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Book Review : Teaching Children to Say 'No' to Adults

February 06, 1986|BARBARA KARLIN | Karlin writes about children's literature and child-related issues. and

Walk by your neighborhood elementary school at recess and look at the children. Between 30% and 46% (the statistics are muddy because many cases are not reported) of the children will be victims of some form of sexual abuse by the time they reach age 18. And an alarming 85% to 90% of them will have been abused by adults they knew and trusted.

We live in a society that values children who are courteous and compliant. Are we raising generations of easy victims for molesters, kidnapers and murderers? There's a new public awareness about the abuse of children; it's no longer a closet issue. An avalanche of books within the last few years is aimed at teaching parents and children the importance of even the youngest child being responsible for his or her own personal safety. All the books reviewed here are abundantly clear on one point: It's time for children to learn to say "no" to adults.

Two of the books written for children give permission with their titles. "I Can Say No: What Every Child at Every Age Needs to Know" by Shirley Seltz (Seltz Associates, P.O. Box 7492, San Jose, Calif. 95150-7492: $8.95, ages 5-13) is a positive, spiritual affirmation of self and intuition. In this picture book a young girl talks about her feelings as she confronts various uncomfortable encounters with adults, including a parent. She exercises her right to say no. She is not always believed when she tries to talk about it, but she persists until someone does believe her and promises to help.

"You Can Say 'No'; A Book About Protecting Yourself" by Betty Boeghold (Golden: $4.95, ages 5-8) addresses abduction as well as sexual abuse with six short stories of children warding off threatening advances by adults. Unfortunately, the stories don't ring true and they tend to lecture the child. The point in each story is well taken and the ideas are sound, but the delivery is lacking.

The forerunner of personal safety books for children was first published in 1967 and has sold more than a million copies. Now available in a revised, expanded edition, "Never Talk to Strangers: A Book About Personal Safety" by Irma Joyce (Golden: $4.95, ages 3-5) is as confusing to young children as it ever was. The rhymed story places children in some familiar (and a few implausible) situations where they encounter various animals who talk to them. The story repeatedly admonishes, "Never talk to strangers." Then it takes a turn and explains who strangers are not , including friends of a parent, teacher or pal, and the Easter bunny.

The final rhyme explains that the reason giraffes don't utter a sound is because they've been told by a little bird to "Never talk to strangers." This is absurd. Young children today are too savvy to accept this sugar-coated treatment.

Emergency Identification Tag

At first glance, the "S.A.F.E. Kit for Kids" (Safety and Fitness Exchange Inc., Quick Send, Dept. 2L, 7 Nowell Farm Road, Carlisle, Mass. 01741; $14.95, ages 7-12) seems to be a gimmicky merchandise package. There are some aspects of that here, but the basics are sound. In addition to a supposedly indestructible emergency contact identification tag to be affixed to a child's clothing and an "I'm a S.A.F.E. Kid" poster and stickers, the kit contains a 48-page activity book, "Be a S.A.F.E. Kid," and an audiocassette with the same title.

The activity book is straightforward and appealing. Speaking directly to kids, it tells them how to handle different situations, explains their rights and gives definitions. Sexual abuse is defined as someone forcing, tricking or frightening a child into letting him or her touch the private parts of the child's body. Although some of the activities in the book seem silly or irrelevant, others are very practical and thought-provoking. The cassette dramatizes the situations and defenses in the book and adds some snappy music and songs.

In "No More Secrets for Me" by Oralee Wachter (Little, Brown: $12.95, ages 3-12) the emphasis is on telling an adult about an uncomfortable encounter. The four narratives deal with the violation of children's rights and involve privacy, bribery, entrapment and a stepfather who fondles his stepdaughter when he comes in at night to tuck her in. In each case, the child is reassured that he or she has done the right thing by telling. The kids in this book are credible and their reactions intelligent and responsible. In 48 short pages this book goes a long way toward teaching kids to empower and protect themselves.

Guidance for Concerned Adults

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