Monday, July 11, 2011

My Body Is Private

I have quite a few books that I've finished recently.  I'm anxious to blog about them all, but somehow, on this lazy Sunday afternoon, the book that is the title of the post suddenly took precedence over everything else.

Why?  It's probably a combination of things.  It's a book that has been kicking around our house for years because I am nothing, if not a neurotic parent.  I bought it when Child #1 was about five and read it to her repeatedly until I was certain she understood the message.  I tucked it away on a bookshelf for Child #2 when he was ready and there it sat, untended and forgotton about for the last four years.

A couple of months ago I heard a third hand story about a case of child sexual molestation.  It had all of the makings of something that would keep me up at nights (parents were unable to prove the case, someone the child knew, the victim was in the same age bracket as my own children) but somehow the whole story slipped out of my mind before I had that important conversation with my children.

A month (or two) passed and I heard the story again from someone else.  Again I vowed to sit my children down and have a talk with them and again I let it slide.  Then, this morning at my gym I forgot to bring my headphones.  Instead of pounding music to keep me going on the treadmill it would have to be subtitles on T.V.  And lo and behold the local news was doing a piece about sexual predators.  Except it was more than just a piece about sexual predators, it was a piece about sexual predators at swimming pools in Portland. 

The symmetry was too much.  My kids are swimmers.  They even swim at some of the pools shown in the my neighborhood.  This was the third time I'd heard about sexual predators in as many months.  It felt like the universe was giving me a shake and saying "GO TALK TO YOUR KIDS."

So I did!  I dug out our neglected copy of My Body Is Private by Linda Walvoord Girard and read it out loud to my kids. 

"Any questions?" I chirped after the main character hugs her dad good night and says she's glad that 'most touching is a good thing.'

"No, no, we've got it," said Child #1.  "Everything under the swim suit is private, no one touches it and if they ask to touch, go tell a grown up."

"Yeah," said Child #2 which is what he often says after his sister talks so he may be in for another private reading tonight.

All I can do is hope they'll file this information away with all the other emergency information they learn. Like the book says "You don't need to worry about it; you just need to know what to do--the way you know what to do if a fire starts." 

If you haven't already talked to your children about this sensitive subject, please, please make time for it.  This is me, out in the internet-cosmos, reaching out to you to give you a gentle shake and reminder.  And if you need a helping hand, as I did, My Body Is Private strikes all the right notes.


Gary Hoover said...

When I saw this pop up on my news feed, I was almost afraid to click, but it's an important subject (fortunately my son is old enough now that we can put that behind us).

It's really tricky because we need to strike the right balance. We don't want to scare kids but we want them to be prepared. And one real problem is, if we make too big of a deal about it and then something happens, have we inflated the importance in the child's mind? For example will the kid be thinking: "This is that awful thing my mother told me about" and feel that it's even worse than it would normally be because we treat it as such a horrible, awful possibility?

I remember when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and ultimately found. As it was unfolding, before we knew any details, a co-worker said: "I just hope she wasn't sexually abused." We already knew that she was kidnapped from her bed in the middle of the night by a crazy man who forced her to live with him in squalor and worship him as a god, but, in her mind, sexual abuse would have been so much worse.

We want kids to avoid it, but we also need to be careful that we don't overemphasize the horror of it in the event they actually do, at some point, find themselves living with a past they can't change.

It's an important, but very difficult topic. Thanks for giving us all something to think about and a good resource.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm sending you hugs. Man, my daughter went through some paranoid years because I am a person who talks about EVERYTHING. When we lived in Portland I was VERY paranoid--it's not Portland being dangerous so much as my daughter was SO PRETTY and I was sure someone would swipe her. She knew very well never to get out of my sight (then again we moved when she was 5)--her paranoia has actually served her pretty well. Good for you for the rough conversations. And I hate to be the one to tell you, but you should be talking about sex too--you need to have enough years of the conversation before it starts happening in their peer group that they are comfortable bringing it up. When the first person my daughter knew had sex (7th grade) I heard about it. I doubt most moms did. I've been in the loop all along.

Johanna Garth said...

Hart- We've had that talk too. I'm all about being in the loop.

Gary- That's why I love this book so much. It addresses everything you need to cover without making it scary or a big deal. Without the book I definitely would have made it scary AND a big deal!

The Bookworm said...

Thanks for this post Johanna. Its such an important topic to discuss with children.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you take the time to talk with your kids and listen to your kids. A lot of parents assume it will never happen to their children and I would hate to see any parent to have to go through the aftermath. It isn't easy to handle by any means.

I love that they tell you not to worry about it; just know what to do. That's brilliant. If anyone needs this book I'll be sure to share it. Right now none of my friends have children but this will definitely be needed in the future.

SBJones said...

That book cover is creepy. Really creepy.

I remember when my mother gave all us kids that talk and about strangers. Now that my sisters have kids that are getting to that age, I will have to remind them of the stranger talk.