This whole Penn State mess has the country talking about sexual abuse of children. It is terrible. Terrible. But maybe if any good can come out of it, there will be conversations and there will be increased awareness of the issue for parents and for those who work with kids.
In ministry you end up hearing the worst of the worst. Here is the story that ruined me. There was a gentleman who I had adored. He was a role model for me when I was in middle school. He moved on and many years later was pastoring at a church a few towns away. I would have written you a personal reference for him, by the way. One night I got a call from my best friend from home who asked if I was watching the news. That gentleman (a pastor, remember) had been arrested for molesting his daughter’s friends at his house. I was devastated. And I remember asking my husband,”If you can’t trust to send your child to the pastor’s house, who can you trust?” His response still haunts me, “No one.”
All it takes is one really bad moment of Satan manipulating someone’s heart and one really bad moment of stupid.
Here are some of the thoughts and attitudes that we have developed regarding protecting our girls.
1. No one will be vigilant for your child’s protection like you will. We can’t make parenting choices based on what other parents do or what is popular or what is normal. My husband and I are the ones that God has put on earth to protect our two girls. So we will choose to be vigilant and parent with their future in mind, not necessarily what makes everyone happy for the moment. For example, we are extremely cautious about letting them spend the night away from home. The only times they ever have are either with family or friends who are like family. And that probably won’t change. We recognize that those won’t be popular decisions to make when they get older, but our job is to protect them and you just never, ever know.
2. Always listen to your gut. God gives us discernment and He gives His Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us. Pay attention to red flags. You may be totally off or you may really not be. Those red flags may be legitimate and you never know it this side of heaven. If you are uncomfortable with a situation, do something about it.
3. Err on the side of caution. I would rather be overly cautious and a little crazy than to face the regret of the alternative. I will not leave my girls in a preschool classroom where there is just one male volunteer. I have taken them out of classes in my own church. And they were men I’ve known for years and love dearly. But I’m not going to put my kids in situations that could be potentially dangerous.
4. Talk early and often about what is not ok. As soon as they could talk and recognize body parts we started sharing that parts were private, no one should touch them there, and if someone did they should tell Mommy or Daddy right away. We don’t make it creepy and we don’t make it so that they are scared of the whole world. At the same time, we don’t avoid it because it is embarrassing or weird to talk about.
5. Make home safe and conversation easy. Home needs to be a place where our kids can tell us anything without fear that we will overreact or not listen to them. We start having tough conversations when our kids are young so that it is natural in our house to bring up weird or uncomfortable topics.
6. Never push a child to be affectionate with someone when they don’t want to be. I don’t want my girls to feel that they can’t tell a grown up no when they are uncomfortable. I don’t make them hug their uncle if they don’t want to. I trust that he would never in a million years do anything to them, but I want them to know that we respect their own boundaries and others should too. We don’t want to teach them to ignore their own little red flags. We will often ask for them to give a high five or something instead.
7. Keep the computer and the tv out of their rooms. This probably sounds extreme too, but kids are exposed to trash at earlier and earlier ages. Elementary students are seeing therapists for exposure and additctions to pornography. Y’all, read that again. Elementary students. One wrong click or one wrong channel change can set our kids up for life-crippling issues. Be vigilant.
8. Be present and be aware. Know what is going on at your child’s school, extracurriculars, classes, etc…. Don’t be the helicopter parent who is constantly hovering over them. Let them breathe. But be involved. Know what’s going on.
Now, having said all of that, let me add this disclaimer. We are not omnipotent nor omnipresent but God is. He is taking care of our kiddos way beyond what we are capable of. There is NO secret tip or trick that will guarantee that our children will never be harmed or taken advantage of. We can do absolutely everything in our control and tragedy can still strike. God alone is in control, and even in this world wrecked with sin He still works all things together for good.
What do you do in your family to protect your kiddos?