Why adults need to STOP using the label “BULLY” with children
Bullying is a label given to many children. Bullying is a form of abuse. We at KidSafe Foundation believe it is just that..ABUSE. What we reject and want to challenge is the thought of labeling a child a "Bully a Victim or a Bystander." As adults we all know exactly what all those terms or labels mean, and guess what our children do too. As adults we have the ability to also reflect on a child and see more than just a “Bully” and see the other qualities a “Bully” may have (or so we hope adults are able to do that.) Children however have a harder time seeing the whole child. Once a child has been given a label that label can follow them throughout their life.
We recently provided a Bullying Reduction Workshop for Administration and Teachers at a school that has had our KidSafe 8 week program each year. It was eye opening. First and foremost these teachers care so much about their students. It was evident that each of them became a teacher because somewhere in their life they had a teacher that influenced them in some way to help children. It was also evident that this school was no different from your child’s school and that Bullying is a pervasive problem and they are looking for intervention. We applaud this administration for opening the doors to a problem that has been “life long” and seems to have no hope of completely going away.
We take a systemic approach to decreasing bullying in schools. It takes everyone including the administration, teachers, support staff, parents and students to make real change. We know bullying can be reduced. We have seen it happen.
So back to the focus for this blog: when we label our children as “bully”, “target”, “bystander” these labels can follow these children for life. They start to believe they are “what we tell them they are” and in our view, this negative self-fulfilling prophecy has to stop. We need to focus on the behaviors of our children and empower them with words that can build hope and inspire them to make better decisions. For example you the adult see a child “bully” another, we the adults have to stop and think and make better choices for how we respond to the child who is being mean, “Billy I saw what you did, or heard what you said and that was hurtful, I know you can make a better choice.” It is in our tone, it is in our voice, it is in our demeanor and how we talk to these children. Now the shy child, you may focus on and think "target." Now the child believes it too! "Oh I’m shy" and this child begins to see that as a negative, which it does not have to be.
Instead we need to give children support and strategies for how to handle uncomfortable and abusive situations. We need to give them a voice. Teach them how how to respond to a child who is mean to them? For some children assertiveness comes naturally. But for the majority of children they need to be coached, talked to and perhaps given exactly how to respond in these types of situations. Children need to know trusted adults are available for help and how to approach these adults when they need assistance. Early intervention to reduce bullying behaviors is the obvious key. The education of our children and the empowerment of each child to know that yes they can make a better choice needs to start as early as preschool.
But, most of all as adults we need to be watching and paying attention to the subtle and obvious behaviors of children so there can be ongoing early intervention. If an adult does not intervene when a child is being hurtful to another child, the child doing the hurtful behavior thinks he can get away with it, that there is nothing wrong with this type of behavior and there are no consequences. The child who is receiving the hurtful behavior thinks the adult not only can’t help, but does not care. Two things we NEVER want a child to feel. So we at KidSafe Foundation ask you to stop labeling children and start focusing on changing behaviors, paying more attention, empowering children to make the “right” choices in how they treat people. And when appropriate, advocate for the children to get them the services they need before their behaviors have life altering effects. Think about your own child, do you want the label of Bully, Bystander or Target to follow them through their life or do you want to let your child know that YOU know they can change their behavior? For more information visit our web site www.kidsafefoundation.org
- Tags: teens, high school, teenage years, teen issues, : boundaries, safety, parenting, children, internet safety, online, computers , safety, bullying, teachers, facebook
“Mom are you my friend?”
(and we are not talking Facebook Friend)
Those are the 5 words my son asked me. That small question, made me think. How do I want to answer this? So it had me pondering what other mothers thought about “being their child’s friend.” Before I share their thoughts – let me tell you mine right up front. ”NO I am not your friend, I am your mom,” is what I told my 10 year old son. But that conversation didn’t stop there, he asked me if I was friends with my parents. That one was an easy answer - NO – and although I could share many things my parents did not do right – one thing they did do right is they were never my friend (until I became an adult).
Now why do I think what they did was right? I believe that a parent is there to protect, guide, teach, model good decision making, model kind behavior, keep the family safe, and provide consistency in a child’s life so a child can feel safe and comfortable and best able to handle life’s challenges along the way. A parent should also be the one a child feels he can talk to about anything while at the same time the parent sets rules, boundaries and expectations for behaviors. This structure is what provides children with a sense of safety, belonging and if done well an open relationship between parent and child is established.
And when a child breaks the rules, boundaries and expectations (as they are meant to do – it is how they learn) it is the job of the parent to give the child consequences for those behaviors – while using the experience as a teachable moment. How can we learn from this? How can we do better next time? Our job as parents is to prepare our children for life…to be able to talk with our children about the real issues with the intention of teaching them life skills so they and we, will feel confident that when they go out on their own they will be best able to make the safest and smartest choices. “Friends” do not have that type of relationship – active parents do.
So as I ponder this…and ask some mom friends their thoughts, I was surprised how many disagreed with me. They want to be their child’s friend. I was told if I am their friend they will tell me everything, they want to be a “cool” mom and they want their child’s friends to think they are “cool” too.
So I ask, what makes a “cool” mom – and basically they all said the same thing, not many rules (like staying up late watching TV, playing video games, computer, cell phone and texting without any rules or consequences for breaking those rules), not being “overprotective” – letting their child go to a friend’s house that they don’t know, hang out at the mall at quite young ages (cause everyone else is), letting them have a Facebook account before they are 13. I could go on and on…and I realized I must be in the minority because to me, it sounded like – A cool parent is a parent that lets their child run their house (or a cool parent doesn’t want to disappoint their child or deal with conflict and has a hard time saying no or setting limits….. perhaps that is for another blog.)
Well I guess I don’t fall under “cool” parent category! My husband and I run our household. We set limits, have rules, boundaries and expectations. When those are not followed my son knows the consequences. I love my son and I want him to be the “best” person he can be, I want him to make mistakes and learn from them, I want him to be good to others and treat others how he wants to be treated. Most of all I want him to be happy and comfortable with who he is – but if he was running our house how could we teach him these things? If he had no limits what will he expect from others? If no is not a word told to him he will expect the world to always say “yes” and boy will he be in for a shocker as he gets older.
If he didn’t have to follow specific rules, boundaries and expectations what kind of person would I be preparing him to be in school and more importantly in life? So what I say to my son, who I love more than anything is, “I am better than just a friend, I am your mom, and proud of it.” And PS sweetie – one day (after years of therapy) you will thank me for it.
To friend the teacher or not to friend the teacher, that is the question.
The school year is right around the corner and the safety of all children are on the forefront of our mind. We think its time for all parents to think about boundaries between students and their teachers. Teachers are in the position of role model for our children no matter what your children’s ages. In today’s world our children’s teachers are using technology. As technology is advancing the age of our children using technology is getting younger. Many teachers use technology in the classroom and your children need to be up to speed on the latest and greatest that is out there.
Children need to be 13 years of age to be on facebook, yet we all know children as young as 9 have their own pages. Children have a hard time understanding the consequences of their actions and friending ones teacher is just something a kid might do, just like they might friend a relative, an older cousin or their older brother’s friend. From a child or teens perspective this is someone they see daily, feel connected to, and perhaps the teacher has encouraged the kids to be in touch via facebook to get questions answered or extra help.
It all sounds good, right? Wrong. Why? Facebook is social media, a place where a teacher wears many hats. We are not even talking about impropriety here, we are talking about common sense privacy and professional boundaries. Do all teachers think to themselves before they post a picture or make a comment - what will my 7th grade students think about this? Is it appropriate for your 6th grader to know t her teacher spent the weekend away with her boyfriend? (Nothing wrong with teacher spending weekend away – but is it necessary for your sixth grader to know how her teacher spends her weekend?)
In today’s complicated world it seems more and more teachers are crossing boundaries with students. Not a day goes by that we don’t see a news story about a teacher, coach, or other trusted adult molesting, sexting or other avenues of impropriety with a student through technology. Now if teachers are reading this… keep in mind (we are teachers too) and we believe that most teachers only have the best interests of their students in mind and would never cross an inappropriate boundary. But in this day and age there are many that do and are making unsafe choices and because of that we believe that teachers and students should NOT be friends on any social media web sites.
Our children are growing up in the digital age – less is more, faster is better and to catch our child’s attention teachers must be on the cutting edge of technology. But that doesn’t mean that the students understand what is in their own best interest. Many wouldn’t think twice about friending a teacher. It is the teachers that need to put in some thought, and recognize their professional role, and the risks they open themselves up to by friending students.
With that said, there are a myriad of options online for today’s teachers to reach out to their students without crossing professional boundaries, or perhaps mistakenly showing favoritism – by only friending certain students, etc. Teachers creating a class website reaching out to the whole class and parents too can be an effective form of communication and have tremendous benefit to our children.
Since there is still much to learn regarding Social Networking and professionalism – some School Boards in various states have created policy to address the issue. The solution: Teachers should not be “friends” with their students! They should be mentors, role models and guides for our children.
Teachers deserve to have a life. They have every right to post pictures, talk about their lives, whatever they want. But as the role model, mentor and guide – I don’t want my child to see it or be a part of it because when they do…they become a part of it too and that my “friend” is how the boundaries get blurred.
- Tags: facebook, teachers, safety, computers , online, internet safety, children, parenting, safety, teen issues, teenage years, high school, teens, body boundaries, boundaries
Ok, I admit it..I watch the Real Housewives and I am a little embarrassed about it. Those that know me may be surprised…my family (well not my sisters because they watch it too) Friends? (Well not my closest because they too watch) But I am sure colleagues might be surprised. But I do watch it and I had to write this blog after watching “The Real Housewives New York Reunion” last night.
Now I may be a little late in the game for just writing this because I tape the show and don’t know when it was first aired(another slight embarrassment) So, last night as my husband is falling asleep and I am up I start watching. Not 10 minutes into the show I feel my blood pressure rising. My husband picks his head up and says “Oh my g-d they are so mean!” and I realized these women are bullies.
So now the importance of the blog…..I start thinking ….What are these women modeling for their children?
· To speak their mind…yet not to care how another will feel about what their saying!
· To be strong…yet always at the expense of others.
· To stand up for what they believe in…and to talk over people until they see things your way.
· To tell the truth…but be mean-spirited as you tell it..
· To not listen to others because they don’t agree? To me, that speaks Bully, and that is what they are modeling for their children…how to be a bully (and boy are they good at it)
If I had the opportunity to ask each and every one of these women what have they taught their children about how to treat other people. I am sure that they would say they want their children to treat others with respect, dignity, empathy and kindness. But if you watch that is not at all what they are modeling for their children. As I am watching I wonder to myself when they look back on this footage are they embarrassed? Do they wish they did things differently? Do they realize they are the “Mean Girls?”
All I know is that I don’t want my child to be a bully or a bystander – I want him to be the kid that helps his friend who is being bullied. I want my child to treat people the way he wants to be treated – with respect, dignity, empathy and kindness and that is why I try to model that behavior for him. Children do what we do. Not what we say, and I guess at the end of the day that is why I wrote this blog. For us as parents to ask ourselves what kind of children are we raising? Act how you want your child to act – Model good behavior.
Now I know the Real Housewives shows have millions of viewers and I am one of them. Why are we watching? This is something I will have to explore further at another time. If for nothing else. It made a good blog! ps. I promised my business partner that I would share that she has never watched any of these shows.
This is a true story: It’s Saturday night – and my cell phone starts ringing –I don’t answer because we are eating dinner. My home phone rings, then the text sound goes off on my cell phone. I run to get it as someone is trying to reach me, maybe it’s an emergency. I read the text – “please call me I have an emergency with my son and pornography” – it’s a text from a friend, Jill (name has been changed). I call her and this is the story I am sharing with you to use as a teachable moment in the hope that if you read this and you say this could never happen to your child – you will think again. It can happen to anyone.
Jill begins by explaining that she left her children, 8 and 9 year old boys, playing Club Penguin on the computer in their room and went to the kitchen. I don’t know how long she was gone from the room but one of the boys comes running to her yelling that his brother is showing his privates to someone on the computer. Hysterical she runs into the room to see her son with pants down in front of the computer. I am not sure all that went down at the house before she called me… but when she called me she was hysterical and I could hear her son in the background freaking out. I try to calm her down and help her with what to say to her child to calm him down. “You made a mistake, but it’s not your fault.” I can’t hear everything she is saying so I tell her to get her husband to hug him and calm him down with soothing words. I tell her “You must call the nonemergency sheriff’s department right now and tell them exactly what happened, they will come over and help you. They can probably find out who the person was.” She calms down somewhat and then calls the police.
She calls me a little later, the police arrived, took the lap top the kids were using, and now with their help understands how simple it was for a total stranger, predator, pedophile – whatever you want to call him – was able to enter the safety of their home.
Here is how simple it was: While the kids were on Club Penguin (a child friendly game) – a random tinychat (see tinychat.com) came up which asked the boys if they like Justin Bieber. One of the children entered the chat and responded. He was asked how old he was and where he was from. The child responded. At this point the predator was already able to view the boys as tinychat is a video chat room. The predator asked the boys to share their address so he could send them tickets to Justin Bieber. One of the boys did. The predator then asked the boy who he was corresponding with “ if you show your private parts I will give you free tickets.” The boy undressed and showed his private part – all the while his brother is saying, “Don’t do it! It’s not safe”. His brother does not listen. He runs screaming to his mother that his brother is showing his privates to someone on the computer. Mom comes running in the room to find her child naked in front of the computer.
Could this happen in your home? Jill didn’t think it could happen in her home. She is well educated, affluent, lives in a gated community, and the safety of her children is a top priority to her. She is sad, and disturbed on so many levels. Baffled by how easily her child was taken in by this predator. The predator knows where they live and her mind can’t stop thinking did he take a picture of my son, did he send it to his other sick friends? She feels violated and scared. Again, I ask you, “Do you think this could happen in your home?” Jill never thought it could happen in hers and asked me to share it with the world, “Scream it from the rooftops” she said. If only to help another family. This story is very real and is happening in homes across our country. It does not matter where you live, what ethnicity you are, what socioeconomic level you are in – all children are at risk and all parents need to set guidelines and learn safety themselves so they can best supervise their children while on line.
Here is how we can help keep our children safe online:
• Computer needs to be in an open area of the house (had the computer been where his parents could see him they would surely have seen, without hovering, that their child was about to undress – and the incident probably would never have gone that far to begin with). No computers in the bedroom.
• Teach your children no matter what (free tickets, free iPad – whatever is your child’s thing of the week) all of those offers, popups, etc are scams – explain to them what a scam is. Good time to teach that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. Always report popups, instant messages, chats etc to your grownup.
• Children should NEVER use chat rooms!!
• Teach children to never ever respond when asked to enter their info to a popup, chat, even a new website that they would like to explore until they have Checked First with you.
• If you feel your child is old enough and responsible enough for an email address you need to teach them about NEVER opening an email unless you know who it is from. If you receive something and are unsure – they should show it to their grownup (Check First).
As you can see there is a theme here – it is called Check First. This is the story’s teachable skill. If along the way these children were checking first the ending would have been very different. Number one – the computer would have been in an open area – when the tinychat (and there are many other similar sites out there) about the Beiber Tickets came up the kids would have gotten excited and probably turned to the adult who is in ear shot and said – hey Mom – we can win Justin Beiber tickets – this guy said so. Can we? (That is kids communicating with their adult – Checking First.) If that adult was listening between the lines they would have walked over and said let me see what it is all about. Hopefully the adult would have realized immediately that it was some kind of scam – but let’s say she is gullible and perhaps a big Bieber fan herself, and she says – Mommy will check this out – she would perhaps have started chatting with this person and very soon realize this isn’t what it seemed, hopefully would get the larger scope of it and report it to the police before any exposure would have occurred and any other children were violated online.
The reality is that even if she had popup blockers on her computer (which I am sure she will install now) that is not enough. The kids need to learn safety skills so they know when to Check First with their adult. This gives the adult the opportunity to model for their children safe and smart choices. The internet is an adult world that our children are playing in often for hours on end. We need to keep up with our children – just because they know how to technically use the computer does not mean they are mature or responsible enough to make safe choices while online.
(PS – I went onto tinychat to learn for myself – everyday we are learning new ways the predators reach out to our children – we need to be aware. I joined a random video chat room – others in the chat appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. Within 10 seconds of being on – I didn’t even have enough time to read the chat so I could see what they were talking about – one of the males starts playing with himself on camera…… Parents – these are not sites we as parents are using – but our kids know about them and are using them. If we do not start talking with our kids about choices they make online, and their personal safety from a young age - this is what we are sending them to out of sheer negligence on our part. Please talk to your kids from a young age about checking first.)
There is only one person to blame for the senseless death of an innocent 8 year old boy – the predator monster that stole his precious life. As I spent the day angry, outraged at the madness of it all, my heart breaking for his family and community I still can’t help but know – this was an avoidable tragedy, little Liebby didn’t not have to die at the hands of an utterly deranged killer.
When we were young our parents sent us off to school and camp with statements such as: “Be a good listener.” “Mind your manners.” “Do what your counselor tells you to do.” “A tough teacher is a good teacher.” I can’t even imagine saying blanket statements like this to my 10 year old today. In fact, almost the opposite is said at our house. We want him to be polite but NEVER at the expense of his safety and just because an adult, like a teacher or counselor, tells him to do something, if it makes him uncomfortable or confused… guess what? He doesn’t have to do it! He has the right to say “NO” and he knows it. Blind obedience versus knowing when and how to be assertive is on my mind as my son tells me this experience he had at camp:
My son is at a new camp. The first two days when changing for swim they changed in a huge bathroom that had stalls. My son (as did the other boys) went into their individual stalls and changed. The third day they were brought to a smaller bathroom (no clue why) and there were no stalls. My son said to the counselor, “I want to change in the stall.” The counselor said “We are in a rush just change here, hurry up.” My son responded, “I don’t want anyone to see me and I don’t want to see anyone else’s privates.” (Now remember he is growing up with one of the founders of KidSafe Foundation and could probably teach the lessons himself at this point.) The counselor raised his voice and told him he had to change. He refused. The counselor got the Director of the camp, who amazingly told my son, “I absolutely respect your right to privacy and you don’t ever have to change in that bathroom again – you can always go to the big bathroom.” Crisis solved. (Well almost – as this was not handled well by the group counselor.)
I can’t even explain to you how proud my husband and I were of him. Thankfully this was just a very minor thing – Just a counselor wanting his camper to hurry up and get dressed for swimming…no big deal right? But what if the counselor or teacher asked a child to do something inappropriate, sexual and unsafe? I want my child, your child, and every child to know they have the right to be SAFE. They have the right to speak up and be assertive if they are uncomfortable…and just because the person telling you to do something is an adult, especially the adult that is in charge at that time, it does not mean a child has to be blindly obedient.
After sharing my story with a few friends (many of their children have been through the KidSafe program), they shared similar stories…especially around the issues of changing for swim and privacy. My friend described that after a few days at camp she finally realized her son’s bathing suit was coming home dry. When she asked him if he was swimming he said that he and a bunch of other boys are not swimming because they didn’t have anywhere to change with privacy. When she called the camp – she understood that the boys were given an option by the counselor – change out with everyone – or don’t swim. They chose to not swim. After speaking to the director – who was embarrassed that the situation was not handled well by his staff, my friend used the experience as a teachable moment. She was so proud that he had spoken up and was assertive – but taught him that the next step is to come to a trusted adult and explain what happened. He has a right to swim and a right to privacy. Wow – it was amazing to have this anecdotal feedback that our lessons stick… the children get it! Some of the parents were surprised by their children’s assertiveness…I was thrilled!
I have to admit that dropping my son off at a camp where neither he nor I knew a soul was difficult for me. I left with a heavy heart, a little anxious….even though I did all the due diligence I needed to feel comfortable with the camp we choose, you still can’t help but wonder…will my child be safe? Parents ask us most often, “When can my child have more independence?” I respond with a question back to them: “What have you taught your child about their personal safety that you feel they will make the safest and smartest choices when faced with new challenges?”
I realized that we have raised our 10 year old to be polite…but assertive. To listen to an adult…but think first how it makes him feel…to speak up if something is uncomfortable.. but to hold his ground if he doesn’t feel safe and to report what happens to a trusted adult. I was proud and realized something important. It is not just what you tell your child, it’s how you ask questions of your child to get them to tell you about their day away from you.
Ask: Open ended questions - Don’t just ask: How was your day? The answer will be: fine.
Ask: Tell me 3 high lights of your day? And 3 low lights. Ask them for the play by play of their day. Once they get talking you can enjoy the info as well as see how they cope during the day and what areas they might need some practice in.
So as your kids go off to summer activities…and then back to school rethink what you may be teaching them…Does your child know they have the right to say “NO” to anyone that makes them feel uncomfortable? Even an adult? Have you talked with your child about this? Do you just assume your child knows he has these rights? Or have you actually had this discussion? Do you assume your child knows he/she can come to you about anything? Or have you actually had this conversation. If you have not – it is never too late. Start the conversation and keep it going! (if you want to read about how to do due diligence the KidSafe way - read our blog "How do I know my Child's Camp is SAFE.")
Summer is approaching and suddenly your children will be in a new routine. Whether you are sending them to camp, day or overnight there are some very important questions that need to be asked before you send your children out the door.
Do you assume the camp you chose for your kids will be safe? Have you asked the appropriate questions that would give you confidence in the camp? When we asked this question of friends and family sending their kids to camp, most parents with a slight blush and timid smile reported that their main concerns were:
Will my child have friends at the camp
Expense of the camp
Location of camp
Activities their children will be experiencing
Not one parent thought to ask - what is the camp’s risk assessment for safety? What is their safety record? Health precautions? Have the counselors been trained? If so what exactly are they trained in? Have they ever experienced any abuse problems in the past? What safety precautions has the camp put in place so my children will be safe? Wow – it’s an eye opener…so ask yourself now have you EVER asked these questions to a director or even thought about them before?
What would you do if you had prior knowledge that the camp you are sending your child to had numerous accidents, revolving door of counselors through the years and a counselor that had harmed a child wouldn't you want to know? I think we all can agree that we would want to know and most parents, after having that information would choose to send their child to a different camp….But how do you know the prior safety record of a camp if you don’t ask? You can’t always find all the information you need from Google nor from asking a friend what they think of the camp.
We spend more time trying to find out the safety rating of the car we drive then we do the safety of the camp we are sending our precious children to. So, with that said we have a challenge for you- We want to you to take the safety of your child to a new level by asking the director of the camp the following questions:
Are criminal background checks performed on all your employees?
Is each person checked through the National Sex offender registry?
Do you conduct interviews and reference checks on all employees (including teen counselors)?
How do you screen for possible sex offenders?
During your interview process do you discuss boundaries – appropriate or inappropriate touches? Bullying?
Do you offer your employee’s clear policies about sexual misconduct and consequences – are these policies in writing in an employee handbook?
What steps are you taking to decrease the risk of sexual abuse at your camp?
What steps are you taking to decrease the risk of bullying at camp?
What type of training do you offer your staff?
Do you offer training to staff to prevent sexual abuse and bullying?
Are you licensed by the state?
Are you accredited by the ACA?
Your children deserve to go to a camp that takes their personal safety as seriously as you do. So please take the time to ask your Camp Director these questions so you can be satisfied and confident that the camp you are sending your child to is doing everything they can to ensure your child's safety. But please don’t stop there….Talk with your children about their personal safety. Talk with them about “what if” scenarios so you can see if they will come up with the safest and smartest choices when away from you. Let your children know they can talk to you about ANYTHING!!!
We owe it to our children to send them to a camp we feel confident has done its best to educate and train their staff on prevention education so that your child will have a safe and happy summer. We owe it ourselves to allow our children the freedom to experience new things without us and feel that we have done everything we can to ensure their safety.
After all, don't you think your children are worth it?
Jeffrey M. Herman is a nationally recognized attorney who devotes 100% of his practice to representing Victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors of KidSafe Foundation. Mr. Herman may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.hermanlaw.com.
Child molesters are looking for ways to get access to your child today. He wants your child and he is out there, right now, looking for opportunities. He is at your kid’s school, Church or Temple, the Boy Scouts, Little League, Big Brothers, and every other place that your child frequents. The child molester is patient and he is persistent. He is clever. He will keep trying until an institution accepts him and gives him access to your child. Then his work begins. He identifies his targets. A child looking for a friend or a father figure. Usually, he is working several victims at the same time. Next, he starts the grooming process. Slowly he gains your child’s trust and even yours. Eventually, he betrays that trust in the most tragic way. He sexually abuses your child. He murders your child’s soul.
As a child advocate representing victims of abuse and a father of four children, I have come to learn the ways of the child molester. I have seen the dark side and it is your worst nightmare. I know this sick underworld is not in some foreign place. It is in our own backyards. I have seen families destroyed and lives lost at the hands of a pedophile. Parents ask me, what can we do?
KNOW THY ENEMY. The enemy knows your child, so you better know him. To understand the child molester, you should know how he thinks. The child molester most dangerous to your child is not the stranger wearing the overcoat in the park. More likely someone you trust, such as the soccer coach, the pastor, or “Uncle Jimmy”. Law enforcement historically taught us “stranger – danger” or “don’t talk to strangers”. Although this may be true in some cases, most child sexual abuse is committed by people that are known and sometimes related to the victim. Parents may place so much emphasis on warning their child to be fearful of strangers, that the child assumes all non-strangers are safe and will go off with them willingly.
All pedophiles are not child molesters and all child molesters are not pedophiles. A pedophile is a person who prefers to have sex with prepubescent children. All pedophiles do not sexually abuse children. Some pedophiles are content with fantasizing about sex with children and will not act out. Others, of course, do act out and are referred to as preferential child molesters. Conversely, some child molesters are not pedophiles at all. A drug crazed psychopath may have sex with anyone in the immediate vicinity (the “opportunistic” child molester). Or a religious freak may engage in sex with children as part of some bizarre religious ceremony (the “ritualistic” child molester). The most common type of child molester and the most difficult to defend against is the preferential child molester - the pedophile who acts out on his sexual desires for children. Typically, he does not believe he is doing anything wrong. He believes he loves children and that children seduce him. He thinks he would never hurt your child. He only wants to love your child. His sexual drive for children is compulsive and he spends most of his waking time looking for and creating opportunities with children. If given the chance, he will sexually abuse your child.
The internet is a haven for pedophiles and has made the problem much worse. A pedophile who in the past was content to only fantasize about children because he thought he was “weird” or different, now can communicate with others of his same mindset. Communication over the internet amongst the pedophile community leads to pedophiles acting out. A pedophile will share stories about his conquests over the internet. Pedophiles not previously disposed to acting out, feel that they are not so different after all and are empowered to act out. Pedophiles will share there grooming techniques and the best places to find vulnerable children on the internet. Pedophiles may even use the internet to establish contact with your child.
SEE THE RED FLAGS.
2A person who prefers to have sex with post-pubescent children is known as a paraphile. In this article, the term pedophile shall include paraphiles. 3 in a deposition of a pedophile who was the friend of the child molester, I asked whether he (the friend) was aware the child molester traveled to Morocco and sexually abused boys. The friend responded “no”. I rephrased the question and asked whether he was aware the child molester traveled to Morocco and was seduced by boys. He responded “yes” and went on to tell me how the young boys came on to his friend which led to the child molester engaging in sex with these 10 year old boys.
Is this adult a pedophile? Of course, every priest, coach, teacher and scout leader is not a pedophile. In fact, most people who work with children are genuinely caring adults who enjoy helping children. On the other hand, some of these people are pedophiles. How do you know? In most cases, you will not know until it is too late. Parents should look for signs before that dreaded outcome becomes a reality. Pedophiles share many common traits and parents can look for these red flags. Many pedophiles are not married and do not have established romantic relationships with adults. (Unfortunately, some men will date or even marry single mothers to get access to her children. Beware.)
Is your child being groomed? Although pedophiles may have their own style of grooming, their techniques often share common characteristics. Watch out for men who give gifts to your child, spend time with your child outside of the activity, invite your child on outings (baseball games, Disney World, etc.), call your child on the telephone, correspond on the internet, say inappropriate things to your child, or in any other way do something to make your child feel special. We all know that our children are special and deserve the special attention, but when it comes from an adult who is not the child’s parent, beware and be cautious.
Are you being groomed? Pedophiles often groom the parents as well as the child. The pedophile wants you to trust him and give him the benefit of the doubt. Be wary of men who give you gifts, offer to help you in your business, or otherwise make you indebted to him while at the same time getting closer to your child. The purpose of grooming the parents is so that if, and when, you question his motives with your child, you will want to look the other way or feel compelled to look the other way so as not to insult your benefactor or lose his assistance. No parent will ever intentionally sell out his child, but some will look the other way when faced with the realities of life.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. You do know what’s best for your child. Your instincts are correct. If someone makes you uncomfortable then remove your child from the situation. If an adult makes you suspicious, react before it is too late.
ERR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. Too often, parents of victims tell me they were uncomfortable around the pedophile, or something made them suspicious. Too often, it is too late and the parents blame themselves. If they only acted on their instincts, they could have saved their child. Be proactive. The worse that can happen is that you insult an adult who has only good intentions for your child. On the other hand, if you don’t err on the side of caution, you may be handing your child over to a pedophile. It is an easy choice.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR CHILD WAS ABUSED? Many parents incorrectly believe that their child will tell them if they were sexually abused. This is not usually the case. Children do not generally discuss their normal sex life with their parents. Add in the fact that the partner is an adult, probably someone the parents know and trust and it becomes more unlikely that the child will report the abuse. In addition, since the sexual encounter does not take place until the child is groomed and the child “willingly” participates, the child feels that he is to blame. Feelings of guilt and shame are overwhelming. The child often feels that he did something wrong. The pedophile tells the child that he loves him and that they are not doing anything wrong. The pedophile tells your child that they must keep their relationship secret. The physical act may even feel good to the child which creates confusion in the young mind. Finally, the pedophile may make direct or implied threats against the child or his family designed to keep their relationship secret.
If your child was abused you may notice behavioral changes. These include sexual acting out, such as compulsive masturbation, sexual play, inappropriate touching of sexual organs, simulating sex with toys or other objects, and sexual comments that are age inappropriate. Other behavioral changes are sleep disturbances, anger, fear of going to certain places, low self-esteem and depression. Many victims of child sexual abuse develop addictive behaviors as teenagers. The frequency or intensity of these behaviors, as well as the combination of two or more of these behaviors, may be indicative of sexual abuse, particularly acting out sexually. If you notice such behavioral changes in your child, you should investigate further and speak to a psychological professional.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOUR CHILD WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED? Do not ignore what happened to your child. Putting your head in the sand and hoping that your child will forget about the abuse is dangerous. Dealing with the problem head on will help your child cope with the abuse the rest of his life. Untreated, the affects of the abuse may surface during your child’s lifetime. Get your child and yourself into therapy with a professional skilled in the area of child
Boy...will we miss Oprah! We will especially miss Oprah because she became the empowering voice behind the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Thanks to Oprah the silence surrounding childhood sexual abuse has been broken. When Oprah came forward years ago and shared her story about being sexually abused as a child, it opened the door to others who believed they were alone in their pain and suffering. Oprah became a friend, a confidant, a role model, to millions of people…”Saying this happened to me…I survived..You can too!”
As Mental Health professional, we know that sharing your personal story is the beginning of the healing process. Oprah, through her sharing, inspired women, men, professional athletes, politicians, Actors, Actresses and musicians to share their stories. As heartbreaking as it is to hear these stories it has helped countless others and has made talking about childhood sexual abuse less taboo.
It seems every day (and maybe it’s just us because keeping children safe from abuse is our life’s work) there is story upon story about yet another child being harmed. It is time for lawmakers, politicians, and the president to realize that every child deserves the right to be safe and to learn the skills to help PREVENT child abuse. We need Prevention Education MANDATED in elementary schools across the nation.
Why? Because as the statistics show 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually exploited before their 18th birthday. Every 10 seconds a child is abused. Those numbers are only the children who REPORT and most do not TELL. This is an epidemic and we need to treat it as one by helping all children learn how to keep themselves safe and educate adults on signs, symptoms and appropriate boundaries. Adults need to know what to do if a child comes to them and discloses – which is especially hard when it is someone in the family, as 68% of the time a child is harmed by a family member and 90% of the time it is by someone they know! Adults need to realize with those statistics how hard it is for a child to disclose and how rare it is for a child to lie about abuse…..BELIEVE THEM!!! Your response to their disclosure can make a child feel Powerful or Powerless!
How can we help more children? Continue to break the cycle of silence that prevails around sexual abuse and in doing so, hope others will have the courage to come forward. Make it the norm in your homes, in preschools, elementary schools, house of worship, and among your neighbors to talk with children about the rights they have to keep their bodies safe. Tell children directly that their bodies are special, their bodies belong to them, and touches can be safe or unsafe. Teach children to not keep secrets that make them uncomfortable or confused, and read empowering books with children regarding the rights they have over their bodies. All children would then be receiving the same message: “ There is no topic we cannot discuss – even about sexual abuse.” When you give children this message,they gain an understanding of the rights they have over their bodies, how to keep themselves safe, and our children become EMPOWERED!! To do this we need to provide all children and adults with Prevention Education.
Our Gut Instinct - always trust your intuition – it is rarely wrong! Think to yourself ‘ what would I want someone to do to protect my child?’ Would you want someone to turn a blind eye or would you want them to protect your child? If you suspect a child is being abused, CALL the authorities…. If you’re not sure what number – call 911 – or your local child abuse hot line. We know from experience that this is not an easy thing to do, fear of the backlash, having self-doubt that your reporting will be helpful or more hurtful to the children, BUT…. We must always err on the side of protecting the child.
Educating ourselves on these issues as parents and even just as good citizens is important. It takes a village to keep children safe. Oprah may be leaving, but the effects of her disclosure and years of talking about child sexual abuse can still have powerful effects of keeping children safe if we all work together. Our book My Body is Special and Belongs to Me! Addresses the issues of Safe and Unsafe touch Secrets, Private Parts, Boundaries and how to get help in a developmentally appropriate, fun and natural way for children to understand. We also included an extensive parent section that can help you in your efforts to educate your children and keep them safe.
All Proceeds from our books go directly to our 501(c) 3 nonprofit to bring prevention education to all families.
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