Friday, August 17, 2012

"Stranger" Danger

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 way.

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.


Prairie Rose said...

As the parent of an adopted child who was sexually abused by her bio father, I have a hard time figuring out how to tell her WHAT/WHO is okay. You tell your children only a parent, or a doctor with a parent present... but in her case, the parent wasn't even safe. It's such a tricky subject anyway, and even trickier when your child has already been abused. Thanks for sharing this way too prevalent issue to give parents something to think about.

JMom said...

Prairie Rose, You bring up a very interesting point. In the Safeside video (which is really intended for younger audiences) I appreciated how they did not define who your "Safeside adults" were--they left it up to the adult and child viewing the video to discuss.

It is a nice approach because no one gets put on the "bad" list per se, you simply explain clearly who their 3 all access folks are...

Prayers for your child in her recovery. (and you!)

sherene said...

This is very helpful, will definitely discuss this to my son soon.

kristen said...

Thank you for this post. Great tips and ideas. We love Safe Side Superchick. Also, the sponge video you posted prompted me to go ahead and have "the talk" with my nine year old daughter. She has been asking questions for the last year after hearing a bit too much from a friend. While it was earlier than I had planned, my husband and I knew we wanted to be the one to fill her sponge. It went so well...Glory to God!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this! I'm not married, and I don't have children yet, but this is something I'm concerned about now. I really appreciate both this post and the checklistmommy post you linked to.

On a different topic, I'd like to make a practical suggestion, if you feel like it's a good idea. I wanted to pin this post to one of my Pinterest boards, but the only picture option was your family picture. While it is a lovely photo, that seemed a little weird to me. :) So maybe you could add a banner or something else for when readers want to pin a post. I suppose I could e-mail it, but I look through my pins much more often than my archived e-mails.

Anyways, thanks again for this helpful post!


JMom said...

Nicole, Thanks so much for the suggestion...I hadn't thought about this before. Now I know what I am working on tonight...graphic design is not my forte, so this should be fun.

kathleen ward said...

Awesome post!!!! Thank you :)

HW said...

My dear friend is a juvenile detective and so deals daily with our worst nightmares. I do not have statistics, but she has told me that boys are less likely to tell if abuse has happened. While we must be vigilant with ALL of our children (of course); it's just something I wanted to add to the discussion.

HW said...

Me again.

I don't know if this is the right place to bring this up, but when I was raising my kids, it always bothered me IMMENSELY when relatives would insist that my children hug and kiss them. My son, especially, was uncomfortable with physical affection at a certain age, yet older relatives insisted on that "sloppy" hug and kiss upon every hello and good-bye.

I convinced my husband to stand behind me and tell these relatives "he is not comfortable hugging and kissing you; but since he is getting so big, a handshake is really neat for him." Actually it was my mother who suggested the handshake because she understood. She got it.

I just didn't like the idea that we teach our children to say NO to people making them physically uncomfortable yet we make them show physical affection when it is not in their nature to do so. I felt it took away the control we were trying so hard to give them over their bodies.

Jillian, Inc said...

Great information and something I need to spend more time discussing with my boy. Sleep overs are suddenly a hot topic here and I'm not wild about it at all. There's also a lot of stuff that goes on on the school bus... Everything from potty talk, to bullying, to physical fights and many times it's so overt way in the back if the bus that the driver doesn't know. thanks for the great tips!

JMom said...

HW, I hadn't really considered the forced affection thing. You make a good point.
It is a slippery slope in teaching them to be kind, polite and being inconsistent with the whole "your body is YOUR body" line.
Honestly, we haven't really dealt with that yet. I like your handshake idea.

Peter and Nancy said...

Thanks for posting this. I think all of the people in my life who have survived abuse were victims of relatives or people they knew . . . and one was abused by people at church. Sad, but churches don't get a free pass into the "safe" zone either.

You have some very good tips here -- we've always played the "What would you do?" game too. Now that my oldest two are 10 and 11, we add peer pressure kinds of things into the mix too (about inappropriate things on the computer at a friend's house, smoking, playing video games that are T or M, etc.). My kids think it's fun to get the answers right, and I pray that they're rehearsing to be successful in real life.

JMom said...

So, here's the entertaining PS to this post. This morning my church had a big picnic and a photographer from the paper was there taking pictures. Apparently when they took my R's & then asked him for his name he told them he could not tell them.
Another Mom that witnessed it told me the story, then when we were leaving R retold the story reminding me of a Dateline: What Would Your Kids Do? where someone tried to trick the kids into giving personal info by being a photographer. :-)

Lil Light O Mine said...

this is so interesting. thank you sharing. i just want to ignore it all but i can't. ugh.

wendy said...

This is such a good post! I would like to pin it also. I will wait until your change the picture.

Love Being A Nonny said...

I always wondered what my kids would do if approached by a stranger. We had a secret word in our home. If the person said they were told to pick them up from school, dance, ball game, park, etc, they had to know the secret word. Ours was POPCORN. You should be really proud of R. It is difficult for a child to have that much forethought and self control! This is a great post!

Julie said...

I so wish I could post this comment anonymously because of my daughter's privacy, but I need to tell you this so you can add something else to your conversations.

There are children who have been victimized who will in turn become abusers. We are dealing with this right now. My daughter, who is a couple of months younger than your 3, was victimized by her best friend. It could have been worse, but thankfully I felt a check in my gut to check on them and walked in the room. I have no words for the emotions I have been trying to negotiate all of the while ensuring that we don't give my daughter the impression that she did anything wrong at all. I've also tried not to demonize her best friend because she too is a victim. I will tell you that I have a new rule of no one on one with anyone. If she has one friend over, they have to play in my field of vision. If there are multiple children I am a little more relaxed but I check the room every few seconds.

JMom said...

Thank you for your candor, Julie. You bring up a very good (albeit difficult) point. I have friends whose children have experienced this as the hands of peers who don't know any better bc it has happened to them. Bless you as you walk through this heart wrenching situation. Prayers for you right now. And THANK YOU for your bravery in sharing.

Julie said...

Thank you so much for your prayers, for us and for the other family.