Discussion: Keeping Our Children Safe from Predators
In light of the recent Penn State Scandal what precautions, if any, do you take to keep your children safe from child predators?
My youngest daughter had her First Communion the same year that the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal broke. In the Catholic Church, children must have their first confession before getting Communion. This is a private, one-one-one situation with a priest. Because there were so many children in our parish, St. Joseph’s, the church would bring in extra priests for first confessions. Father Steele, who was the pastor then, assured all the parents that he knew these priests personally and that our children would be better than safe. Our children were fine that day, but as it turns out, one of the visiting priests was later accused of abuse in his own parish. The moral here is that you just never know, even when you think you know someone, as Father Steele thought he knew this man.
It’s impossible to protect our children at every turn. On occasion, they will be alone with adults who are in positions of power over them - teachers, coaches, tutors, clergy, scout leaders, etc. As parents we need to make sure our kids understand that they do have power if someone tries to touch them inappropriately. They must try to get away and they must tell you or someone else in charge immediately. The priest scandal provided a teachable moment for my girls, very much like the Penn State scandal does now for a younger generation.
The Penn State matter is being covered everywhere. Your kids have probably heard at least something about it, and they may or may not understand what is going on. Use this opportunity to start a dialogue, if you haven’t already. Talk to your kids about what they should do if they find themselves in a similar situation. Like many conversations you will have with your children, it may be awkward. But a few moments of discomfort might just save your kid from a lifetime of despair.
Tasha Schlake Festel
The scandals at Penn State and Syracuse University have hit me much harder than any sex abuse scandals in the recent past. The Catholic Church scandal in Boston was pretty darn yucky and close to home, but as an atheist, I didn’t worry that something like that could affect my children.
This one is different. I am from Pennsylvania and almost went to Penn State. I attended Syracuse University. I have two children that play sports. And there was a revered coach in my past that was inappropriately familiar with me. This one hits home.
The fact that things like this happen is upsetting but does not shock me. What I find equally upsetting as the crimes committed by sick and twisted individuals is the cover-up by those around them. Children need to be protected, and these people knew harm was being done and chose to allow it to continue. That is inexcusable. What do we do when the people we think are taking care of our children are abusing them or letting them be abused?
It's easy to think that there is safety in numbers. That there is oversight. Checks and balances exist and safeguards are in place. But these scandals have shown that nothing is fool proof. Any system is only as strong as the integrity of the individuals within it. Clearly, we as parents, cannot depend upon the integrity of others. It is ultimately up to us to protect our children from harm. The question is how best to do that.
I don’t know if I have a really good answer. I do know that when I experienced mistreatment, I knew without a doubt that I could go to my parents and tell them everything. I knew they would believe me. I knew they would support me. I knew they would be there and somehow make it better. I knew all of this because they had always been there. They never judged me and always made it clear that they loved me, trusted me to make good choices, and would support me through good times and bad.
I hope I’ve created and will continue to foster a similar foundation with my children. I hope they know, as I did with my parents as a child and still do as an adult, that I will always be here for them. I will maintain a presence in their lives. I will be involved. I will know them and the people with whom they are spending their time.
Our job as parents is to keep our children safe. Feeding them healthy food, keeping them active, teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street – that’s the easy stuff. As they get older, that job gets a whole lot harder. There’s a balance between independence and safety. I think it comes down to communication. Know your kids. Talk to them. Stay a part of their lives even when they don’t seem to want you there. And ask them questions. You can learn a lot from both their answers and their silence.
And hug them a little tighter.
I think the single most important thing I do is be involved. I am the parent who asks questions, shows up early sometimes, sticks around, volunteer etc. I am the parent who knows who my child is spending time with.
Additionally you need to talk about this with your children. Talking about stranger danger, sex, drugs etc. is not always fun and comfortable but it absolutely needs to be done – and needs to be done numerous times. A great video for young children is Stranger Safety. This video was created by Julie Clark, of the Baby Einstein videos, and John Walsh, of America’s Most Wanted. I have even shown this video to my Brownie Troop and had a meeting about stranger danger.
Having young children I have recent experience with the (lack of) training for adults who volunteer and this surprises me in this day and age. Most organizations lack any kind of formal child safety training. The organization that has impressed me the most with training is the Catholic Church. I am Sunday Principal/substitute teacher at Most Blessed Sacrament and I had to attend training classes that included one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen. It was a very well-done documentary style film where child molesters spoke candidly about their crimes, how easy it was to do and the types of children they preyed on. I remember a grandfatherly man who looked like Santa, a young father and a woman. It was eye opening.
The one thing I took away from the film was the common denominator – there were opportunities for these predators. Be sure your child is not in a situation for there to be that opportunity. Don’t put your child in a situation where they can easily be preyed on. If an adult is looking to spend one on one time with your child and it doesn’t feel right to you don’t allow it to happen. As parents we should never worry about offending someone by hanging around and keeping an eye on things. Additionally be sure your child knows it is okay to come to you – and not just with empty words. Be sure your child knows you listen and validate them when they do come to you.
With regards to the Penn State incidents one thing I was shocked about was that an adult was alone with a child in the shower. If I take children to the rest room as a volunteer I make sure I bring two, or more, children for everyone’s safety. I also tell my children, in age appropriate ways, there is no reason for them to be alone in a place like a bathroom with an adult and I want to know if an adult ever asks them to be in a situation like that.
We all need to keep our eyes and ears open for things that don’t look or feel right for all children. Predators can very easily sniff out the child who is looking for attention from adults and they prey on that. What upset me most about this scandal, and many others as well, is not even the actual abusers but more so the adults who knew something bad was going on and did not go to the ends of the earth to stop it.
When it comes to protecting children I think we should always err on the side of caution and do everything we can to keep ALL children safe.
I feel like between watching the news and years of Law and Order SVU, parents often feel like the world is a very dangerous place for kids, filled with people who will try to hurt children any chance they get. It is important that kids understand that most people are good and would never do anything to harm them. I think my generation is particularly fearful as parents and that we perceive the world as a lot more dangerous than it was when we were kids. It isn’t. We are just bombarded with information about threats that exist out there and we are constantly at a heightened state of awareness. Now we know of horrors being committed to children across the country and where sexual predators live in our town. Does that mean my child is in more danger? No.
I don’t think these types of crimes are more common than when we were kids, but they are reported more often, and that is a good thing, even though it makes it seem like the threat is greater. Kids need to be able to tell if something happens to them and kids need to be taken seriously. The problem with Penn State and in far too many other situations, people looked the other way to avoid the scandal and the unpleasantness of speaking up and stopping the abuser.
That doesn’t mean that predators aren’t out there. They are, and kids need to know how to stay safe. We can’t be with our children every second, so kids need to understand what is and is not appropriate behavior from an adult. All kids are taught about “stranger danger,” but what if the abuser is a coach or teacher or family friend?
Teach your kids to be cautious without being fearful. Kids need to know they can say something and KEEP saying something until their message is heard. No one deserves to be victimized.
Some helpful information: http://www.notwithmychild.org/