Beyond Bug Spray, Bottled Water and Backpacks

Finally, it is summertime: a time of relaxation, fun, family time, and long and lazy days. Summer is a time when children are a little more independent, they are off with friends, away at camp, on vacations and field trips, and other things. As parents, we do a pretty good job of preparing our children for these adventures. We pack their backpacks with bug spray, bottled water, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and with whatever else fits. But what we may miss is the opportunity to arm them with safety from those who may try to harm them. No one likes to think about “bad things” but we know that they happen and avoiding the topic does not make “bad things” go away. So, take a deep breath and get ready to arm yourself (and your children) with summertime safety.

FACT: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday. Research shows that 90 percent of abuse happens by someone the family knows and trusts. (source

FACT: Family and acquaintance child sexual abuse perpetrators have reported that they look for specific characteristics in the children they choose to abuse. (source

So what will you do with this powerful information? We have researched and talked to perpetrators and they consistently say that in general they look for a certain “type” of victim. Perpetrators report that they look for passive, quiet, troubled, lonely children from single parent or broken homes (Budin & Johnson 1989). They also look to have a personal and trusting relationship with the potential victim and their family. Scary right? This doesn’t mean that you have to isolate your child and live in a bubble. Empower them! Give them the facts. Let them know they can tell you any and everything. Teach them about their body and about stranger danger. Ask a lot of questions. Be involved and even intrusive. Reduce the risk of victimization. Send a strong message to the perpetrator: “Not my child!” Remember though, it is up to YOU to instill confidence in your children and if we ignore the topic, our children will be at increased risk. Here are a few steps to take to help reduce potentially unsafe situations (source

Know Where Your Kids Are

For the next few months, it seems like kids are here, there and everywhere. Make sure you know where yours plan to be so you can pre-verify who will be there and what protective measures will be in place. For instance, no matter where your children are playing, interactions with adults and other youth should be both observable and interruptible.

Plan Ahead

If you’re going to a busy place with many kids, like a park or a family gathering, consider hiring or designating a verified person to help monitor kids. To avoid last-minute substitutions, make arrangements ahead of time for a babysitter or nanny, and prepare a call list of backup sitters in case an issue does come up.

Choose Activities Wisely

Whether it’s a summer camp, sports clinic, or church retreat, parents should make sure there are policies in place that protect children from sexual abuse. Protective policies should include background checks, staff training on spotting and reporting abuse, and a written code of conduct on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors for which all staff members are held accountable.

We can no longer rely on other adults who we’ve trusted in the past to help protect our children. As parents and guardians, it is impossible to be with our children at all times. Therefore it is imperative that we teach them how to protect themselves. First, lead by example. Make your home a “no secret zone.” Tell your family members that you do not allow your children to keep secrets. Instead, use temporary terms like “surprise” particularly because a surprise is short-lived and associated with an eventual “big reveal.” Constantly remind your children that they can always tell you anything, and mean what you say. You want your child to be clear that your primary job is to love and protect and that everything else is secondary. Once you’ve set a tone of trust and openness in your household, arm your child with a few tips:

1) Don’t keep secrets, especially when the secret is from another adult.

2) Do activities in groups and never alone with mentors, coaches, church group leaders, etc.

3) If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut feeling and tell someone.

4) Be wary of those who are overly physical with you (tickling, wrestling, hugging).

5) Don’t trust anyone who bends all of the rules “just for you” and allows you to do things you normally wouldn’t be able to do (watch rated R movies, sip beer, eat too much candy).

This list is just a start. Make this an ongoing conversation with not just your child but any children you feel responsible for (nieces, nephews, godchildren, playmates, neighbors, etc). Happy Summer! I’ll see you out and about in South Fulton!