This week’s guest on the Unveil your Voice Podcast is Feather Berkower.
Feather Berkower, Founder of Parenting Safe Children, is a licensed clinical social worker and one of the nation’s leading experts in child sexual assault prevention. She has dedicated her career — which now spans over three decades — to educating parents and youth professionals on how to make their communities “off limits” to child sexual assault.
Using her community-based approach, she has trained over 150,000 school children, parents, and youth professionals across the United States.(from www.parentingsafechildren.com)
Feather and I have the important discussion on why it is important for Parents to actively teach not only their children about body safety rules and the correct terminology for private parts, but also to teach caregivers and those in the child’s circle.
It truly was eye-opening to me, and we even utilized examples from my own life on how to teach my children. Feather truly takes a topic that is highly uncomfortable and scary for many and empowers parents and caregivers with the right tools and techniques to show that the topic is as simple as other safety factors we put into place with our children.
Check out this episode because Feather is insightful and inspiring through the work that she does to help families keep their children safe.
Please note that we openly discuss sexual abuse and we ask that you listen at your own discretion.
You can learn more about Feather, her courses, and book at www.parentingsafechildren.com and follow her on social media @parentingsafechildren.
Check out her blog post below!
You saw something that needed changed. What change needed to happen?
Children are being sexually assaulted in unimaginable numbers. 200 million children per year; 1 in 3-4 girls; 1 in 6 boys; approximately or 1 in 10 children will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. That means on a school bus with 30 children, 10 will sexually assaulted by age 18, and in a graduating class of 1,000, 100 students will be sexually assaulted by age 18. That’s unacceptable. If 1 in 10 homes in your neighborhood were burning to the ground, you’d probably want to know why and doing everything you could to prevent it. The change that needs to happen is that adults must put Child Sexual Abuse prevention on their radar....
1. Learn how sexual assault happens to children, 2. Educate children about sexual health, sexual development and sexual assault by discussing body safety and boundaries and 3. And most importantly, parents need to discuss their children’s body safety-rules and boundaries with all the people they put their children in the care of, including family, to minimize the risk of sexual assault.
What steps did you take in the beginning to make the change happen?
I shifted my focus from educating children in school-based programs on how to protect themselves from sexual assault to educating adults about how they can protect children. After all, adults are responsible for protecting kids from assault. Children can learn protection skills and it’s important that they do, however, ultimately, it is up to adults to protect children, not for children to have to bear the burden of protecting themselves. That shift occurred by working solely with adults; parents and youth professionals educating them about creating safe environments for children where their risks are minimized.
When did you start Parenting Safe Children?
When do you feel children should start learning about sexual abuse?
From the day a child is born, parents can begin creating environments where sexual development is discussed and nurtured. It begins with using the correct terminology for genitals. During diaper changing, dressing, bathing... just like parents teach all the other names of body parts; elbow, eyes, knees etc., teach the names of genitals; vagina, vulva, penis, testicles, buttocks, anus, rectum. We don’t talk to a one-year old about pedophiles, but we absolutely do talk with them about the correct names of ALL their body parts and refrain from using slang terminology. We teach them immediately that they are the boss of their own body. We can speak with toddlers about consent and giving them the permission and language to refuse unsafe requests. We can speak with 3 and 4- year olds about boundaries around touch teaching them that no one is allowed touch their genitals (giving exceptions for cleaning and medical reasons) and that they don’t touch other’s genitals. We can speak with young children about pornography by teaching them no one is allowed to take photos or videos of their naked body. And that surprises are so much fun and kept in the family, but secrets are not. So the conversation about sexual abuse can begin within the context of these other important topics at very early ages.
What are some ways that parents can create a safe environment when educating children?
Attend to their own possible childhood victimization first; Tone in their voice goes along way – panic, fear based language and warnings are not helpful- straightforward honest information at the child’s developmental level is helpful; use educational books written for children on prevention; talk often; answer any question a child has; be proactive in conversations with kids rather than waiting for them to ask questions;
What are some barriers that parents, educators and caregivers face when it comes to prevention?
1. Personal Triggers – When a parent is a survivor of childhood sexual assault, it can pose unique challenges to educating their own children about prevention. It’s important to attend to your own trauma so you can do your best to protect your child.
1. Ignorance – Parents don’t have the language – it is often not even on their radar as a necessary topic.
2. Denial – “This won’t happen to my child.”
3. Discomfort – Too scary to think about.
How can parents become more comfortable in having these hard conversations?
• Be willing to feel uncomfortable so your child doesn’t have to – because these conversations minimize risk.
• Know that offenders tell me to tell parents to discuss their children’s body safety with ALL caregivers!
• Practice with friends and trusted family members.
• Use the Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards.
• Do it on behalf of your child no matter how uncomfortable you feel.
After checking out your website, we saw that there are many resources available that you offer. This includes books, safety agreements, nanny packets, and even your own resources. Tell us about some of the resources you provide?
• Parenting Safe Children Online Workshop available to anyone in the world. Same as my live in-person workshop in Denver – done at your convenience on your device. https://parentingsafechildren.com/online-workshops/
• Off Limits; A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse https://parentingsafechildren.com/book/
• Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards https://parentingsafechildren.com/book/#cards
• Phone consultations https://parentingsafechildren.com/consultations/
• Blog posts https://parentingsafechildren.com/blog/
• Facebook – post daily with participation https://www.facebook.com/parentingsafechildren/
• Instagram - post daily @parentingsafechildren
Out of the resources you provide, what do you feel would be the best place for a parent or caregiver should start?
Parenting Safe Children Online Workshop
What is a Prevention TeamTM and where should one start when building one?
A Prevention TeamTM is all of the caregivers in your child’s life with whom you’ve had a conversation about your child’s body-safety rules. Start with the reality that you will probably be uncomfortable and keep asking yourself if you are willing to feel uncomfortable on behalf of your child. Then, start with the people who spend the most time with your children. Let people know that this conversation is something you are doing with every person that has contact with your child and that it is not personal. Get buy in. Agree on a common goal of keeping kids safe. If needed, educate the person about sexual assault. Explain how discussing body
safety, just like discussing other types of physical safety i.e., helmets, car seats, stair gates, allergies etc. is important to you and that by having a conversation about body safety with all the people in your child’s life, minimizes risk. Discuss the key body-safety rules you are discussing with your child. Use the Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards because it helps get the conversation off the ground.
Technology plays such a huge role in our lives, do you have any tips on how to parents can be safe social media(sharing photos of children etc), and how children who are on social media can practice safety precautions?
Do not share photos of children unclothed in any way, including shirts off. Be mindful of posting photos of children in bathing suits, sleeping and over posting photos. Filters on devices Parents engage in social media with children – maintain all passwords. Parents Engage in direct conversations with children about online safety- Never share personal information Tell parents if anything is uncomfortable at all during on line use.
What is the best way to get in touch with you?
• What are your social media handles? Instagram @parentingsafechildren
• Facebook https://www.facebook.com/parentingsafechildren/
• Twitter @FeatherBerkower
• LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/feather-berkower-8985a319/
Lastly, if you could live one tip of advice for parents what would be?
Listen to your child. Listen to the little seemingly insignificant things they say so they are more able to tell you the bigger things they may need to talk about. Ask “why” and say “tell me more,” a lot. Let them know you are listening.
And listen to your own gut intuition every single time when it comes to the safety of your child and do not ignore your red flags!!!