The Underwear Rule

No parent looks forward to having to talk to their child about how to keep themselves safe from sexual predators, but the harsh reality of our world is that it is absolutely necessary to have this talk with each and every one of our children.

Recently, a 15 month-old little girl from a town just 55 miles from where we live was taken from her crib in her father’s home, sexually abused, and murdered. This case shook me to the core because it was a little too close to home. The baby girl that was victimized was only slightly older than our son, Birdie, and the girl lived in a town that my father currently lives in and that I had lived in for 11 years. This case forced me to revisit The Underwear Rule with Magoo. We have already had “the talk” numerous times; no one is allowed to touch you or ask to touch you anywhere where underwear (panties or a bra) would cover. If you ask Magoo the places that someone is not supposed to try to touch she will point at all the places we have gone over in the past. She knows that if anyone ever tries to touch her, lure her, or makes her uncomfortable in any fashion that she needs to tell one of us immediately, or tell another adult that she trusts. Despite all of this, the one thing that I hadn’t done was step out of my own comfort zone and explain to her that the reason that we caution her about anyone touching her is because there are some very bad people that try to do things like that to children at times. We showed Magoo a photo of the little 15 month-old victim, Shaylyn Ammerman, and explained to her that she was no longer with us because a very bad man was very mean to her. We explained that he did not follow The Underwear Rule and that he did not respect the fact that Shaylyn’s body was her own and that it was no one’s place to touch her. Magoo nodded silently and asked, “why?” I was as honest as I could be; “I don’t really know why, sweetheart. Sometimes there are bad people that do bad things. That is why when Mommy, Daddy, or another adult that you trust tells you something you need to listen very carefully. When we tell you “no” to something or tell you not to leave our sight, it’s not because we are being mean or trying to ruin your fun, it’s because we are trying to keep you safe because we love you very much and we would never want anything bad to happen to you.

The harsh reality is that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse.

  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
  • 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually victimized were assaulted by someone they knew well
    (Victims of Crime)

Re-read those statistics. Now, instead of just thinking of “1 in 5” or “1 in 20,” think of the children you know – put faces to those numbers. Numbers this high are inexcusable and every parent and child should know about The Underwear Rule. Parents need to encourage their children to love their bodies, respect their bodies, and to know that God made their bodies special and that no one has a right to disrespect them or their bodies.

As uncomfortable as it is, we should also be sure that our children know the proper anatomical names for their body parts. This is a hurdle that was difficult for me since I grew up referring to these parts simply as “privates,” and nothing else. “We described the relevant research and the reasons for using anatomically correct terms — to give children the language they need should they need to report, especially should they need to report to law enforcement or the department of social services,”says Anthony Rizzuto, Ph.D., the child psychologist who oversaw the implementation of prevention education in 360+ Boston Catholic schools and churches.

Another way I stepped out of my comfort zone was by not just reading books to Magoo about how her body is hers alone, but we also read My Body Belongs to Me, in which the friend of a little boy’s uncle touches the little boy inappropriately, but since the boy’s parents had taught him what to do in that situation he was able to go straight to his parents and let him know what happened. The parent’s reacted lovingly and assured their son that he had done the right thing. The book also mentions other adults that children can talk to should they find themselves in a similar situation.

While these conversations are never easy, I feel they are necessary for the safety of our children.

3 a day, reading the fun way!

It’s recommended that parents read to their young children for at least 20 minutes a day. I2016-04-02 22.58.03-1 used to be very strict about timing myself while reading to the children, but doing so somehow felt like I was taking an activity that should be fun, enjoyable, and relaxing and turning it into something that was yet another thing that had to be fit in to our busy day. Since Magoo has advanced from board books to early reader picture illustrated books, I found that we often hit our 2o minute mark somewhere around the end of the 3rd book. I recently decided that instead of focusing on exactly 20 minutes each day that we would aim for reading at least 3 books a day. We have a designated spot in our living room where all of the items we have borrowed from the library stay and Magoo knows that each evening she can go pick 3 books from our “unread” pile and once we are finished with them we place them in the “read” pile. Of course, we usually cycle through the books multiple times before they are due back and we always wind up with favorites from that particular library visit.

Why is it important to read to our children?

  • Reading aloud increases the bond between the child and the adult that is reading to them. Reading together is a time in which you and your child can have each other’s undivided attention as you enjoy a story together and after the story is finished you can have discussions about what you read and how it made each of you feel.
  • Books are brain food. No, really. Reading nourishes our minds just like food nourishes our bodies. When children listen to an adult read they are being introduced to new words, new ideas, and enunciation skills.
  • Books are an easy way to aid you in teaching your children important lessons. Is your child being bullied? Finding a book on bullying and reading it aloud together can help your child see how the characters in the book interact and helps your child to see that others go through similar situations. Are you trying to teach your child the importance of being neat and orderly because their bedroom is alway a mess? A book like Mr. Messy may be right up your alley (like it was ours!).
  • Improving concentration and memory skills. Our 4 year-old has always loved to be read to, but used to squirm or try to get up and move about during the story. As her love for reading has increased and her understanding that with each new book there is a new story with an ending that she cannot possibly know unless she listens her listening skills have vastly improved and she now very seldom squirms during story time.
  • Increased aptitude for learning. Studies have shown that children who have been introduced to reading before preschool have increased academic excellence.
  • Fostering a love for reading & learning. One of the reasons I loved to read as a child was because I felt that I always, no matter what the subject of the book, learned something new when I picked up a book. If we instill a love for reading & learning in our children then there really is no limit to what they can accomplish in life.

What if I can’t commit to 3 books a day, or 20 minutes a day?

Reading to your child is not all or nothing. Any reading aloud to your child is better than none. As I outlined above, there are so many facets when it comes to the benefits of reading aloud to your child. If you can only sneak in 5 minutes a day, at least that is 5 minutes of one-on-one bonding time that you are getting with your child. That 5 minutes will make more of an impact on your child than you could ever imagine.

What if my child won’t sit still?

Don’t turn reading aloud to your child into a battle of wills. If your child squirms or tries to get up and run off, keep reading. Magoo used to do this and I would continue reading as though she hadn’t moved. Once she realized that the story was going to continue and she may miss something her attention would always return to the story. This may mean that there were times that I finished reading it while she was standing up, or while she was 6 feet across the room, but she was at least listening and still receiving the benefits of being read to.

Here are the 3 books we read aloud this evening:

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  1. There’s No One I Love Like You
    “In this sweet celebration of the love between parent and child, Brayden Bunny doesn’t like it when his mommy asks him to wash his ears and clean his room, so he decides to move in with his friends. But every new home he tries is not quite right. Something is missing! Brayden Bunny soon discovers there’s no place like home—and hugs like Mommy’s hugs. “The watercolor illustrations are warm and rich in cheerful domestic detail…”This book is perfectly suited to someone of Magoo’s age (4 years-old) and tells the sweet tale of Brayden Bunny, who thinks that he would rather live with any of his friends or his cousin better than living at home. I loved the fact that Magoo picked this book tonight because she has been in a stage in which she is challenging the house rules and I felt that this book softly shows children that while we may not always think we like things the way they are, we would miss them if we no longer had them. Magoo enjoyed the book and said that she would like to read it again sometime. While I enjoyed the story, it is not one that I feel compelled to ever add to our family collection.
  2. Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi
    “Francis of Assisi, one of the most famous and beloved saints, comes to life for young people in this addition to The Life of a Saint series. With vivid, four-color pictures on every page, the book shows Francis becoming a brother and friend to all- lepers, the poor, and animals too.
    The story begins with the saint’s birth and joyful youth. After military service, imprisonment, and illness, Francis has a dramatic encounter with God. He then gives up everything – even the clothes on his back – in order to follow Jesus in poverty and humility.Among the episodes in the life of Francis are the taming of the wolf of Gubbio and the first living Nativity scene. Also included is the conversion of Saint Clare, who was inspired by Francis to leave her life of luxury in order to give herself completely to the love of God.The simple but engaging text can be read independently by young readers or read aloud to small children.”

    I was worried that this story may be too advanced for Magoo since it went into detail about St. Francis’ life, but she seemed to follow the story very well and at the end of the book she told me she liked it. About 3/4 of the way through the book she did ask me when it would end, but when I asked her if she wanted me to stop reading she said, “No.” I loved this book because it was detailed, yet easy for children to understand. I do feel that it is a book that would need to be revisited many times in order for very young children (like 4 year-old Magoo) to fully understand and appreciate the life that St. Francis lived. While I do think that 4 year-olds can enjoy this book, I think it would be better suited for slightly older children (and it is recommended for children in grades 2-5).

  3. The Plans I Have for You“The Plans I Have for You combines playful rhyming text written by bestselling children’s book author Amy Parker with whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Vanessa Brantley-Newton to create a book that inspires readers of all ages to dream about their future. God has great plans for each and every one of us, and this book encourages children to think about the talents that make them special and will help them imagine how God may use our unique traits to make the world a better place.”This is very much a new favorite of mine. We read it for the first time this evening and I love it so much that I plan on buying a copy for our family. Magoo enjoyed the focus on the various types of professions that the book mentions, while I enjoyed the core message of the book; that our Lord has specific plans for each of His children. I highly recommend this book.

“Everyone is a reader…some just haven’t found their favorite book yet.”

Happy reading!

12 Sayings of Mother Angelica that Made Me Laugh Out Loud

“When I was a young novice I used to pray in the early morning, ‘Dear Lord, today I am going to be patient come hell or high water.’ And by nine o’clock came hell and high water! I blew it!”

If Mother Angelica could pray for patience and “blow it” by 9 o’clock, that gives me some hope for myself!

TOM PERNA

As many of you probably know by now, Mother Mary Angelica, the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) passed into eternal life yesterday afternoon around 5:00pm. It is fitting that Mother Angelica entered eternal life on the day Our Jesus Christ rose from the dead – Easter Sunday! I found out about her passing as I was sitting on the couch watching the New York Rangers hockey game and looking at Facebook on my iPhone. I knew she had been sick for many years, and although the news is sad, we can also rejoice knowing that she is in the presence of Jesus Christ.

In the book, Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, which I will draw from more shortly, Mother Angelica, says about “Your Place in Heaven” –

When we get to heaven, there will be many empty seats and many empty mansions, and…

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