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  • Phumi The Psych

How to engage with children in conversation about sexual abuse

How to speak to your teen (ages 13-18) about sexual abuse

• Use media to engage in a conversation about it. Teens are fascinated about social media; this can be used as a portal to engage your teen to talk about an incident that they may have seen on Facebook/Twitter etc. Ask them about how it made them feel to read about this incident. What would they have done if they were the victim? Who would they have spoken to if this happened to them? Asking these kinds of questions will help the parent to see whether their teen can ask for help and also engage their own opinions in a safe parental space.

• Talk to them directly about what sexual abuse is. At this age, the teen is most likely aware of what sex is and some may already be sexually active. It is important for the parents to talk to them about the differences between sex with someone they like and sexual assault. The parents should let them know that the perpetrators can be someone close to them. They should be taught to say no when they feel uncomfortable and to not succumb to peer pressure by friends/schoolmates.

• Be approachable. Let your teens know that you are available at any time for them to come and talk to you. Perpetrators may try to convince the teen that no one will believe them and that they will get into trouble if they tell anyone. Let the teen know that they should not fear to approach to talk about anything.

How to speak to your tweens (ages 9-12) about sexual abuse

• Teach them the names of their body parts. This helps the tween to know which body parts are private and which should not be touched or looked at. It also facilitates a conversation with the tween about body parts they may have questions about.

• Teach them that saying no is okay. Tweens are normally taught to listen and respect their elders. It is important that they begin to develop their own agency in saying no to situations that make them feel uncomfortable. This may be a little difficult for them so it is important to let your tween know that they should immediately let you know of a situation where someone touched them inappropriately and where they felt uncomfortable about it. The tween must be reassured that they can approach their parents and tell them anything so that there are no hidden secrets.

• Let them know that they will not get into trouble. Most perpetrators may threaten a tween by saying that if they tell anyone they will get into trouble. Create a safe space for your child by constantly reassuring them they can talk to you about anything and that they will not be punished for it. We find that there are child perpetrators as well in our communities, it is important for a child to be able to tell their parents about their own sexual desires and to not feel that they will be judged or punished by communicating this.

• Give them different examples/ scenarios of how sexual assault takes place and what

they would do. An example, “Let’s say you are at your cousins house and your uncle

calls you into his room and asks you to take off your clothes. Would you feel

comfortable doing this? Would you come and tell mommy/daddy about it first?”

• Teach them to not accept gifts or talk to strangers without the parent present.

Defining it and the different possible ways it can take place


• When defining sexual abuse and ways it can take place, it is very important that the

parent is direct in giving this information. Teach them about consent and that any sexual

activity without their consent is sexual abuse. The parent should also let them know

that if they agree because of feeling pressured that this is not consent.

• Teach them that sexual assault can include any contact with private body parts (e.g.,

breasts, genitals, buttocks) that you don’t want, don’t agree to, or are forced to do.


• For children in this age group, giving concrete examples helps them to understand a

complex concept such as sexual abuse. The parent should show them on their own

bodies the different way sexual abuse can take place. For example, the parent can point

to their own genital area (emphasis on the parent touching his/her own and not that of

the child’s) and say that anyone who touches you here is sexual abuse. The parent can

point to other ears such as the buttocks, the breasts etc. The parent must also emphasise

that the child can also be touched in other areas where they may feel uncomfortable and

that this can also be defined as sexual abuse. For example, a constant brushing/rubbing

of their arms etc.

Teaching them right from wrong


• At this age, teens have developed a moral compass and have a good sense of the

differences between right and wrong. However, there is always room for the parent to

reemphasize this especially when it comes to sexual abuse. The parent should let the

teen know about consent and that a sexual action that is done on them without their

agreement or under pressure is wrong.

• The parent should also teach the teen how to respect other boundaries of other teens.

For example, if a friend tells them no to something, they should respect that and not


• Open up communication channels between the teen and yourself (parent) for them to

ask if they do not know whether something they did or someone else did to them is

right or wrong.


• With tweens, it is important to visualize to them and show them physically what is

wrong and what is right. Give them examples and probe them by asking questions to

see whether they have understood you. For example, ask them how they would feel if

someone touched them in the buttocks. After they have given a response, teach them

that this is wrong and why it is wrong.

If it’s happened to them, how to deal with the issue: how to handle it and what to do

Tweens and Teens:

• It may be a tragic experience when your beloved child tells you that they have been

sexually abused. The parents may begin to blame themselves for not protecting their

child from this.

• The first thing that needs to be done is that the child needs to be taken to the

clinic/hospital for a medical examination. Once the medical examination has been

completed, the parents can go open a case at the police station

• Seeking professional help from a psychologist is very important because the parents

may find it difficult to know how to assist the child from an emotional perspective.

The parents should also engage themselves in their own therapeutic process so as to

fully grapple with their difficult emotions about this incident.

• The parents need to also continually check in with the child from time to time an

Constantly letting the child know that what happened is not their fault

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