A scene in a recently released kid’s movie has many parents up in arms over a scene that makes a joke out of sexual abuse. All parents want to protect their children from harm and when pop culture sends the wrong message it makes this job even more difficult. Today’s Parenting Tip is on the topic of grooming and how parents can prevent child sexual abuse.
The film that has set off alarm bells in the minds of parents is called Show Dogs. One aspect of the movie involves dogs being “inspected” by a doctor and has been rightly been called out as an example of “grooming.” (A more detailed description of the scene in question can be found on the Macaroni Kid website from reviewer Terina Maldonado).
What is “grooming?”
The term grooming is often used to describe the behavior of adult sexual abusers and the ways that they will try to establish a connection with a child. Ultimately, this connection becomes a relationship that can be exploited by the adult. Groomers use this relationship to normalize behavior that isn’t normal, but because they are trusted by a child, the behavior becomes allowed. Some examples of grooming behavior include
- Regularly offering a specific child gifts or money,
- Attempts to isolate the child from others and talk or hang out privately, or
- Encouraging children to “trust them” and using that trust to discuss sexual or otherwise inappropriate topics,
During the “inspection” scenes in Show Dogs, one of the characters encourage another dog to go to their “Zen place” when their private parts are being touched. Later in the film, the dog is able to succeed because of his ability to escape to this Zen place. This scene is especially dangerous because of the message it sends to children. Based on this scene, children might think they should just accept it when an adult is touching them in ways they don’t like.
The Importance of Conversation in Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
Parents can’t be watching over their children all the time. A critical step to preventing child sexual abuse is being open with your children and having conversations about this topic. While these conversations can be uncomfortable, they are an important tool for parents in combating messages like this one from Show Dogs.
With younger children, teach your children how the parts of their body work and the proper names for their body parts. Knowing the proper names for body parts also can reinforce bodily autonomy in their children. Ensure your child knows that they can tell people to stop touching them in a way that they don’t like. They are the boss of their own body!
Similarly, be sure your children understand the difference between “privacy” and “secrecy.” Because sexual abuse thrives on silence it’s important that your children know that it’s OK to have a temporary secret, like a surprise party, but that they should never keep a permanent secret from you. Most importantly, make sure your children know that they can talk to you about anything and you won’t be mad, even if some other adult tells your child that you will be.
With older children and teenagers, ensure that they know your family’s values around healthy relationships. Be sure to have open conversations with them about what healthy sexuality really is. Teens and older children are also more likely to see and hear things that their parents may disagree with. This means having a trusting and communicative relationship becomes even more important. For some tips on how you can foster this kind of communication with older children, check out this Parenting Tip.
Show Dogs was meant to be a fun children’s move but clearly missed the mark. Instead of something that fun for children, the film has become something problematic for families. Fortunately, parents can use this news as an opportunity to start or renew these important conversations with their children.
For more information, visit our Child Sexual Abuse Prevention landing page to find more fact sheets, resources, and information that you can use.