“I just want to keep my children innocent as long as possible,” she said.
We all do. What kind of parent doesn’t want to protect their children? But judging by the number of sexually abused children in our circles, I wonder if we really know how.
In years gone by, we’ve been taught to keep our children “innocent” by refraining from telling them the facts of life until they are well into their teens – or right before they get married. It’s called “The Talk”. Has it worked? Is innocence the ignorance of all things sexual?
We live in a world where sex is boldly proclaimed, and brazenly advertised and sold on a daily basis. Pornography is easily accessible, thanks to the internet on our cell phones and the magazines in the checkout lines. You don’t have to drive far to see plenty of billboards that are worse than the pictures published in the first porn magazines.
On top of all the junk floating around “out there,” we have a huge problem within the church – sexual abuse. More and more children are being victimized every year, not by people from “out there” but by family members and church members within our circles.
Parents, it’s time we dig our heads out of the sand. Our children are being exposed to sexual things long before they hit their teens. There are children as young as two who are being raped and abused. Boys are being shown pornography before they turn ten. We have girls growing up who don’t remember ever feeling innocent. I wish I could say that the situations I just mentioned are few and far between, but they aren’t. It’s becoming far too “normal”.
It’s time to admit that our strategy isn’t working. Judging by the epidemic of abuse in Anabaptist communities today, it is not a stretch to say that keeping our children ignorant about the facts of life has actually “fed” the abuse cycle.
Innocence is not ignorance. Innocence has more to do with how a child finds out about the facts of life than with how much they know. A child does not lose their innocence when we as parents explain sex and puberty in a pure, undefiled manner as God intended sex to be. On the flip side, when abuse occurs and the child is conditioned to believe that sex is something dirty and shameful, innocence is definitely lost. Untold damage to their view of God and their view of sex happens when a child is abused, whereas the facts of life, simply told in a safe and loving environment, and in an age appropriate way produces phenomenally different results.
There is nothing a perpetrator likes more than an ignorant child who has no sexual knowledge. Why? Because the child can be taught anything and everything about sex – the perpetrator’s way. Abuse can go on for years when sexual things are introduced in this way. The sexual deviations become “normalized” in the child’s mind because there is nothing to compare it to. Furthermore, without a healthy view of their bodies and sex, children often hide the abuse from parents and caregivers because they don’t know any better. Ignorance gives the perpetrator power while healthy, pure, facts of life from parental figures gives that power to children by helping them to say “NO” and helping them to distinguish between good touch and bad touch.
Countless abuse survivors will tell you that they were not taught about good touch and bad touch. Their parents tried to keep them innocent by ignorance and it didn’t work. When the abuse started, they were confused. It didn’t feel right, but “Uncle Jim says it’s okay and that this is what love is” so they accepted it as normal behavior. On the other hand, I’ve talked to moms who’ve been open with their children about sexual things; they’ve told them what to do in a bad situation and answered their questions about the facts of life. And many times, it’s those kinds of conversations that have saved children from abuse.
I do not want my children to find out about sex and their bodies from anyone other than my husband and I. And in order to do that, it means starting before they are two. It means teaching them the proper names for their private body parts in normal everyday life. It means answering their many questions about where babies come from and why mama’s belly is so big. (Yes, I’m currently carrying our third child.) It means explaining life to them and keeping the lines of communication open with our children. It means listening to them and hearing their hearts. It means reminding them that when God made their bodies, He said “It is very good.”
We all want to protect our children’s innocence. None of us want to find out that our child knows far more than we told them because of a pervert in our circle of family or friends. In this day and age, it means having “talks” instead of “the talk”. Because innocence is not ignorance.
Let’s step up to the plate, parents. And may God help us to protect the “little ones” He has so graciously given us to love.