Child sexual abuse thrives in silence. It thrives when we refuse to look at it or talk about it. It thrives when we don’t want to admit that it is as prevalent as it is and that we can do something about it. It thrives when we’re not actively defending children from it.

At the same time, psychologists agree that optimism, happiness, and “positive illusions” will lead to a better life.

So how do we stay cautious yet optimistic while keeping our children safe?

As the Russian proverb says: “Trust, but verify.”

Be with your child.

Whether your kid is 6 or 16, spend quality time with them whenever you can. Attending their practices, rehearsals, youth group activities, etc. can go a long way in creating a great relationship with them and sending a clear message to any potential perpetrators that your child is not an easy target. You don’t have to be a “helicopter parent” and never let your child out of your sight, but make sure you’re there to support them, figuratively or literally, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.

Be aware of the people surrounding your child.

Your child will trust who you trust. Really look at your circle of friends, family members, and acquaintances. Why do you trust them? Is there anyone that makes you or your child even a little bit uncomfortable? It can be difficult to look at the people you’re close to as potential perpetrators of abuse, but statistically speaking they are the most likely to abuse your child. If you can’t stand the thought of looking at the people you love in that way, shift your vision. How can you make sure that this person becomes an ally and protector of your child? How can you get them helping you in defending children?

Be open with your child.

Educating your child about healthy sexual development is an important part of protecting them. Creating an open dialogue and having open, honest, and loving communication with them will help them in every aspect of their life. Not to mention it will deepen your relationship with them and create a bond of trust. If you talk to them about healthy relationships, you can focus on the positive and loving aspects while still educating them about the warning signs to watch out for, including sexual abuse. Your child will be able to look for the best in relationships, while understanding what things are red flags.

Be vigilant. 

The adage “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” works well when discussing child sexual abuse. Educate yourself, your friends and family, and your child about what to look for, ways to minimize risk, and make it clear that you are open to discussing child sexual abuse and all that goes along with it. You don’t need to turn yourself into a nervous wreck about all the things that could go wrong, but you also don’t want to put your head in the sand and believe nothing bad will happen to anyone ever.

Being optimistic may seem worlds away from being cautious, but it doesn’t have to be. Take a deep breath, look on the bright side, and talk openly about your worries. It can be difficult to talk to your child, especially about sex, but it’s worth it. Defending children from sexual abuse is always worth it.

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