Excerpts from Off Limits!
Off Limits: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse lays out the facts, and then gets right down to empowering parents. Full of tips and easy to read, Off Limits offers seven essential body-safety rules, information on age-appropriate sexual development, sample language for talking with children and teens about body-safety, and gives you specific questions for screening caregivers.
From the book:
“OFF LIMITS SAFETY TIP #7—Make sure your children know that they do not have to comply with unsafe or inappropriate requests from an authority figure.”
The authors in no way dismiss the importance of respecting elders, but make it unequivocally clear—“Children need permission to say ‘No’ to any authority figure who asks them to do something that’s not safe, that could endanger them, or that would break a body safety rule.” Put simply, “safety comes first, and manners second.”
Secrets and Surprises
The authors offer examples of language that parents can use with children to teach them boundaries and body safety. For example, in their discussion on “secrets” versus “surprises,” they offer this language, with the understanding that each parent will find his or her own voice:
“Surprises are things that, after a while, you tell someone about and it makes that person happy. A surprise might be a birthday gift for your friend. You don’t tell your friend what the present is—for a little while. Then you give her the gift and she is surprised and happy. But secrets are things that people might tell you to keep to yourself and never tell anyone about. In our family, it’s okay to keep surprises, but not secrets.”
As a practical parenting book, Off Limits encourages parents to seize teachable moments—those opportunities when a child asks a big question (“What is sex?”) or engages in behavior (“playing doctor”) that opens the door for a lesson on boundaries or body safety.
Consider this teachable moment when a three-year-old runs naked through the living room as the parents are entertaining. You might use this opportunity to “teach your daughter about modesty without making her feel that her nudity is ‘naughty.’ You might say, “Now that you’re a big girl, you need to cover up. There are special parts of your body that are not for everyone to see. When we have guests over, you need to keep your clothes on.”
Parents already teach children numerous safety rules (don’t touch the hot stove, wear a helmet on your bike), but Off Limits goes one step further with “Body-Safety Rules,” and makes them as relevant for teens as young children.
Body-Safety Rule #1—No One Is Allowed to Touch Your Private Parts
Applying this rule, a parent might say to a young child, “No one is allowed to touch your private parts, unless you need help cleaning them, or your private parts are hurt or sick and a doctor or nurse needs to examine them. (Remind children that you will be with them during doctor visits.)”
And for teens, “No one has the right to touch the private areas of your body without your permission. No one has the right to force, coerce, bribe, threaten, or manipulate you into engaging in any type of sexual activity.”
Of course, the next body-safety rule addresses touching someone else’s private parts, which is very important particularly given the prevalence of adolescent sex offenders.
Screening Caregivers and Safety Practices
Children interact with lots of different authority figures—teachers, activity leaders, coaches, religious figures, and others. How can parents invite these individuals onto their prevention team? Off Limits not only gives the reader screening questions, but also recommends that parents discuss their child’s safety practices with authority figures. For example: “My children have been taught to obey authority figures, unless the authority figure asks them to break any of their body-safety rules or jeopardizes their safety in any way, in which case they have been given permission to say "No” to the person.”
Responding to Disclosure
Given the prevalence of child sexual abuse, Off Limits also addresses, sensitively, how to respond to a child’s disclosure. According to the authors, children are usually indirect when they disclose so “it’s important for parents and other caring adults to actively listen to children’s statements, questions, and behaviors. Pay attention if a child makes negative comments about a person (“He’s mean”) or if a child doesn’t want to be with a particular person, especially if it’s an abrupt turnaround.”
Off Limits Kids
The book closes with a series of reproducible lists that parents can use in their home to reinforce the concept of an “Off Limits Kid,” “Off Limits Home,” and “Off Limits Community.”
Here’s an example of an Off Limits Kid, who has been taught body-safety rules by her parents.
Teacher: “Let’s make up a dance and keep it our special secret. Let’s not tell your mom or anyone else about our dance.”
Nikki: “But we don’t keep secrets in our family.”
Teacher: “What do you mean you don’t keep secrets?”
Nikki: “I’m not allowed to keep secrets from my mom. I tell her everything.”