Many of us are familiar with the commonly used phrase “good touch / bad touch” that is taught to children (and adults, too) about how to identify unwanted touch that is categorized as sexual abuse. The purpose of it is something we can all get behind: to equip our children to identify sexual assault and protect themselves against it. Obviously, this is a vital lesson to teach our youth, but there are a few wrinkles that we could iron out by changing the phrase.
A Brief Overview of the Commonly Taught Lesson
A “bad touch” is categorized as any touch that happens on a female’s breasts, buttocks, and vaginal area, and on a male’s buttocks and penile area, otherwise known as the “private parts.” A “good touch” is generally any touch that happens on the body other than those private parts. Kids are taught that if they receive a bad touch, shout “NO!” and tell a trusted adult about the incident. It sounds like a pretty decent system, right?
What’s Wrong With It, Then?
I have a beef with the terminology.
If we label touching private parts as “bad,” it can cause shame and guilt about masturbation, whether they are already doing it or will feel the urge to later in life. Masturbation is completely normal and healthy at any age, which is why I discourage using the term “bad” to describe that touch.
Similarly, when they are older and exploring their sexual desires with a partner, there is no reason they should hear the word “bad” ringing in their minds when what they are doing is perfectly safe and consensual.
Another reason I’m not a huge fan of this phrase is because the “good” touch isn’t always a good touch. A person can be sensitive to touch on a non-genital part of their body that still makes them uncomfortable, so labeling that a “good touch” is confusing.
What Phrase to Use Instead
I suggest using “comfortable / uncomfortable” touch. These words are a little less suggestive, but they are still simple enough for young children to comprehend. These are two feelings that kids are familiar with that can assist them in identifying an unwanted touch.
Another alternative is “appropriate / inappropriate” touch, although this one can be more difficult for a child to grasp. Oftentimes, the good touch / bad touch program will also use the phrase “safe / unsafe,” but I dislike this phrasing for similar reasons as the “good / bad” phrase.
3 Tips for Parents & Caregivers of Children
First, give an anatomy lesson – Make sure your child knows the correct terminology of their body parts. This boosts their confidence in talking about an assault, and it also helps them understand that it’s okay to mention those parts of their body without shame.
Teach them that they are the boss of their own body – Not only does it empower them to have agency over their body, but it also reminds them to keep their hands to themselves.
Ask open-ended questions – If a child comes to you having experienced sexual abuse, you can learn so much more crucial information by keeping your conversation open-ended, rather than asking yes or no questions.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to start the conversation with your kid. Once you have opened that line of communication, they will be more likely to reach out to you in times of need.