Protecting your children offline adds the increased difficulty of knowing who your children come in contact with on a daily basis and requires a lot more dialogue with your children. Because a large number of child predators end up being someone the child knows, your child will need to learn what is acceptable behavior from an adult or relative and what is not, regardless of how well the child knows the person in question. This can be very confusing, so the earlier you start helping them learn, the better
One of the most important things you want to establish early on with your children is an open dialogue. Children that feel they can talk to their parents about anything without fear are far more likely to tell them when anything is wrong or if someone approaches them inappropriately.
This is especially important in situations where a potential predator is someone they know. They have to be able to tell you without you reacting in an angry or accusatory manner. Victimization by a child predator is never the child’s fault and they should know that they are safe in telling you.
The following tips and strategies will help you educate your children on what is okay and what is not when it comes to contact with other people. It will also help you spot child predator behavior and give you the knowledge to pass on to your kids so they are safer even when you are not with them.
This is not one-time information that you will be teaching them. You need to go over these points and tips on a regular basis to make sure that your children understand the importance of being aware and safe. Child predators can look and act very kind, they can be friendly and funny, and they can be very attractive and charming. There is no “look” that they have so it becomes critical that the child or teen understands and recognizes the signs and knows what to do if something occurs.
- Where are Your Children? – One of the first and most basic ways you can minimize the chances a child predator may have to contact your child is by knowing exactly where they are at all times. This is not an invasion of privacy; this is a safety measure that protects your children while allowing you to know where they are when they are away from home. This is especially important for teenagers that go out on their own. “I’m going out”. Is not an acceptable response. Know where they are going, when they are returning and if they change plans and go somewhere else while they are out, they need to call and let you know. This is critical information to know in the event of an emergency. If the child or teen has told you where they will be and they run into trouble, you can save valuable time by driving right to their location.
- Who are Your Children With? – This is another very important piece of information you should always have concerning your children. Who are their friends? Invite them over and meet them. If your teen is getting picked up to go out, require whoever your child is riding with to come in and meet you. Don’t be hesitant or reluctant to ask your children who they hang out with on a regular basis and make sure that if any new names crop up, you meet them too. Children that have stricter parents have a built-in safety net in many ways because they can benefit from the safety and protection of their parents while still saving face with their friends.
- Know Your Children’s Teachers, Coaches, and Extracurricular Activity Leaders – Your children come in contact with a lot of adults in their day. Teachers, clergy members, bosses, maintenance men at school, coaches, and many other places as well. It is very important that you know who these people are. Go to teacher/parent night and meet every one of your child’s teachers. Go to their extra activities and meet their coaches, instructors, youth pastors and bosses.
- Meet everyone your child comes in contact with on a regular basis so they know you as well. Don’t just accept them simply because of the position they are in. Know who they are, their first and last names and know how often they are in contact with your child. You child should never spend time alone with a coach, teacher, pastor, or boss. If the teen isn’t driving yet, make sure that you are the one that picks them up and takes them to work as much as possible unless they are getting rides from siblings or their friends.
- Teach Your Children What is Acceptable and What Isn’t – Begin early teaching your children about privacy (not to be confused with secrecy) and what is okay to do and what is not. If anyone in their daily interaction, whether in person or over the phone does anything to make them feel “weird” or nervous, they should know exactly what to do. The biggest thing to teach them is to listen to their instincts. If it doesn’t feel right or it makes them feel uncomfortable, scared, or upset, they need to listen to what their gut is telling them and act accordingly.
- Privacy and Secrecy Are two Different Things – Teaching your child that they deserve to have privacy is not the same as teaching them to be secretive. Privacy is knocking before entering their room, or letting a teen talk on the phone in their room. Secrecy is being afraid that parents will “find out” something that they are hiding. If any adult asks your child to hide something from their parents, the child should know to immediately tell the parents about the conversation. An adult should never ask a child to hide things from a parent or other adults. This is a major red flag.
- Talk to Your Child’s Friends’ Parents – Don’t be afraid to call the parents of your children’s friends and check up on plans that you are being told about. Your older child may get annoyed or feel like they are not being trusted but it is important that they realize you WILL check up on them when they say they are going to be at a friend’s house or doing something specific. This will also reduce the incidents of an older child or teen lying about where they are going to be.
- Define What a Stranger is to a Child – The term stranger can be very misleading to a child. If they see you talking to the grocery store clerk on a regular basis, they may feel that the grocery clerk is not a stranger, but this is not true. The better way to teach your children about caution and strangers is to make more generalized statements that need clarification. For example, make a rule with your children that they do not take rides with ANYONE that is not pre-approved by you unless they have your explicit permission. They should never take the word of someone saying that you said it was okay. Create a code word that only you and the child know. If someone else is supposed to pick them up, give that person the code word but make sure that you are not sending someone questionable. Knowing who you trust your children with is just as important as them being careful who they go with.
All of these strategies and tips may feel overwhelming but if you start early and make it a part of daily life, it doesn’t have to become a struggle. If you are starting later in your child’s life, there may be some resistance but stand firm and explain that these changes are not an option and this is how things are going to be from now on.
Once you get past the feeling that you are infringing upon their privacy and realize that in today’s society, it is necessary to be very careful and cautious, you will be doing your child a huge favor that will show them they are loved, as well as increase their protection as well.