In the wake of the SBC report detailing widespread abuse of women and minors, and the subsequent coverup by those in power, of similar widespread scandals in gymnastics, on college campuses, the Catholic church, Boy Scouts, and unfortunately many other spheres, some still unknown, the question arises: how should we parent?
We can’t protect our kids from everything, but there are ways we can parent that helps them 1 – avoid potentially harmful situations, 2 – speak up if abuse is happening, and 3 – not become the abuser themselves. And we ALL have a responsibility to do so, if we want to break this devastating problem.
1. Teach your kids about consent.
This involves, in an age appropriate way, giving your kids permission to say “no” to unwanted touch, whether that’s tickles or hugs or something else. They’re taught that the “swimsuit area” is their special area, and it’s off-limits for everyone except when medically necessary.
Consent means that “no” is respected in many arenas – not just physical. No, you can’t knock my tower over. I was playing with that. No more “boys will be boys” mentalities that imply the rules don’t apply to them.
2. Teach your kids the difference between secrets and surprises.
Surprises are secrets that will be revealed. And when they are, people will be happy. Those can be good – whether a surprise birthday party or present or visit… it will eventually be public and will be good news. Those are ok.
Secrets, on the other hand, are often bad. Other adults should not ask you to keep secrets from your parents. Also, if the secret is hurting you or someone you know, it’s not a good secret and needs to be told to a trusted adult.
Part of this is also assuring our kids that if they have a secret and are afraid of the consequences, we’re on their side and will help them rather than shame them.
3. Protect those in leadership by supporting systems that will keep them safe.
There are best practices that have been developed and many trainings as well for how to keep leaders from potentially compromising situations. Things like windows in meeting rooms, the two adult rule, and open doors can go a long way in keeping people from compromising scenarios, as well as protect them from wrongful accusations.
Advocate for healthy practices that keep leaders accountable. Pay attention to red flags of secrecy and manipulation, and get your family away from demanding, authoritarian leaders who seem to do no wrong.
4. Keep digital devices public.
No one – parents included – should have a secret device that no one can access. My husband regularly uses my cell phone. My kids regularly write messages on my phone. I pick up my husband’s tablet to check things. My kids’ devices are all “public” as well – to be used in public areas during the day, and the assumption is that anyone could share them at any time. Because we share, there is no expectation of secrecy. I’m not actively searching, but they know that their devices are public.
5. Pay attention to your child’s physical response, and take them seriously.
If my son suddenly wants nothing to do with a certain coach, or if my daughter has stomachache before class, their warning signs may have picked up on something. Start a conversation and pay closer attention, or even find ways to observe the interaction. The more our kids feel heard and supported, the better they will be at advocating for themselves and standing up for themselves and others.
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