How to talk about sexual solicitation and harassment with a child?

The original Finnish text has been published in the guide “Kysy, kohtaa, kuuntele. Opas seksuaalisen houkuttelun ja seksuaaliväkivallan ennaltaehkäisyyn nuorisotyössä”, Koordinaatti.
Although this article deals with young people, children may also be targets of sexual solicitation and harassment.

Children may hear about sexual solicitation, harassment and violence from their friends or see news about these topics. Adults should talk to children about what constitutes sexual harassment and abuse. There is no need to explain these things to very small children, but you should have a conversation with children who may come across such incidents through their school/friends and media. The conversation will not only help to process the issue, but also provide information that can help prevent such incidents.

Ask, discuss and listen

  • Ask what the child has heard about such incidents.
  • Ask what they think about the incidents, how they make them feel.
  • Tell them the facts, but do not fill the child’s mind with details or excessive emotive expressions. For example:
    – “There’s been a sad incident where children/young people were subjected to violence by an adult.”
    – “Most people want to do good to others, but not everyone.”
    – “It’s important to talk about these things so that you’d know how to protect yourself from these incidents in the future.”
    – “Nobody is allowed to touch someone else’s body in any way without permission.”
  • Ask more than you speak. This allows you to identify what the child feels and experiences in the situation.

How can you protect your child or young person from serious negative phenomena around the internet, such as grooming, i.e., preparing children for sexual abuse?

The best way for parents to support their child’s or young person’s safe use of the internet and social media is to be interested in it on a daily basis. Taking an interest in the social media use of the child or young person and everyday conversations about the risks of the internet can ideally build a relationship where the child or young person most likely feels confident enough to tell the adult about any puzzling contacts or messages online.

Talk about safety and how to protect yourself online

  • Be interested in your child’s use of the internet: Who does the child spend time with on the internet and in social media? Who can see the personal photos or other content posted online by the child or young person?
  • Remind the child that they should not share their personal details online or start exchanging messages with a stranger.
  • Ask and encourage the child to immediately tell an adult if something strange happens.
  • Make it easy to tell you about it; say: “If something happens that you don’t understand or that feels confusing, all you need to do is tell me that: ‘Something weird just happened… or something happened and it’s difficult to talk about…’.”
  • Tell them that even if someone seems nice online when they give you compliments, for instance, they should always keep in mind that people can lie about their age and gender on the internet, so it could be anyone. Even if you have chatted more than once, that does not mean that you know the person. Tell them that unfortunately there are adults who try to persuade children and young people to send photos of themselves, give them compliments and may suggest a meeting. They should not be trusted and you should not believe what they say.
  • Tell the child that they should never agree to meet someone they have met online and they should always tell their parent if someone suggests a meeting.

More information