Recent events in the news reinforce the notion that any child can fall prey to sexual predators. Such a horrifying notion makes most of us cringe and quickly change the subject. But the responsible parent faces this possibility squarely and takes steps to keep children safe. As a parent, here is what you must be aware of:
1. Notice that sexual predators are most often known personally by their victims. They are not “strangers.” Most predators do not snatch children off street corners. Most predators get to know their victims very well. So don’t teach your children to distrust strangers. Teach your children to distrust anyone who acts strangely.
2. Predators often are counted as family friends and are trusted members of the community. This is not an accident. Predators carefully craft their image so that adults admire and trust them. Pay attention if an adult friend seems too friendly and takes too much interest in your child.
3. Predators act like children to cover up their motives. Your child should hang out with kids his own age, not with an adult. An adult who wants to take your child out to the movies, have him over for the night, and take him to ball games – as if the two of them were best friends of the same age – is acting oddly. Think twice before you agree to something that seems on the surface like a friendly gesture but might really be a set-up for a dangerous situation.
4. Predators prey on your child’s innocence and inexperience, so help your child to be less vulnerable. Make sure he knows how to speak up and make a scene if he needs to. We want our kids to be polite with adults but there is a time when politeness doesn’t work. Help your child to know when those times are and support him when he stands up for himself. Talk about how to handle dangerous situations.
5. Predators look for vulnerable parents, so be aware. Predators look for families that are under stress and parents who might welcome a little help in raising a child. Predators may offer a child of financially-strapped parents goodies that mom and dad can’t afford. Don’t fall for this.
Finally, if you think something bad has happened between your child and an adult, tell the police. You owe it to your child and you owe it to every other child this person knows. Too many times situations continue even though parents have some suspicions. They don’t want to make trouble. They don’t want to ruin a friendship or relationship. They don't want to make a mistake.
The real risk you run is the risk to your child. Speak up if you think you should.
Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Southwestern Parents. Learn more about Dr. Anderson at http://www.patricianananderson.com/