This article is by Darkness to Light
Does your family have inside jokes, daily rituals, or unspoken schedules? Have you ever thought about the unique way your family talks to each other, approaches conflict, or solves problems? How do you deal with unexpected stressful situations, like social distancing? The ways we routinely interact with each other form our family culture. A culture is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization…or in this case, a family. A lot of times, this culture is formed by accident, but it doesn’t have to be. You can create whatever kind of culture you want in your family by modeling your ideal values and behaviors. You can create a culture that values kindness, trustworthiness, honesty and even safety.
But, how do you create culture? By defining your values and then setting expectations for them.
A pre-determined set of values around bodies and boundaries can go a long way toward protecting your kids from sexual abuse. It can help kids understand what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is, help them make informed decisions, and ultimately avoid dangerous situations. We call this set of values a “Code of Conduct.”
You may have heard of a Code of Conduct before— a clear set of policies and procedures that outlines what’s expected and appropriate. In fact, you may have signed something similar for your job. Youth serving organizations should have one in place around child protection at their organization. Your children’s school may have even sent out a modified code of conduct for virtual learning for our current environment.
A Family Code of Conduct is very similar. It’s simply a set of guidelines that reflect the values and expectations of your family. This should be a living, breathing document; you’ll need to adjust some boundaries or add new guidelines (curfews, for example, will likely change with age). Make your Family Code of Conduct a team project by creating it together with your kids. Ask them what they think should be included. Don’t be afraid to get specific, either. Talk about physical boundaries and what acceptable interactions look like; incorporate values that address parents’ roles in listening and responding when kids disclose discomforts of any kind. You might also develop rules about sharing, technology use, curfews, or more.
By setting boundaries and expectations, we don’t have to rely on
feelings of trust or distrust to assess people’s behaviors.
It gives us an easy way to say, “Hey, we don’t allow that here;
it’s against the rules.
The knowledge of your family rules and values can help minimize inappropriate behavior from others as well. For instance, if the babysitter knows that your kids don’t keep secrets from you, they’ll be less likely to try to violate boundaries. Having a Family Code of Conduct makes it easier to communicate the ways everyone should behave with friends, babysitters, youth serving organizations, and other adults.
What are the rules in your family code of conduct around play dates?
- Define your family values. What behaviors does it take to live out those values? (For instance, maybe you value honesty. How do you behave so that you live into this value?)
- How you treat others: i.e. How do you show respect? How do you share? How do you honor boundaries? What are the rules around keeping secrets? What are acceptable ways to touch each other? Remember, talking openlyabout child sexual abuse helps minimize the risk for it.
- Play Dates (for younger kids) and Hangouts: i.e. Who will be at the house/mall/pool/etc. with the kids? Will there be older siblings? How will the kids be supervised? How well do you know the family? These questions can also be applied to online activities such as games and video chats – where are they going, who will be there, what will they be doing?
- Photos: e. Is anyone allowed to take or post photos of your children? Where are they allowed to be posted?
- Sleepovers: i.e. Will you allow your child to participate in sleepovers? What are the sleeping arrangements? These guidelines may overlap with play dates.
- Babysitters: i.e. How do you choose who babysits? What are the rules for babysitters? What are the rules for evening sitting vs. daytime sitting?
- Internet & Social Media Safety: i.e. At what age will they get a cell phone or social media? How will you monitor use? Where will devices live at night? Discuss what information should never be given out online. Check out this blog post for more tips on digital safety.
- Lessons & Camps: i.e. What are the safety policies? What does supervision look like? These guidelines will overlap with your youth serving organization guidelines.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it’s a great place to start. You may even find that you already have many of these guidelines set in place. Having the rules officially written out makes it easier to know your boundaries and intervene as an active bystander if you notice boundary violations. This is a crucial step in preventing child sexual abuse.