This is a bit off the beaten path of my typical posts, but I came across a link tonight on facebook and felt strongly about passing it on.
My heart for ministry tends to be with women & youth. For the last 9 years I've served in a group home in my community for abused/neglected/troubled adolescents. As a result of this experience my eyes have been completely opened to the fact that 'the stranger in the white van' is not usually the perpetrator of abuse against minors. The vast majority of the time (93%) it is a trusted adult with access.
If you think this doesn't apply to you, I'd like to share these sobering statistics from
this GREAT site:
* 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will have been sexually abused by their eighteenth birthday.
* Only 1 in 10 children reports the abuse themselves.
* 22% of abused children are under 8 years old.
* The average age of abused children is 9.
* 34% of victims are abused by family members.
* 59% are abused by people the family judges to be trustworthy. In fact, it is a common tactic of abusers to first establish a trusting relationship with the parents of the child.
* Many young children are abused by larger, older children.
This post, Tricky People are the New Stranger, is an important reminder about a blind spot in safety conversations many adults are having with their kids.
I am by NO MEANS an expert and generally refrain from offering parenting advice because I am in the test kitchen just like everybody else. I am also aware that we all have our own communication styles and varied family dynamics/personalities. Now that I have all those disclaimers on the table, I will share a few things that are working for us at age eight.
1. When my children were very young (3 maybe) we started having conversations about "safe side adults," "kinda knows" and "don't knows" after watching the Safeside Super Chick in this safety video. It is a great starting point for conversations with kids.
2. Since my kids don't understand the birds and the bees, we have simply always talked about 'privacy' and the fact that there is no reason an adult other than a parent or a doctor (with a parent present) would ever need to see/touch the areas their swimsuits cover. In the last couple of years I have taken it a step further to explain simply that "some people try to hurt kids in private places."
3. I have emphasized over and over again that "there is nothing you could EVER do to make me love you any more or any less" & "if anyone ever tells you that something has happened that will make me love you any less they are lying and trying to trick you." To go along with this, I have added that there is nothing an 8 year old should ever have to keep secret from Mommy except a gift. We tell each other the truth because we know we will be loved no matter what. (This happens much more frequently than safety conversations because it is an important foundation for most every parenting issue...not just this one.)
4. I have explained that some people hurt kids then try to trick them that they (the kid) will be in trouble if it comes out. I tell them emphatically that is a lie.
I also try to employ words like 'tricky' instead of 'bad' because I think it teaches them to pay attention and helps them feel
empowered instead of scared. We talk a lot about 'tricks someone might
try' and how to not fall for it. It seems a lot less frightening to talk this
5. I unapologectically limit access to my kids. I read in another child abuse curriculum that the #1 prevention for abuse is to limit one adult/one child situations. It seems so simple, but think about it.
I know this is an especially touchy topic, but I have also heard a fair number of stories (including from real people I know) of inappropriate kid/kid interactions (yes, at the elementary age with 'nice' families in the suburbs) that make me very leery of sleepovers and slumber parties at this young age. I am not just referring to crude humor. (This feels like a good time to emphasize again that this is all personal choices...not judging what anyone else chooses to allow for their people. :-) In my mind there are PLENTY of years ahead for slumber parties--they don't need to start when there is still so much innocence and vulnerability. As of age 8, mine have not yet spent the night with a friend.
6. Most abusers are not obsessed with a certain kid as much as they are looking for an easy target. Watching a Dateline episode several months ago I learned that something as simple as eye contact with adults makes your child appear more confident and less likely to be targeted. To reinforce this, I now reward my kids when they can pass a 'post adult encounter pop quiz' by answering one simple question: What color were his/her eyes? It's worth a quarter in our home. (My kids think this is just about manners.)
7. Make it an ongoing conversation...not an emotional, taboo topic. I try to bounce around and cover ALL KINDS of safety topics like guns, taking others' medications, crossing the street, fire hazards, etc. Abuse scenarios are mixed right in so it feels less stressful to bring up.
8. Role Play!! We keep this really informal. It is almost always in the car or around the dinner table when I ask, "What should you do when an adult pulls into the driveway while I am inside? What if it is someone you know?" Again, I mix this in with other types of threats like "Johnny offers to show you his Dad's gun collection, but says you can't tell anybody..."
Reading back over this, I fear it sounds like I am neurotic or stressing my kids out...but I don't see any signs of that being true. They are outgoing little people who I'd like to think are being equipped with some tools to be less fearful and more confident. We only talk about this stuff every few months--and the looks on their faces seem to convey interest.
In the end, I trust that God is writing their story and know that I cannot bubble wrap my people to protect them from every threat. I do think, however, that I have a responsibility to equip my little sheep before I send them out among the wolves.
I know there are probably tons of great resources out there. Feel free to pass them along in the comments.