BY MOMWISE LATUNDE ONABAJO
Today, we live in a world that does not always afford us the luxury of leaving everything to chance, especially when our children are involved. I remember when I was growing up and many will perhaps relate to this, my mom trusted our community and the public enough to allow my sister and I travel alone without the fear of “stranger danger”. Many times, my sister and I traveled great distances utilizing public transportation and sometimes we eschewed public transports in favor of walking five to ten miles all alone!
We went on many adventures in our neighborhood. We heard angry barking dogs and security men yelling at the top of their voices in languages we didn’t understand. Many times, we would pluck almonds, mangoes, oranges from unmanned trees and sit under them to enjoy their juicy fruits. We met and played with many strangers that eventually became friends. Nonetheless, we always made it home safely after those wonderful adventures. But that was eons of years ago.
Today, I can’t imagine sending my daughters to my community playground without adult supervision for concern (okay, fear!) of the worst happening. And rightly so because hundreds of stories of abuse, and thousands of posters of missing children are plastered all over the internet and street corners. We now live in a world where safety is one of our priorities and not just as a nation but even within families.
As parents, protecting our children has gone beyond avoiding bodily injuries. We are inundated with concerns about our children’s mental, sexual, spiritual, academic and psychological safety.
Many children, from early ages are now being subjected to bullying, sexual harassment, assaults, violence, etc., and Christian children are not immune to these kinds of ugly exposures! Thank God for the Bible where we can seek guidance and direction. It says, “…In this world, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world” John 16:33.
It is such a wonderful promise from our Lord Himself that He has “overcome the world”. But does this mean that we let go of safety measures because Christ has overcome the world? Does this promise mean that Christ has rid the world of dangers, therefore, we have nothing to worry about? Of course not! In fact, the Bible encourages us to take precautions around people that can harm us and our children. So how can we teach our children about safety? Or more importantly, the question is when can we begin to have the tough conversation about safety with our children? Sadly, even children as young as toddlers are victims of danger and assault which means that it is never too early to have the tough conversation.
Did you know that: About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abusers? Only 10% of sexually abused children are abused by a stranger.1
Approximately 30% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members?1
As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, more powerful children?1
These statistics are not to create fear but to increase parents’ awareness and drive to protect our children. Long gone are the years where children are advised to stay away from strangers (while this is still important) but more importantly is to educate and create an awareness in our children from early ages that safety is not merely the absence of danger but God’s protection, self-awareness and the confidence to report issues to their parents and or authorities. This is the tough conversation we must be willing to have with our children that there is danger around and not just among strangers! And on social media especially, the boundary lines are getting blurrier and nerve-wracking.I have started the habit of helping my children label their body parts, no more nicknames because I discovered that children often find nicknames playful and fun. So do predators!
It is a tough conversation to have with young children but it is a conversation that MUST be held. I tell my daughters that their body is God’s temple which should not be disrespected by anyone. Obviously, there are levels of information to disclose depending on the child’s age. Nonetheless, some awareness is better than no awareness.
As parents, it is time to get under the veil of childhood and start depositing hard truths without disrupting their innocence. It is time to start the tough conversation about safety topics such as:
Bullying: Robust self-esteem and confidence are usually effective anecdotes to combat bullying. In other words, building self-esteem in children is the core component to prevent bullying.
Sexual harassment and/or assault: When a child understands their private part means its private, they are more likely to speak up when unauthorized individual attempts to assault their innocence.
Violence: People are a product of nature and nurture. Violent and aggressive adults did not become such the minute they clocked 18 years old. Characteristics exhibited in adults are a result of experiences from their childhood. Therefore, safety from violence should begin at a tender age especially in our homes.
The tough conversation is not a guarantee that our children will live danger-free lives; perhaps not. But what the tough conversation can do is help our children appreciate God’s plan and purpose for their bodies and lives beginning from their young years. It also helps them understand the fundamental human dignity that each body is a sanctuary to be respected and honored.
My prayer is that our children will, even in the face of adversity, understand God’s purpose for their lives. They will live to honor and fiercely protect their bodies which is the temple of God. It starts with us parents. Let us begin the process by having those critical conversations!