Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

At what age should we warn our children about predators?

Jimmy Savile
Jimmy Savile posing next to his Rolls-Royce car, 20th July 1964.
Jimmy Savile
Jimmy Savile
Rolf Harris
Rolf Harris

Talking to schoolchildren about sex may seem shocking, but kids need to be wary, says worried mum-of-two Claire Spreadbury.

It's hard to know when is the right time to talk about tricky subjects with children. As a parent of two, aged two and five, the topic of sex feels like something I shouldn't need to think about for the best part of a decade.

But sadly, that's not the case.

New packs have now been compiled by the Family Planning Association to be used in schools to teach children as young as nine about controversial subjects, one of which is sexting.

Immediately, there's been friction from campaigners – the Family Education Trust says the step will breed an 'unhealthy distrust' in youngsters and may even introduce thoughts and ideas children aren't ready for.

But it is a toughie. Obviously, none of us wants innocent young children to despair at the filth of paedophiles, but if we don't start sending out the message now, it could be a slippery slope.

If there's one good thing to come out of Operation Yewtree, it's that a light has been shone on the dark and seedy world of child abuse and reminded us we all need to be very afraid.

It's not just young teens these people find attractive, it's children. Flat-chested, under-developed, unassuming, precious little people with no idea that these repulsive human beings exist, until they're abused and scarred for life.

It's a sad fact, but it's time they knew. And if and when they're shocked – as they rightly should be – that paedophilia goes on, parents and teachers are there to coach them through it.

At least then they'll understand what's right and wrong, and understand when to speak up about something somebody might say or do.

And surely that's better than the potential other option of them not understanding what's happening, and not speaking up because it's being done by an adult and adults are always right? I was given a book last week, called My Underpants Rule by Kate and Rod Power, which has been designed to teach children a serious message in a fun way.

The 'underpants rule' consists of the rhyme: "What's under my pants belongs only to me, And others can't touch there or ask me to see, Except doctor or parent when I'm unhealthy, What's under my pants belongs only to me. And if this rule's broken, I'll kick, scream and shout, Letting everyone know who is there or about!"

Reading it makes me feel uncomfortable, but just like my own Body Book taught me rhymes about sex and contraception when I was young, these aids are important for the next generation.

Children are surrounded by a new digital world, in which the latest must-have isn't just a set of loombands but also a Facebook and Instagram account. Sites that can be fun and creative, but which can also cause cyberbullying, sexting and dirty, disgusting paedophile rings.

I've seen photos of children I know and love that I would deem sexual.

A selfie of a kiss or doe eyes, or jumping with joy on a beach, wearing nothing but a bikini – these might seem like perfectly lovely and normal images to many, but to others, they're exciting.

So to the doubters who worry their kids are going to learn something they shouldn't or can't yet handle, surely it's better to be safe than sorry?

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