1. Resolve to make child abuse prevention a regular topic of conversation.
It’s not easy to talk about child abuse but there’s no better time to start doing so than now. Face your fears and charge full speed ahead. Get the adults in your homeschool group together and figure out how your group will make child abuse prevention a top priority for 2016. Plan an awareness event to kick the year off right. (Here is a step-by-step guide to doing so.) After that, plan three more quarterly meetings to continue the subject. During the second meeting, cover all the basics about child abuse and abuse prevention. (Here is a free curriculum for doing just that.) During the third meeting, draft a child protection policy for your homeschool group. (Here are tips for doing so.) During the fourth and final meeting, review everything your group did that year, figure out what you missed, figure out what seemed to help and what didn’t, and revise and improve your plan and policy for next year.
2. Resolve to encourage families to start teaching their children about good and bad touch as early as possible.
As an adult, you can know all the warning signs of child abuse but still tragically miss the abuse that’s happening right under your nose. So it’s important that you also equip and empower your own children — and all children in your homeschool group — to be able to recognize and speak up about abuse themselves.
For this task, I suggest starting with Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s children’s book God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies. The Holcombs are a Christian couple who share a concern for child sexual abuse. Lindsey is a professional counselor to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence and a co-founder of REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade). Justin is an Episcopal priest who serves on the boards of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments) and REST. Their book focuses primarily on the basics of child safety and promotes important messages like “You are in charge of your body” and “You can say no.” These two messages in particular can help both Christian and non-Christian parents begin a sex education curriculum that emphasizes body positivity and consent, two subjects sorely lacking in many religious and secular sex education materials. If you can, order a copy of this book for everyone in your homeschool group (or encourage everyone to buy a copy). Do a book club session on the book first as adults and then you can feel like you are tackling this difficult subject as a unified community with all your children.
3. Resolve to promote alternative models for child discipline that rely more on nurturing and dialogue and less on corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment (spanking) is always a highly controversial subject and can provoke extreme reactions from people. Instead of approaching this subject in a divisive way, simply encourage parents in your homeschooling group to think about alternatives to corporal punishment that can help them improve their parenting. It’s easy to spank your kid. It’s more difficult (but more rewarding) to make a heart-to-heart connection with your kid and guide them to the right place without force or pain. So open up a conversation about other methods of discipline and parenting that focus more on nurturing and dialogue. Learning these other methods are only going to improve your parenting, regardless of where you end up on the corporal punishment debate. Here’s a good list of places to start.
4. Resolve to find new resources to talk to teenagers about sexuality that (1) include the importance of consent and (2) don’t ignore the fact that LGBT* teens might be in your homeschool group.
I was really struck a couple years ago when a fellow homeschool graduate made this observation: “I’ve racked my brain trying to remember even a single time that I’ve ever heard consent mentioned in a church-related setting growing up and I can’t remember a single one.” This observation really struck me because, once I started thinking about it, I also couldn’t remember a single time I ever heard consent mentioned in a church setting. We learned to say no to dating, to look the other way in grocery store lines so as not to be tempted by glamour magazine covers, we learned to not make out or have sex until we were married… but we never heard a single sermon about respecting another person’s physical and sexual boundaries. Even the marriage sex advice books some of us snuck out to read didn’t mention that you need to make sure your marriage partner consents to whatever sexual activity you are doing. As we live in a world that is rampant with sexual abuse and rape, even a Christian world that is rampant with those tragedies, it is imperative that we teach young people that “No” means “No” and only “Yes” means “Yes.” This should be as fundamental an aspect of Christian sex education as the idea that God made sex holy.
And while we’re going about trying to find resources on Christian sexuality to give our young people that include the importance of consent, I have one other suggestion: find resources that don’t completely ignore the fact that, to put it simply, some girls don’t like boys and some boys don’t like girls. Regardless of what you believe about biblical sexuality, the fact is, there are going to be some kids in your homeschool group (and maybe even your family) that have unique experiences with and questions about their sexuality. Throwing a copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye at a boy who is not in the least bit attracted to girls will not only be unhelpful to that boy. It’s going to make that boy feel like a freak and all alone. The same goes with giving a copy of Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story to a girl who happens to be attracted to girls… or girls and boys.
Whatever you believe about these issues, the very last thing you should do is ignore them and then give resources, books, or messages to young people that will only alienate them or make them feel broken, alone, or cast aside. That’s the sort of sex education that’s going to hurt children in the long run. We need better sex education than that.
5. Resolve to fight the stigma about mental illness by hosting regular conversations about illnesses like depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Did you know that 26% of adults — about one out of every four — in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder? And did you know that 1 out of every 10 children or adolescents has a serious mental health problem? Think about your homeschool group. This means that 1 out of every 4 of the homeschooling parents in your group probably suffers from a mental illness. It also means that 1 out of every 10 of the homeschooled kids in your group also suffers from a metal illness.
That’s a lot of people. And they are living and working right among us, in our midst. Chances are, you know someone close to you who suffers from chronic depression or severe anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder. And those illnesses impact those people’s daily lives. They have an impact on how parents homeschool their kids, they have an impact on how those kids learn, and they have an impact on how parents and kids relate to other parents and kids. So it’s important everyone in your community starts talking about these issues. (Here are some introductory action steps you can take.) Get to know one another’s struggles and how you can support each other. Hold awareness days where everyone can learn about different mental illnesses and their warning signs and how to best love and support someone who has a mental illness. (Here’s a free curriculum to start you off.)
Don’t let your friends and family and peers struggle in silence with something as serious as depression or suicidal thoughts. Bring those struggles out of the darkness and into the light.
6. Resolve to foster a sense of community among all families and look out for one another during times of trouble.
By “look out for another,” I don’t mean spy on each other or be nosy. I mean that you should bear each other’s burdens during trying times. This is ultimately a culmination of everything else I have already suggested. For example, let’s say you start creating regular conversations about mental illness and find out that a mom in your homeschool group suffers from chronic depression. You know she’s going through a particularly hard time right now. And since you have made child abuse prevention a regular topic of conversation as well, you are aware of the warning signs of abuse and have noticed that this mom’s children are beginning to show signs of stress and neglect. This equips you to be able to know this mom needs help — and needs help right away. You and the rest of your community can step in and take some burdens off the mom during her present struggles. Offer to connect her with a therapist and even drive her to the therapist if she wants. Organize a group of people to cook meals for her. Offer to watch her kids while she’s down.
Having a loving, supportive community is one of the most significant protective factors against child abuse and neglect. By fostering this sort of community in your homeschool group, you can go a long ways in making homeschooled kids healthier and safer — as well as their parents.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.