One of my primary jobs as a father to teach my kids, especially about what goes on in the outside world. It’s often fun but can be occasionally unnerving, especially when it pertains to protecting your children from sexual predators; you don’t want to ruin their innocence nor do you want to teach that each stranger is a danger. Teaching about the prospect of sexual molestation is something that we’ve done, with age appropriate language, since the kids were in preschool but the questions have arisen again since the onset of the Sandusky allegations out of Penn State. Understand that if the kids aren’t overtly listening to the news, something of this nature seeps over into their conversations with their own peers via over sources.
What surprised me from my own children was a question raised by Youngest, who looked at me one evening and asked, why didn’t any of these kids ever say anything? My response was that there were probably multiple reasons:
- A sense of powerlessness, as these were boys from predominantly broken homes while the adult in question was a widely respected member of the community with many accomplishments and in their minds, who would believe them?
- A sense, perhaps fostered by coming from a home in which there was minimal presence of a father, that they were unworthy of unconditional love and would have to somehow earn that love and attention from a man.
- Fear of what might happen to them if they did say anything.
- Shame that they somehow contributed to what occurred to them and that discovery might damage whatever love they already did receive, principally from their mothers.
These would lead to some of the points that can be covered as you talk with your kids.
- You’ll certainly ask many questions if this kind of situation is brought forward, but asking for information doesn’t mean automatic disbelief; they simply mean that you’re searching for more information in order to help you help them.
- You love them simply because they’re your children and that your love is unconditional, never depending on their actions or attitudes.
- Reassure them that if they do find themselves being threatened in such a situation, you can and will protect them. This is something that a strong father can do better than most mothers.
Another lesson to take away is finding out about the organization itself and whether it has guidelines on adult volunteer/child-teen interactions. If there are, are there repeated circumstances in which an adult volunteer is violating the guidelines? I’ve been an active cub scout leader for almost a decade and there are stringent child safety criteria in place; these include requirements for all badges that parents review the scout manual child safety booklet with their children, a criminal background check and use of the "two deep" rule in which no scout leader can have private one-on-one interactions with any child. In the past years, I have actually cancelled meetings when I’ve found that no other adult could be present. The point is that once you’re aware of the criteria, you can keep a better eye on the circumstances in which your child is involved.
A final lesson is this. While having a father present doesn’t mean that your child won’t be molested, the reality is that predators actively search for and target children from broken or strained families. Children, whether very young or teens, want and need your love and support and if they perceive that it’s not there, will seek it out and it’s this search that can bring them into the sights of predators.
For further information on signs/symptoms of child molestation: www.childwelfare.gov, www.aacap.org (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)
For further information about speaking with your child abour molestation: www.rainn.org (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), www.education.com