A few weeks ago I shared some real-life stories and statistics about sexual abuse/molestation of children. If you haven’t read that post, I encourage you to check it out before reading this one so that we are all on the same page.
Today, I’d like to talk about ways that we parents can prepare ourselves in order to protect our children. Again, my goal isn’t to scare you. We don’t want to live in fear, but we do want to be wise, responsible and diligent in caring for our children. If your spouse is open to it, sit down with this list and talk through everything you can think of. He (or she, if you’re a man) may have ideas, concerns or even experiences that you didn’t know about. Having both parents enforcing the same rules is important for consistently keeping the kids safe.
Creating a Safety Game-plan
If we just think, “Oh, I hope that never happens to my kids” and don’t do anything to prevent it… our chances of having it happen haven’t decreased. We need to really think about what it is we are trying to do. We cannot control every situation and every person, but we can control some key factors.
- Modesty: Most sexual predators are men and men are visual. I know that a four-year-old shouldn’t know the gory details, but we can teach our young girls to be modest (and we should, according to the Bible!). Think about the clothes that promiscuous women wear to get male attention. Those are the kinds of things that our young girls shouldn’t wear. Bikinis. Short skirts and shorts. Pants or shorts with words on the rear end (think for a second… what part of the body do those cute words and pictures draw attention to??). Anything skimpy. For my four-year-old, we buy the skirts with built-in shorts. That way she isn’t having to keep her panties from showing while swinging or sliding. Some mamas use pantaloons, tights or leggins. We like capris or longer shorts and as she gets older we will be sure that none of her shirts are low-cut. If they are, we’ll layer with a tank-top underneath. We also don’t do halter-top dresses or shirts that expose a lot of skin on the back. Many women don’t realize that lots of men out there find bare shoulders and backs to be a temptation.
- Supervision: The stories I received (see my first post in this series) almost all happened when the parents believed that the children were safe and didn’t need supervision. The kids were with friends, family or other trusted adults. Mom and Dad assumed that their presence wasn’t needed. Sadly, that wasn’t true. Cousins, uncles, step-brothers, friends, parents’ friends, friend’s parents, babysitters… all of these people should have been trustworthy, but they weren’t. A child should NEVER be alone with anybody where the parent can’t see them. If a child is showing his cousin a cool new toy, the door should be open. If friends come over to play, the can play outside, in a family room or in the child’s room, but only with the door open. I know that everybody needs privacy, but there is a difference between privacy and secrecy. If they want to talk without having adults hanging on their every word, provide a way they can do that within your line of vision, such as in the backyard while you’re keeping an eye on them from inside. We don’t need to hover and pry, but knowing that a child’s parents have instant access will deter many predators.
- Two-Person Childcare: First, if you can’t trust the person you are leaving your child with to choose your child’s life over their own (think, only one of them can make it out of a burning building and they would choose to save your child), DO NOT trust them with your child’s heart and soul. Secondly, try to find two people you can trust. Chances are that if you’ve misjudged one of them, the other will keep your child safe. Personally, we would never leave our girls alone with any man other than my Dad. We have chosen not to set the precedent of allowing either of our girls to be alone with any man other than their dad or my dad. That includes our very dearest friends and even other relatives. Except in the case of an extreme emergency, we would only leave them with both the husband and wife, knowing that they will be all together at all times. There are several couples that we absolutely do trust, but setting the precedent of having any man alone with one of our girls doesn’t seem wise to us. You and your spouse will need to decide for yourselves whom you can trust, but that’s our short list.
- Away From Home Rules: Kids hate rules. I know. I was a kid, once. Carefully made and enforced rules are for our children’s safety, so be strong and lay down the law. As much as is appropriate for their ages, explain the reasons for the rules. If they are too young for any explanation, they probably shouldn’t be away from the house without you, anyway. Again, the details will be unique to each family, but consider all of the situations when your child will be out of the house without you and figure out ways to help keep him/her safe. Will you allow sleepovers? We choose not to. I don’t remember the source, but I read a news article several years ago about the high rate of sexual abuse/molestation that occurs during sleepovers. What about playing at other kid’s houses? I knew a mom who only let her children play outside if they were at somebody else’s house. How far are they allowed to walk, alone? Down the street? Two blocks away? After dark? Try to think of everything so that you don’t have to change rules later.
Know the Signs of Abuse
It will look different in every child, but there are some general guidelines that you can look for. None of these are definitive, but they may be signs that something is wrong. This list is not exhaustive, so there could be many other indications not listed here.
- Social withdrawal/anger in a normally well-adjusted child
- Regressing developmentally
- Sudden behavior changes
- Panic attacks or fear that they can’t/won’t explain
- Night terrors/nightmares
- Having sexual knowledge (beyond age-appropriate)
- Any physical trauma to sexual areas
- Claims of abuse
I’ll talk about this more in another post, but one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself is to decide right now that you will always, always believe the child. So many parents just can’t imagine a friend or family member doing such a horrible thing, so they refuse to believe their own child.
What kinds of rules do you have to keep your children safe?