LIMA — The table of Freedom Elementary School fourth-graders were quick to name people they could talk to if someone was inappropriately touching them or making them feel uncomfortable: Mom, dad, teacher, nurse, maybe an older sibling.
The quick answers meant they were on their way to protecting themselves from such dangers. And the Lima Exchange Club and Allen County Children Services were there Tuesday to reinforce that it is OK to tell.
“We are trying to get the kids to understand there is a difference between tattling and telling,” Exchange Club President Brandi Schroeder said. “Growing up, you learn you don’t be a tattle tale, but there is a difference. It just really helps them understand that if someone is making them uncomfortable, touching you in a wrong way or making you feel funny, then it is OK to tell.”
Pupils watched a video depicting a boy whose grandfather made him play the “touching game.” The boy told his mother, who didn’t believe him, but he didn’t stop telling. Finally a school nurse listened.
Pupils then met in small groups to talk with Exchange Club members and case workers at children services. Before leaving, pupils signed a pledge reading “I am somebody. I have the right to be safe. I have the right to tell.” The two organizations have been bringing the program to Freedom second- through fourth-graders for the past five years.
“I think it has a big impact because we get to educate kids that we can’t normally reach since we can’t go to each and every home. This gives us a wider audience,” said Toby Adkins, of Children Services.
In the small groups, pupils talked about the difference between a good and a bad secret. Schroeder reminded her group they can tell the difference by how it makes them feel.
The most important thing, Adkins said, is for children to identify adults they can go to for help. The problem some face are that adults don’t always believe them. Officials urged them Tuesday to keep telling like the boy in the video did.
“We try to educate them that if someone does not believe them, it is OK to talk to somebody else,” Adkins said. “Keep telling somebody.”
It is important to educate children at a young age, Adkins said. Children sometimes are embarrassed to tell, he added. Schroeder said pupils often pointed to their teacher as someone they could talk to.
“They name teachers a lot of the times,” she said. “Obviously, the teachers are very in tuned with their students. I believe there are definitely conversations going on.”