You don’t need me to tell you that being a parent is tough stuff. From the moment we learn of our child’s conception (quite possibly for years prior to that) we navigate the chlorine-free, all-natural, no added chemicals, Montessori, teach-your-child-to-read methodology with expert prowess. We own our convictions and are eager to share what has worked for us with anyone willing to hear. We ask questions and sometimes we give answers because we believe that we have become an expert. And to our children, to our little kingdoms in the safety of our homes, we have; we rule our domains and we are victorious. We get to decide what our children’s lives will look like and, especially for the majority of the early years, we get to be in control.
Except when we don’t.
We live in a world that dangles the illusion of control so glamorously before us. We control our own destiny, right? Unfortunately, we do not. Bad things happen and sometimes they happen right in our own backyard. Earlier this week a story broke about a volunteer at a local church being arrested on suspicion of child molestation. Right here in Scottsdale. The news story made me angry and sad and scared and confused. I know that these things happen but I didn’t want to believe that they happen here, in picturesque Scottsdale. In my safe, little, predictable, bubble. Well apparently they did and now in our out of control state, when the safety of our community is jeopardized, we have to know what to do about it.
What do we do when our bubble gets busted? What do we say? To ourselves and to our children?
Tell yourself the truth: Bad things happen and we can’t afford to be naïve or think that our church or synagogue or gym or favorite music class is immune to perpetrators like this. As parents we must be vigilant and think about our children before the awkwardness that might ensue when you demand that all workers are given background checks and fingerprinted. Unfortunately in the aforementioned case these things would not have yielded a result because this man did not have a record, officially at least. So, then what?
Beyond background checks, ask for references. Where did this person work and with whom? Get at least 3 names and numbers of former co-workers so you can make sure that everyone you ask has the same opinion about your potential teacher, volunteer, employee, etc. Ask the hard questions, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Most importantly: Talk to your kids, often and without shame or embarrassment. As parents, you set the pace here. These are not easy conversations to be had, but it must be done.
First, talk to your children about their private parts. What they are and why they are private. With young children you can break the ice by using the potty talk example. “We don’t talk about potty talk anywhere other than the bathroom right? So the same goes for our private parts. We never show anyone our private parts unless it’s Mommy or Daddy or we are at the Doctor’s office. This is because our private parts are a special part of us that we don’t show to anyone and if someone asks you about it, you need to tell your teacher or Mommy or Daddy right away.” Make sure your children understand what you are communicating to them. Instead of asking if they understand you (if they are embarrassed or uncertain they will most likely say yes because they want to end the conversation) ask your children to explain to you what they just heard you say to them. For instance, “These are things we don’t talk about a lot and I know this can be a little uncomfortable to talk about, but this is really important stuff so I want you to pretend that you are the Mommy now and teach me all the things that I just taught you.”
Second, talk to your children about appropriate touch (hugs, kisses, back scratches, etc. all from Mom or Dad or a loving and trusting family member as well as touch/examination by a doctor) vs. inappropriate touch (ANYTHING at all that makes your child feel uncomfortable). Give your children examples of what this would look like: someone asking them to undress in front of them, being touched in their private parts by someone other than a doctor or family member, or being shown images of other people’s private parts. These are all things that your children should never be subjected to so make sure that they know they can get up and leave the room, or immediately tell you when something like this happens, even if it occurs from a well-liked leader or someone that “you never would have thought could be capable of this…”
Finally, remember that this is not a one-time conversation. If you wait until the wake of a tragedy, you might be too late so these are the kinds of conversations that should be on your radar to happen multiple times. You certainly don’t need to have them every week but a couple of times a year and with new coaches, or small groups, or classes it is a good reminder to talk to your kids about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to privacy and intimacy.
Here at Scottsdale Moms Blog we are deeply saddened by the events that we have been made aware of this past week. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that are affected by these horrendous circumstances. As a therapist, I can only hope to provide a few thoughts for families who want to feel more prepared and vigilant. As parents want to do the best we can to protect our children. We won’t always succeed, but we will do everything we can to try our hardest to make sure we do.
The advice in this article is meant for general purposes. If you suspect that your child might have been in involved in this particular case or any other instance of suspected abuse, contact the authorities.