“He works so well with the kids. He really likes children.” Years ago, that phrase was spoken as a compliment to the many teachers, coaches, youth workers, and volunteers who have such a profound impact on the lives of our kids. These adults spend endless hours teaching our kids reading in the classroom and running on the track team. They are scout leaders who actually enjoy camping in the rain, basketball coaches who repeat the same drill hundreds of times, and church youth workers who try to enrich our children’s spiritual lives. They get little recognition other than the joy they feel from seeing our kids gain a few more skills and feel a bit more confident.
Today, adults who work with kids are viewed somewhat suspiciously. Are they working with kids to help them or sexually abuse them? You can’t blame parents for being concerned, as we are inundated with almost daily reports of adults who victimize kids. Since over 90% of the time the child victims know their offender, parents should stop focusing on “stranger danger” and pay more attention to warning their kids about trusted adults.
That’s real dilemma. How do we help protect our children from sexual offenders without destroying their trust in other people?
- Keep sexual abuse in perspective. There has been a 38% decline in the incidence of sexual abuse from 1993 to 2006. We need to recognize that the overwhelming numbers of adults who help children are kind, compassionate and caring individuals who would never hurt a child under their care.
- Teach your children to be assertive problem solvers. Helicopter parents who hover over their kids do them a tremendous disservice, leaving kids ill-equipped to deal with the real world. Work with your children to help them speak up for themselves, be assertive, and figure out how to deal with problems. Such children are less likely to be victims because they are knowledgeable about sexual matters and assertive enough to tell their parents if someone approaches them sexually.
- Educate your kids often and early about sexual issues. I don’t understand why parents are so uneasy about teaching children about their bodies, fearful of the words “penis,” “vagina,” and “buttocks.” Using such language does two things. First, it equips kids with a vocabulary to use with you or others to describe any uncomfortable situation that may occur. Secondly, it conveys that you are an “askable” parent when it comes to sexual issues. You are open and available to talk about masturbation, pregnancy, venereal diseases, sexual feelings and fantasies. Please don’t tell me you are uncomfortable talking with children about sex. Of course such conversations are awkward and embarrassing, but we need to do it anyway because it is the right way to protect our children.
- Stay connected. Maintaining close communication with your children is the single most important thing you can do to protect them from being sexual abuse victims. Eat dinner together. Listen. Ask lots of questions. Share your own perspective without being preachy. Understand their world.
On Tuesday, April 3rd at 7:30 p.m. at the Centerville High School Performing Arts Center, we will all have an opportunity to learn more about sexual abuse from former Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur. Marilyn is also the author of Miss America By Day which chronicles her journey to becoming a survivor of sexual abuse by her millionaire father. Marilyn will speak to us on the topic of sexual abuse prevention and recovery. I hope to see you there.
Learn more about Van Derbur on her website at www.missamericabyday.com
More from Dr. Ramey on this topic: