Written by Kristen Stuppy MD
Recent news about a well known person repeatedly sexually abusing children over many years has many parents angry, confused, and simply aghast.
Many of us feel like we do all we can to protect our kids and our kids aren’t at risk, yet statistics show that any child could be a victim. Studies reveal that about 20% of women and 10% of men experienced sexual abuse as children.
Sexual abuse crosses all socioeconomic groups, all racial groups, all ethnicities, and all neighborhoods. Often the perpetrators are the least suspected: a family member, a coach, a neighbor.
Signs of abuse in kids can be subtle. They are often attributed to something else.
If kids do try to talk about feeling scared or not safe with someone: LISTEN. They don’t make this stuff up!
I appreciate the organizations that require background checks on all adults around kids. I have had my background checked on many occasions: job related, coaching my daughter’s cheerleading squad, volunteering at my children’s school, and volunteering at a local children’s theater.
I was never offended by these requests and always supported these checks, but some parents grumble. I suspect they just don’t understand. Many schools, sports organizations, and scouting organizations require teachers and volunteers to have routine background checks. Does yours?
Do you ask if the adults supervising your children have had background checks?
Most do not.
I am not even sure how I feel about this. I suspect it gives a false sense of security, knowing that many abusers have many victims before being caught. They would have normal background checks. They are often personable, friendly, someone who grooms victims and their families to gain trust.
If background checks aren’t full proof protection, what should a parent do? I believe that the best protection about abuse is to show love to your children, educate yourself and them about abuse, and frequently talk with them.
Knowledge is Power!
Teaching kids about proper boundaries is important. Let them know that their swim suit area is private, and no one should be able to look or touch there without permission from mom or dad.
Young children should learn their full address, phone number, first and last name (and first/last names of parents).
Remind kids that there are no secrets between kids and their parents. They can tell you anything. They can keep your birthday gift a surprise though! Secrets that scare them are especially important to tell! They will NEVER get in trouble for telling about a scary secret.
Know your children’s friends, their friend’s parents, teachers, coaches, piano teachers, etc. Offer to help as much as possible at school and activities.
Be sure there are no secluded areas in the places your child goes. Kids should always remain in a group with adults. A minimum of two adults is safest.
For your protection, if you must take other kids to a public restroom, stand in the main door with it open and let the kids go into stalls alone.
Teach kids that adults will never need help from kids to find a missing puppy. Adults can ask other adults, not kids, for directions if lost. Give examples and role play.
Caution kids when they wear shirts with their name clearly posted on the outside that strangers will “know” their name. Stay especially close when your kids have their name displayed. It is easier for a stranger to trick them: “Johnny, your mom told me to come get you. She is hurt. Come with me.” What kid wouldn’t question that???
Question about new toys or gifts. Kids might earn token gifts from coaches or teachers as a reward system, but if your child is getting bigger, more expensive gifts, that is a cause for alarm.
If kids are lost, have them find another child to ask for help. Usually the other child has a safe adult with them that can help. (Plus kids are less intimidated talking to other kids when they are already scared and lost.)
Parents of today need to learn about protecting kids on line.
Bullying now does not stop in the safety of one’s home. On line threats, photos, and comments follow kids everywhere and are very dangerous. Keep computers in public areas, monitor cell phone use, teach kids to never give identifying information on line, and use a computer monitoring system.
Abusers often target kids who are feeling unloved. They groom those kids (and their families) by befriending them, making them feel special, and giving them gifts. The kids start to deeply care for that person, and then the confusion of feelings does not allow the child to easily tell on the person.
Show your kids love in many ways: time spent one on one talking and playing (not watching tv), show interest in your children’s activities, give good touches (ruffling hair, pat on the back, hugs), and build your child’s self confidence.
Building confidence in kids is tricky. Be careful in how you word things… it is always okay to say “I enjoyed watching your game,” whether your child was the star player or had a horrible game.
You can say something about how proud you are of the effort they put into something even if the outcome wasn’t good. Try to avoid saying “better next time,” since that means they didn’t do well this time. Praise frequently and honestly from the heart.
Create a safe environment at home. If kids witness fighting among parents, or parents don’t treat others with respect, the children will learn that this is acceptable behavior.
They have a strong potential to get seriously injured at home or to enter abusive relationships as adults. Seek help if your home is not safe! Use a public computer if yours might be monitored and click here or call 1.800.422.4453 (1.800.4.A.Child) from a safe phone.
Learn more about protecting against abuse and what to do if you suspect it. There are on line resources, such as TheSafeSide or PreventChildAbuse, and locally The Sunflower House to learn about abuse. GetNetWise and NetSmartz411 have information about keeping kids safe on line.
Dr. Stuppy is a practicing pediatrician in Kansas. I feels privileged to be able to help families keep their children healthy and she loves watching entire families grow! Dr Stuppy is active on Facebook and puts a more personal touch to pediatric topics on her blog.