My husband was visiting some very good family friends the other night. One of their rituals is to read to the family’s 10-year-old son (which he’s been doing since well before the boy was a reader). Like a lot of kids his age, he’s been enjoying the Percy Jackson books. This has led him to check out classical mythology. So on Monday, he picked out a book and pointed to the title of one of the chapters and asked, “What does that word mean?”
“The Rape of Persephone”
Obviously this sort of conversation isn’t something anyone looks forward to, but we all know it’s important. So I’m going to share some resources on a couple of related topics. One topic is classified in the library catalog as “sex instruction for children.” Another comes under the subject heading “child sexual abuse prevention.” The third is kind of a spectrum ranging from violence against women to healthy relationships.
The sex education books come in a wide range from titles for little kids to ones for preteens and teens. Some have a narrow focus– just dealing with names of body parts or pregnancy or puberty– for when you want to take the approach of answering a specific question. Some of them are more comprehensive, and here are two recommended books of that type:
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley is kind of considered a gold standard for sex education books. It’s very thorough (as you can see from the subtitle Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health; all those topics are covered, and more). The newest edition has some small updates on laws and science compared to the previous edition (The authors also have two books for younger children, It’s So Amazing and It’s Not the Stork).
Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth is a new title that won an honor this year. It’s one of those books that’s designed to invite conversation. It’s less about sexual intercourse and more about, to quote some of the reviews, “gender, bodies … touching, and … emotions” “relationships, gender identity, and growing sexual awareness” “gender, bodies, and relationships” “bodies, gender, and sexuality” and even “boundaries, safety, and joy.”
I recently read about a public library that offered a special series of safety storytimes for children. They started with a fire safety in the first week and gradually built up to the topic of preventing sexual abuse in final program. I think this a good framework for thinking about this topic; we are helping children learn ways to stay safe.
Searching “child sexual abuse prevention” in the library catalog brings up a range of titles for children and adults. There are also a few titles that don’t have this subject heading that tell the stories of children who have been abused.
Not in Room 204 by Shannon Riggs is the first picture book I recall seeing that talked about sexual abuse in terms other than stranger danger. Readers are introduced to a girl whose teacher has a lot of rules about what you can and can’t do in Room 204. This same teacher also tells them “it’s not always strangers” who abuse children, and “If someone told me this happened to them, I know exactly what to do to help.” The combination of a safe space, words to explain what has been happening, and a plan for what to do next help the student find help and hope.
Please Tell, written and illustrated by a girl named Jessie telling her own story, also describes a girl being abused by someone she knows. In this case, the girl tells her parents. This story tells more about what can happen after a person tells (“The police went to see my uncle. He never hurt me again, and he never did the things he said [threatened] he would do.”). She also talks about seeing a psychologist to help with the memory of what happened, and provides a list of people a child can go to for help.
Even before my husband had his difficult conversation with his friend’s son, I was thinking of posting about these topics because of something I saw on Facebook.
I strongly encourage clicking to see the entire post from A Mighty Girl, because they include a lot of information there: a little more about Patrick Stewart’s personal story and what he has been doing to help women suffering abuse (and, as he came to understand more about his father, to help those who suffered trauma in war); a list of recommended books about healthy relationships for tweens and teens (lots of fiction, plus a nonfiction relationship guide for tweens); and online resources to help parents talk about relationships that are healthy and relationships that are abusive. The resources to tend to lean towards girls; a title I would recommend to boys and their parents is The American Medical Association Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen.
The Facebook post didn’t just grab me because I have been a big fan of Patrick Stewart since I was a teenage Trekkie. The more important thing was who posted it. It was shared by a good friend of mine from college. She is the last person you would ever think had been in an abusive relationship– she is a strong feminist, she’s informed about human rights and actually ran the Amnesty International group at our college– but I know from conversations with her that she had an abusive boyfriend in high school. If it could happen to her, it could happen to anybody.
I hope sharing this information can help parents talk to their children about important things, help people understand situations they may find themselves in, and help young people know what to do to escape abuse and have happy and healthy relationships.
My husband told his friend, “This is what came up when I was reading to your son, and this is what we talked about.” I think he’s the best possible person who could have introduced the topic to the boy. It doesn’t hurt that my husband is studying to become a social worker right now, and that he’s doing some in-depth research into domestic violence. But the most important thing is that he’s a caring and trusted adult.