The world we live in is a scary one, and it's easy to become cynical when there's so many potential threats to ourselves and our families. One topic that shouldn't be overlooked is child abuse and potential predators. This is, no doubt, a scary topic and some parents (I'm raising my hand) would rather bury their heads in the sand than confront the issue. This is understandable, considering it's every parent's worst nightmare. With all that being said, this post isn't meant to scare or depress parents reading, but is hopefully a post meant to encourage and educate us about the dangers and signs of child predators and abuse, and how to prevent it. The majority of the information from this post was found on rainn.org, which you can visit for more information or resources.
Help Prevent Predators
1. Knowing who's in your child's life
One of the most important things to reduce the chances of coming into contact with child predators is knowing who is in your child's life. This can include babysitters, childcare providers, teachers, friends (and their families), and even family members that you are frequently in contact with. Also set a precedent for talking with your children about the things that they have done during the day. If you start early, your child will be that much more willing to come to you when something deviates from the usual.
Another thing to be aware of is social media. If there are any parents like me out there, posting pictures of your adorable baby is one of your favorite pastimes. But social media has opened up a whole new world of potential threats to our children. According to Victoria Nash, acting director of the Oxford Internet Institute,“There are two things to be careful about. One is the amount of information that you give away, which might include things like date of birth, place of birth, the child’s full name, or tagging of any photographs with a geographical location..." This can not only lead to identify theft, but could also give potential predators the ability to locate you or your child. Consider making your profiles private on social media to minimize viewing by people you don't know.
2. Making sure they understand what is private and how to set boundaries Talking with your children about how to protect their bodies can definitely feel out of place when they are so young, but the sooner we start talking to them about their bodies the easier it will be to spot problems that may occur later on. Probably the most important way to protect our children is to teach them the correct terms for their bodies. If we cut out the middle man and use the correct terminology from the get-go, it will decrease the chances that our kids will not be able to verbalize when they have a problem or concern. Teach your children that it is appropriate to say, "no," to others when they touch them. This could be as much as family members, friends at school, and of course strangers. By teaching them to speak up when they're uncomfortable with small things (i.e., getting hugged by a loving aunt, or touched by a friend at school) hopefully they will come to us with the big things.
Setting boundaries is something that can happen naturally by modeling. Modeling when mom needs to use the bathroom by herself because it's "private time," can help your child to understand when others need to be alone. Also try your best to teach your child that they need to keep their private parts to themselves, and should not try to touch, look at, or talk about others private parts. By teaching them that there are parts of their bodies that others should not see, your child will be able to distinguish when things cross a boundary line. Also make sure and let your child know that it's okay to talk about when problems or concerns arise, and that they will not get in trouble. Predators will often use manipulative techniques, and one is lying to children that they will be punished for speaking up. Teach them that some secrets are good secrets (surprising dad with a new tie) and some secrets are bad secrets (don't tell your mom and dad about this).
3. Recognizing warning signs, and different ways of communicating problems A lot of our children are too young, or not yet able, to speak. This can pose obvious problems with communicating when there are problems. As parents we should always be aware of when and where our children have visible ouchies, and we should be wary of marks that we (or our partners) don't recognize. Here are some warning signs copied from rainn.org that could be an indication of abuse: Physical signs:
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Bloody, torn, or stained underclothes
- Bleeding, bruises, or swelling in genital area
- Pain, itching, or burning in genital area
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections
- Shrinks away or seems threatened by physical contact
- Exhibits signs of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Expresses suicidal thoughts, especially in adolescents
- Develops phobias
- Has trouble in school, such as absences or drops in grades
- Changes in hygiene, such as refusing to bathe or bathing excessively
- Returns to regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking
- Runs away from home or school
- Overly protective and concerned for siblings, or assumes a caretaker role
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviors