Friday, August 8, 2008

Too Much Information? Much Disappointment.

The August 2008 issue of Parents magazine features an article titled "Too Much Information." Tamekia Reece, the author, offers parents strategies for helping their child(ren) to understand the concepts of privacy and disclosure. 
Reece's article focuses on teaching children how to understand what is appropriate to share with others and what is not. For instance, how do we inform our children that it's okay to tell people what we ate for dinner last night, but we would rather that they not disclose daddy's time spent in the bathroom following that dinner? Unfortunately, Reece's article completely fails to recognize that teaching children the importance of privacy might come back to haunt them.
The terrible reality is that children are hurt everyday by a person whom they know and trust. According to Darkness to Light, an organization aimed at diminishing the incidence and impact of child sexual abuse, 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18, and 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18. AND ONLY 10% OF THE ABUSERS ARE STRANGERS. That means that 90% of those children are abused by someone whom they know! That is shocking.
Because of this disturbing information, Reece's article disappointed me greatly. For her article, she quotes several child-development professionals, suggesting that parents explain to their children that "private is something just for [the] family to know." The article even encourages parents to teach children the difference between good and bad secrets, explaining that it's okay to keep Grandma's birthday present a secret but it's wrong not to tell mom about a marker stain on the carpet.
What about when a family friend touches a child inappropriately and tells that child "it's our little secret?" How do we explain to our children that there are different kinds of secrets, those that only the family share, those shared amongst girlfriends on the playground, and then those relating to something as terrible as sexual abuse? 
Jim Hopper, a Harvard psychologist, notes that "in the case of sexual abuse, secrecy and intense feelings of shame may prevent children from seeking help."
This is not a warm and fuzzy topic, but it is a necessary one for us to address. I have worked in several schools serving a range of students, and I have yet to work in a school where we did not have to contact child protective services to report a case of sexual abuse. 
Reece's article offers a couple of fine strategies for helping our children to decipher when it's okay to blab and when we should just keep our mouth shut, but her suggestions merely add up to the common phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say it at all." 
Unfortunately the article baffles me with statements such as "secrets help your child build self-control." Shame on Parents magazine! There is nothing positive about keeping secrets when it might mean that a child hides the truth about being harmed. 
I suggest that we don't teach our children about secrets. I would avoid the word "secret" at all costs. Instead, let's focus on having a conversation with our children about 'good touch' versus 'bad touch' and what to do if someone, anyone, makes us feel uncomfortable. I would much rather that my 4-year-old humiliate me by saying something uncouth in front of a crowd than my 4-year-old fail to tell me the truth about a detrimental situation because he was instructed to never tell secrets.
If you are a parent, I urge you, don't fret about teaching your young ones about secret keeping. As your child matures and follows your positive example, he/she will eventually learn to use judgement in public. Instead, spend time teaching your children what they can do if anyone ever makes them feel uncomfortable. Let's make sure that our children are not afraid to seek help if they are in danger. Instead, maybe the perpetrators will be afraid to cause harm because they know that our young ones aren't afraid to tell the truth.

No comments: