I have just had the (dis)pleasure of watching a DVD called Ditto’s ‘Keep Safe’ Adventure Show. This is a show developed by Hetty Johnston’s Bravehearts Organisation. It is pitched at 3-5 year olds and comes with a ‘Keep Safe’ colouring book. Meant to combat child abuse, this show is the program of choice in many Australian schools. In most cases, parents are not consulted, or even made aware that the program is being used.
Quite apart from any issues I have about anything being taught to my children without my knowledge or consent, or with Hetty Johnston and her views, I have several concerns about this specific program.
Let’s start where the show does – with yes and no feelings. The signs and symptoms used by the ‘safety fairy’ to describe no feelings (which she equates to feeling unsafe) are: butterflies in the tummy, a fast-beating heart, needing to use the toilet and weak, wobbly legs. She implies that these feelings mean the child is in danger and needs to run and tell someone. However, as any parent – indeed anybody who has ever had any dealings with children – will tell you, the safety fairy has just described every single child in the world who has misbehaved and knows they are going to get in trouble. For that matter, it also describes any child who is about to experience something new.
At this point in the show, children are given some examples of situations that might provoke yes and no feelings. When Uncle gives us a ‘hug that it doesn’t feel quite right’, we have a no feeling. We are unsafe and should tell someone we trust, but when Aunty gives us a ‘big, safe hug’ we get a yes feeling and are safe. This positive female image is later counter-acted by a friend’s mum who tries to show us ‘rude pictures’, but the negative male image is never balanced out. This leaves children with the impression that women may or may not be trustworthy, while men (no matter how loved) never are.
The next part of the show teaches children about their private parts. The safety fairy spends explains to the children that their mouth, (yes you read right – their mouth), chest, bottom and ‘between their legs’ (No parts are named, not even euphemistically – she could be talking about the thighs for all we know) are their private parts. They belong to them and no-body is allowed to touch them. She dwells on this for several minutes, even singing a catchy song about it before she finally mentions in passing that it is OK for doctors to examine private parts when they are ‘sick and sore’ and for parents to help clean them when they are little.
This small piece of positive information is glossed over quickly and is soon undone when the safety fairy tells
children that if they feel unsafe in a bath or in a doctors examination they have the right to say ‘No’. This is a noble sentiment, but many young children (mine included) are afraid of doctors and, if their ‘private parts’ really are ‘sick and sore’, then saying no to a (sometimes painful) examination can be highly detrimental to a child’s health, possibly even fatal. As long as a trustworthy adult is there to help the child through it, a doctor sometimes needs to ignore the child’s fears and go ahead anyway.
The final part of the program, however, is where I have my biggest concern. It is in this part of the program that children are taught about good secrets and bad secrets, and that they should run and find someone they can trust to tell if they have a bad secret. All well and good. My issue arises with the way this is done. In both words and song, the safety fairy poses the questions ‘Can you trust your Mum? Can you trust your Dad? Is there anybody in your family you can trust?’ before going on to tell the children ‘You can trust Bravehearts, you can trust Kids Helpline, you can trust a policeman’. Notice the fact that one point is posed as questions, while the other is a statement of fact.
Remember, these are kids as young as three hearing this. Given the culture of abuse in state run institutions, including law enforcement, it is baffling to me that this program encourages a small child to place blind faith in said institutions, while placing doubt in their mind about the safety and trustworthiness of those closest to them. And I, as a parent who was vilified for allowing my four year old to play alone in the back yard am supposed to entrust my child’s welfare to some random Bravehearts volunteer whom neither of us have ever met before?
Unless there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse, encouraging children to question the authority of their parents and other family members isn’t just unhelpful, it is extremely harmful. I understand that Ms Johnston and her family have been traumatized by their own experiences. I understand that Ms Johnston’s heart was in the right place when forming Bravehearts and, indeed, the ‘Keep Safe’ program itself. I do not, however, feel that these things give Ms Johnston the right to traumatize other children and destroy the relationships within their families.
I do believe children need to be taught ownership of their bodies and given the ability to recognise when they are in an unsafe situation and the empowerment to extract themselves from said situation. I do not believe the Ditto ‘Keep Safe’ Adventure Show is the correct program to use to do so. The ‘Keep Safe’ program does more harm than good and should not be allowed in Australian schools.
- Bravehearts – Clinical Psychology or Psychological Abuse? (General Counsel on Demand)
- Bravehearts (bravehearts.org.au)
- Victims, advocates welcome abuse royal commission (abc.net.au)
- ‘Sex abuse is hideous, shocking, vile’ (dailytelegraph.com.au)
- Henson’s artwork classified PG, Hetty hit the roof (www.somebodythinkofthechildren.com)