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March 25, 2015

Date Safe

By Tampa Bay Parenting

I was 19 years old and away at college when my sister was raped. I will never forget the moment my mother told me the news on the phone. I was devastated.

When I arrived home on the train the next day, my parents were waiting for me. They looked like they had aged 30 years overnight. The pain was ingrained on their faces.

However, my sister is a survivor who fought back from her experience. Inspired by her courage, I began on a mission to help parents and students gain the skills necessary to reduce sexual assault and increase the level of respect in teen relationships.

As the founder of The DATE SAFE Project (www.DateSafeProject.org), I speak to more than 30,000 students and young adults in schools around the world each year discussing respect, boundaries, sexual decision-making, and safety. Our mission is to stop sexual assault from happening.

I am a father of four teenagers, and I understand the fear other parents have when thinking about their kids engaging in “hooking-up” or sexual activity. Some of you are thinking, “don’t even go there. My child would never!”

Chances are, they will. So when your child does engage in sexual activity with a partner, which would you rather have? Your child guessing with sexual decision-making, or your child having safe, healthy, positive, loving and passionate intimacy throughout their lifetime? If your child is going to experience intimacy and take on all the risks that go with it, shouldn’t the intimacy be wonderful?

As a caring parent, giving your son or daughter the precise tools and knowledge to experience loving, passionate, healthy and respectful intimacy throughout their lives is a great gift. Those tools include being able to recognize when he or she is ready. Each family will have different guidelines for helping a child choose that time in life.

What is the best approach to giving children these tools? We at the DATE SAFE project believe this: The focus should be on intimacy as a gift to be honored, treasured and respected at all times.

If you are a family of faith, you can integrate the idea that intimacy is a gift from god into almost every religion. If your family does not follow a religion, treating sex as a gift is still a wonderful way to help each person experience intimacy at its highest levels.

For intimacy to feel like a gift, it has to be done the right way . In our upcoming book “The Stairwell to Intimacy”,we recommend ten steps that both people in a relationship can follow to achieve intimacy the right way. We delve into details about trust, safety, comfort, verbal communication, sound mind, passion, sexual attraction, respect and equality.

Each is crucial, and without them, the gift can transform into a dangerous, traumatic experience. Write down every step you think is needed and then think about how you will teach that “Step” to your child. Suddenly, you have an outline to work with.

In addition to being the Founder of The DATE SAFE Project, Mike Domitrz is a critically acclaimed author, expert, and speaker. His award-winning DVD HELP! My Teen Is Dating. Real Solutions to Tough Conversations is available at www.DateSafeProject.org.

The DATE SAFE Project provides families, educational institutions and the U.S. Military “How-To” skills for addressing dating, sexual decision-making, bystander intervention and supporting survivors. Visit www.DateSafeProject.org

Teaching Intimacy 101

Timing is Everything:

Picture this: You go to a lecture full of great information. You get home at 9 p.m. and instantly hunt down your child to dispense all your wonderful insight. But your child is tired, not in the mood and gives you the eye roll. Now you’re upset and annoyed.

The moment of truth hits you square in the face when you step back and ask yourself, “If I had waited until tomorrow to have this conversation, would that much have changed in his life between now and then?” Of course not.

WAIT until your child is rested and in a good mood to talk about intimacy. In fact, let your child choose the time. Let him know how much time you need (ideally not more than 20 minutes) and honor the chosen time.

Ask, don’t tell:

Honoring that our child is an individual DIFFERENT from us can be tough, but is also vitally important. Instead of planning out what rules you want to stress to your teenager, ask yourself: “What questions can I ask my teen that will not be too personal or have a hidden agenda?”

Don’t assume what your child is thinking, but help your child decide what her personal beliefs and boundaries are. Some questions you can ask include: Have you decided if you will kiss someone on a first date? Have you thought about whether you plan on waiting until marriage to have sex? If you do wait until marriage, have you thought about what you will feel comfortable doing with a partner until that time?”

Notice, you are NOT asking your child to answer what he plans on doing. You are asking if they’ve thought about it. BIG DIFFERENCE.

Encourage your children to write down their beliefs to help better define and remember them as they begin to date. They can keep the list private. The key is that they have boundaries they are willing to defend.

Open the Door:

Imagine your child—whom you love with every ounce of your heart—being sexually assaulted and not able to tell you. It is a devastating thought.

What can you say to help increase the odds your child will feel safe coming to you? Look your child straight into his/her eyes with love and say: “NEVER BLAME YOURSELF for what someone else does to you.”

That statement is essential. Our children are raised in a society where rapists are not prosecuted enough and people blame the survivor instead. You don’t want your child blaming herself, if, for example, the rape occurred while she was drunk. The fault is always with the rapist.

To help increase the odds your child will be able to come to you, let your son or daughter know, “If anyone EVER has or ever does sexually touch you against your will or without your consent, I am ALWAYS going to be here for you. Always!” Since writing those words in our book “May I Kiss You?” we have heard from survivors and their loved ones who have shared how much that one sentence has changed their lives for the better.

One of the worst statements a parent can make is: “If anyone ever touches you, I’ll kill them.” With that one sentence, you show your child that you can’t handle the truth and that you will be more focused on revenge than on helping your child.

What Not To Do

  • DON’T say nothing at all. In the abscence of advice from their parents, children will turn to other sources, such as their peers or the Internet, neither one a reliable alternative for communicating family values.
  • DON’T order your child to just not “do it!”  From 6th graders to seniors in High School, students tell us the philosophy behind “don’t do it” has never made sense, especially when parents focus on scare tactics. Once trust is lost, you have a tough challenge ahead for convincing your child that you are a source of helpful information.

In addition to being the founder of The DATE SAFE Project, Mike Domitrz is a critically acclaimed author, expert and speaker. His award-winning DVD HELP! My Teen Is Dating. Real Solutions to Tough Conversations is available at www.DateSafeProject.org.

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