss and a cuddle. It is her body and therefore her decision. Nobody else, not even family members they know and love, has the right to make a child feel uncomfortable. If anyone asks to touch a child underneath their underwear it is important that they say “NO” and tell somebody they trust right away.
No Means No
The NSPCC say that if a child is confident enough to say no to a family member – somebody who they may love and want to see happy – then they are more likely to say no to others. When you reinforce that “No Means No”, then you are showing that you are respecting their decision about their own body and their feelings. Children should never be put in a situation where they are made to do things that make them feel either embarrassed or uncomfortable.
As a parent, I find this hard sometimes. There are times where all I want is a cuddle from my girls and of course I know that I am not doing anything inappropriate by hugging them. If Olive says no, though, I have to respect that decision as it teaches her an important lesson about her own control over her body.
Talk About Secrets That Upset You
As mentioned earlier, my wife and I really want our girls to be able to confide in us. The NSPCC talk about there being ‘good’ secrets and ‘bad’ secrets. The good secrets are the surprises, the gifts, the parties – the kind of secrets that are positive and exciting. The bad secrets are the opposite in that they cause fear, stress, anxiety. They can make children feel worried or frightened.
If my children feel that they can tell us any secret in the world – good or bad – then I won’t have to worry about them being intimidated into keeping quiet about something. It won’t get them into trouble and just like the good secrets, the bad secrets should always be shared in the end.
Speak Up, Someone Can Help
Children should never feel like they would be in trouble if they shared something that makes them feel sad, worried or frightened. That person – whether it is their dad, a sibling (as long as they are BOTH going to tell an adult), a teacher or even Childline – should remind them that it is good to talk about the things that make us upset and that whatever the problem is, it is not their fault. Showing your kids that you are open to having conversations with them, despite being a blundering, awkward dad like me, can give them the confidence to seek you out if they are worried.
If you need any advice or support, the NSPCC recommends:
- The PANTS website
- Contacting them on their 24/7 phone line: 0808 800 5000
- Sending a message to a counsellor at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also Childline: 0800 1111
The NSPCC also advise talking to a teacher at your child’s school. Schools should have safeguarding measures in place, should you feel concerned about any aspect of your child’s well-being.
As parents, you should be able to determine the right time to start having these conversations with your own kids. You know them best after all! I’ve played the video to Olive a couple of times and whilst she doesn’t quite understand what is going on just yet (she is only 2 and a half after all), she’s been singing bits of Pantosaurus whilst she skips around the house. The more parents that we can make aware of ways in which to keep children safe, the more we can play an active role in reducing the sexual abuse of children.