Parents: How to Pick a Summer Camp with Safety in Mind

Parents: How to Pick a Summer Camp with Safety in Mind

The school year will end before you know it, and now is the time to make summer plans for kids. Regardless of the program you choose, one thing should be certain: that the camp is run in a way to keep children safe.

Long before my career working with child abuse prevention, I spent summers during high school and college as a camp counselor. I’ve seen the potential ways children can feel unsafe, and the ways they actually can be unsafe. A well-run program, with well-prepared staff, that is monitored by supportive parents can help ensure safety.

Here are some important points to consider:

Supervision. If the children will be transported, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can get unruly and distract a driver; an older child assigned to lead songs and keep order may be enough if no staff member is available. If parents drop off the children, are there procedures to ensure that the child passes from the parents’ supervision directly to a staff member? Is there a safe path to travel when the child leaves the car?

Keeping kids safe. The camp should have policies designed to prevent abuse. These include regulations restricting out-of-camp contact between staff/volunteers and campers, social media contact between staff/volunteers and campers, and explicit rules about physical contact. I’m all in favor of group hugs after the first few weeks once people know each other, and a camp counselor hugging a camper in public, but physical contact when one-on-one should be discouraged, and the campers should always be asked their opinion first.

Parents need to know how children are monitored as they move about the camp — for example, if a child needs to use the restroom. If the policy is to let children go alone, a time limit of no more than 5 minutes should be set. Tight supervision is a must for field trips; assigning buddies and performing constant head counts are basic tools of the trade. And, camp managers should be aware of the prevalence of child-on-child sexual abuse; that five minute rule should also apply if two campers go on an errand together.

Parent involvement. Parents should always be able to observe a camp day. The camp should have a procedure requiring parents to sign in, and parents should be respectful and not interfere with camp activities.

Emotional safety requires attention. If swimming is offered, have the staff been prepared to handle potential discomfort about changing clothes? If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept to a healthy level? Is the discipline consistent with parents’ values? And, how do they stop bullying?

A parent could learn about these issues by interviewing the camp director or talking to parents who sent their children in prior years.

Communicable diseases have been an issue in group activities with kids since long before COVID. Now more than ever, camp counselors have to be willing to promote and model good health habits. Ensure that the camp you choose knows the current local COVID guidelines and is committed to adhering to them.

You can find a checklist to take on your camp tour here. If the program doesn’t measure up, gently speak up — the administration may be willing to take your suggestions.

Summer should be a time of relaxed fun for children, and parents will be able to relax themselves when they know they have chosen a safe summer program.

This post appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, print June 5, on-line at  How to pick a summer camp with safety in mind l Expert Opinion (inquirer.com)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month:  Access to accurate information is a key protective factor in prevention!

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month: Access to accurate information is a key protective factor in prevention!

Access to accurate information is a key protective factor in preventing child sexual abuse

It’s a tough world, and we want to protect our children from the people and concepts we think will hurt them, right?

In a sense that we could generously call misguided, the “Don’t Say Gay” bills, the first of which was recently signed into law in Florida, would seem to have that aim. But its impact could easily be the opposite, and its true aim really seems to be to help politicians grandstand on the shoulders of our children.

Here’s why: The Florida law prevents public institutions like schools from presenting any instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, possibly through high school. The folly in this will be clear to anyone who remembers being even slightly curious during his or her youth. “Just Say No” did not solve the nation’s drug problem. Prohibition didn’t end the misuse of alcohol.

Just because a school isn’t supposed to teach something doesn’t mean that a child isn’t going to want to know about it, especially if the child has questions about their own identity or sexuality. Making this information forbidden will simply drive children to what they might consider the next best source of information.

Maybe that’s the Internet, which can be its own cesspool. Or it could be that sympathetic-appearing coach who has something ugly on their mind.

High profile tragedies have shown us how vulnerable children are to this most insidious violation. We now know that the majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone a child knows, and that a significant proportion of sexual abuse is perpetrated by other youth. It is also now clear that access to accurate information from trusted adults is key for a child to protect themself, and learning tolerance, respect, and self-control helps ensure our children don’t hurt others.

Recognizing the import role of schools as the one resource all children can access, standards for sexual health education were prepared by the national professional societies for health educators and offered to districts as a basis for curricula. Similarly, professionals and the government responded to the need for resources to help stop bullying in schools also developing comprehensive resources. In Florida, a lot of those resources could  be locked away.

Without educated, trusted adults as a source of  information, children will satisfy their natural, and sometimes overwhelming need for information by going to the internet, which brings risks.  A national study found that almost all boys and two-thirds of girls over age 13 have been exposed to online porn. More kids have access to on-line pornography than have access  to a trained and trusted adult.

Worse yet, when trusted adults are unavailable, untrustworthy adults (and older kids) are ready to satisfy a child’s curiosity while satisfying their own nefarious needs. Convicted pedophiles I interviewed while writing The Sex-Wise Parent were clear that satisfying kids’ curiosity was a reliable first step to molestation.

Kids are at risk of being denied access to critical resources that can promote sexual health and safety, prevent sexual abuse and bullying. The so called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills, as passed in Florida and being contemplated in more than a dozen other states terrify teachers , deprive children of an accessible  trusted  adult, and ignore years of evidence showing that accurate information delivered by trusted adults is a vitally important protective factor for our children.

Accurate information and teaching of tolerance are vital to the prevention of sexual abuse. While I and others in my profession are committed to supporting parents to be the primary sexuality educators of their children, we know that that’s not enough. Parents must do their part – by being  a prepared and trusted adults who can discuss sexual health and safety, (find help here  or here)  and ensure their children attend a school staffed by trained and trusted adults wo can use the tools at their disposal to create a safe and tolerant climate for all children to learn and grow.

Observe Child Abuse Prevention Month in your home and community by promoting kids’ access to accurate information provided by trained and trusted adults. It’s a tough world, but codifying ignorance and intolerance through “Don’t Say Gay” laws makes it tougher for our children, not safer.

A New FREE Resource for Parents – Download this Booklet for Ideas to Promote Sexual Health and Safety and Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse!

Parents — click here to find a booklet written just for you! Find ideas to promote sexual health and safety for kids from infants through teens.  Send this link to your friends, and practice having these important discussions with each other!

Remember, raising sexually safe and healthy kids is a strategy to help prevent sexual abuse and promote healthy relationships throughout the life cycle.

Questions?   Email  DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com!

Lots of Ways to Help – 2022

Sex Abuse Prevention Advice for Parents Planning a Family Getaway

Sex Abuse Prevention Advice for Parents Planning a Family Getaway

The long-awaited vacation is almost here; you’ve spent months researching, planning and saving, and you can’t wait to have some well-deserved down time. Vacation 2021 plans will have a focus your physical health and safety;  if you’re traveling with kids,  spend a few more minutes planning for overall safety including  keeping your family safe from predators.   Consider this advice  from an expert in sexual abuse prevention as you plan your summer getaway!

Safety starts at check-in: Good desk clerks never announce a room number; they will hand you a key or card and point to the room number. You have no idea who in the lobby may be observing a member of your family or your possessions with a special interest. No one should know exactly where you are unless you decide to tell them.

Daytime fun: Many family-themed resorts offer a kids program, but parental vigilance is required as these programs are rarely subject to the same standards as child care centers. Ask the same kinds of questions you’d ask about a camp — Who are the staff? How are they screened? What kind of training do they receive from the hotel?

You can feel more secure if your hotel contracts with licensed child care providers for programs and parents should always know where their children are. Younger ones must be kept within eyesight; adolescents and older kids should be given a time limit to report back to parents. The limit can range from 15 to 30 minutes for younger adolescents; older kids may earn the right to be gone 60 to 90 minutes. These same time limits apply if parents chose to leave an adolescent in charge of younger siblings while the parents enjoy resort life. This can be a risky proposition — parents deserve privacy and vacation time as well, but it’s not easy to combine romance and family time. Safety first, couples’ time second.

Beach safety: Adolescent girls in bathing suits often can appear to be older than they are. When sunbathing without a chaperone, they may attract attention from adults  or older teens. A young girl may be flattered by this attention and equally unprepared to respond. This topic makes a great pre-vacation conversation and is a wonderful opportunity to share family values and beliefs about topics ranging from respect to puberty.

Sleep arrangements: This is a good time to remember some basic physiology. Sexual arousal is autonomic and occurs in response to conscious or unconscious stimuli. People do not choose when to get aroused any more than they choose when to blink. Most sexually mature (and maturing) human beings experience all or part of the sexual response cycle while sleeping. This simple fact of life should be considered when making sleeping arrangements for vacation. It is best for people who do not mean to share accidental arousal not to share beds. Put the adolescents on the floor with sleeping bags if there are not enough beds to go around.

Don’t forget the basics: Be cautious, use common sense, supervise little ones at all times and always know the whereabouts of adolescents and teens.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the author of “The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family, and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse, and Bullying” and a 30-year veteran of child-welfare and youth-serving programs (www.SexWiseParent.com).

AN early version of this article appeared originally at  http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html

A hidden gift  for families in quarantine time

A hidden gift  for families in quarantine time

Anyone raising kids during this pandemic is being stretched in every possible way. Parents now must add teacher, camp counselor and BFF and to their daily duties.

On the plus side, many families spending more and more time together are finding that their relationships have become closer and, in many ways, more meaningful. Working parents now have 60 hours each week of potential face time with their kids, bringing a new dimension to family life. This forced closeness can breed intimacy and current events have probably led families into a lot of conversations they might never have expected.

Now is the perfect time to add sexual health and safety to about the topic list.

Pre-adolescents are still open to their parents’ opinions and wisdom and will love the extra attention of a parent-initiated conversation. Even teens, who may try to brush their parents off like a fly on their ice cream cone, really listen, even when they seem to be trying not to. Research has shown that adolescents place more weight on their parents’ opinions than parents give them credit for.

The two things parents need to share with children of every age are accurate information about their bodies, and their family’s values.

Accurate information can come in many forms — with younger kids, we want to be ready to answer whatever questions they have resources like this booklet  from the American Academy of Pediatrics can be a big help!

With older kids, parents can suggest websites like www.sexetc.org for accurate information,  or leave a copy of a book like YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens: A Guide to a Healthy Body and Happy Life under their pillow.

Most important is helping a child understand that sexual arousal is an autonomic response. Understanding this fact can be key both in ensuring the child not confuse their own arousal for consent, and ensuring they know that no one else is responsible for causing or satisfying their arousal. You can read more about this  and related concepts  here.

The family’s values – everyone’s shared opinions about what’s right and wrong – is central to every meaningful discussion parents have with their kids. I’ve gotten great feedback from parents using the family values checklist   with each other, and these same concepts can be discussed with kids.

You don’t have to look hard to find openings to discuss issues about sexual arousal and family values; TV is a great catalyst.  From the crew hookups on Below Deck to Rory’s crushes in vintage Gilmore Girls episodes, parents have a great opportunity to highlight which behaviors fit in their values and which do not. Asking a child what they thought characters were doing, or why they were doing it, can start a great discussion, and cue a parent into what their child actually understands.

A family might want to get more formal and call a family meeting to consider rules for all being home together. Consider these topics:

Values concerning how everyone behaves inside the home; such as

  • What everyone wears at home, but outside the bedroom, focusing on privacy, modesty and self-respect.
  • How the kids want you to show affection. What do they like, and what makes them uncomfortable?
  • Having friends over with doors open or closed. How can everyone be comfortable with the family’s values concerning privacy, secrets and trust?

And for when COVID-19 has passed;

  • Kissing Relatives. How should your children respond to a request for affection if they would rather not, in ways they can be assured of their parents’ support?

In our expanded family time, parents can find a unique opportunity to strengthen their relationships with their children and work to promote their sexual health and safety. Eventually, the kids will all   be back among their peers, and with your help they will be better prepared than ever for many of life’s challenges.

 

 

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

 

What every parent should know about the middle school crush

What every parent should know about the middle school crush

When the kids head back to school, parents hear a lot of new information, some offered up voluntarily (“MOM – I need $50 for supplies!”) some overheard while driving carpool (“I think Lakeesha has a crush on Mr. Smith”). Both kinds of statements are important for a parent to consider and if they choose, act on.

School crushes are as common as acne. They can be a normal, healthy part of development, teaching kids social and interpersonal skills that will serve them into adolescence and young adulthood. Or, they can be the platform for bullying and exploitation. The crush on the teacher is one of the trickiest for both parent and child.

During adolescence, kids start to learn who they are as a sexual person. This is reflected in their style and grooming choices, their choices of music, books and video, and their choice of friends. Young people will learn from and emulate people who have power and status. This could be an extremely popular peer, and it might also be a young teacher.

Teachers generally seek to be both liked and respected by students, which can put them in a tough and delicate position. They are in front of students all day, and adolescents are very prone to scrutinize and judge. Teachers judged to be “hot” are likely to attract unwanted attention. This can be particularly true for young teachers who may only be a few years older than the students. In many cases, they are wholly unprepared for the attention.

Well-prepared teachers have had pre-service training on understanding the sexual dynamics that can occur in the classroom. They will have learned that the pre-frontal cortex of an adolescent, the part of the brain the governs higher reasoning, is not fully developed, and adolescents can make poor choices that seem perfectly reasonable to them at the time. They will have learned that adolescents may develop crushes and behave in ways that may flatter or tempt a teacher. They will have learned that the looks or certain behaviors of students may indeed elicit sexual arousal in the teachers themselves; autonomic physical arousal is medically normal. Most important, they know that not acting on arousal is socially, psychologically, ethically and legally normal. But too few teachers are prepared in this way.

Students are even less likely to understand arousal they might experience if they find a teacher attractive. Their bodies may experience autonomic arousal, which is nothing more than an instinctual response to stimuli, such as getting goose bumps when cold, and kids need to understand this. It is too easy to confuse arousal with an emotional response, particularly for girls, for whom the physical sensations are less obvious than for boys. Predators of either gender often use the fact of this physical response to lure a teen into a sexual relationship.

Attractive teachers may also become the subject of stories, fantasies and gossip among kids, such as two young teachers dating, even if there is no truth to that at all. There is a vast difference between adolescent fantasies based on the way a teacher looks, and real reports of actual behavior. If you overhear your kids gossiping about a teacher, calmly ask them to describe the behaviors. Gently seek detail like where and when and determine if its observation or storytelling.

Troubling teacher behaviors include:

  • Breaking any rule the school has about out of school contact between students and faculty
  • Consistently spending unsupervised, one-on one-time with students
  • Using language that is inappropriate in any way, especially sexually
  • Sharing anything but the most superficial details about their personal life, and/or asking students questions about theirs
  • Singling out an individual student for special treatment like effusive praise or rewards of any type.

If you hear a credible description of troubling behavior, contact the school.

So, what’s a parent to do?

  • Keep in mind that while post-pubescent children may be out of danger from pedophiles (people whose primary sexual attraction is to children) hebephiles are attracted to young teens (generally ages 11 to 14) and ephebophiles are attracted to older teens (generally ages 15 to 19).
  • Make sure children of either gender understand the elements of sexual arousal.
  • Pay close attention to what your child has to say about the young, popular teachers. If kids are telling stories about the way a teacher behaves, ask them questions to confirm the reality.
  • Continue to monitor children’s social media. New Jersey law require that each district have a policy on student/teacher on-line line contact; Pennsylvania does not.  Many schools prohibit teacher/student contact on non-school platforms; if yours does not, watch your child’s pages and the pages of the teachers whose names you overhear.

School crushes are a normal part of growing up. They can provide a learning opportunity or become the basis for exploitation. The tried and true parenting tools of open communication and careful observation of children, and being prepared with facts and information, can help you keep children and their schools sexually safe and healthy and promote a great year of growth and learning.

This post first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer   https://www.inquirer.com/health/expert-opinions/kids-school-crush-teacher-20190910.html

It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

What Parents Need to Know About Digital Consent

Say you’re out somewhere, at a party or on a date, and someone you’re with leans in for a kiss. They ask ‘May I?”  and  you either consent to it or not. Unless the person forces them self on you, it’s a pretty simple thing. There is nothing permanent about a kiss.

But things  are far from simple online and actually,  there is no sure way to have lasting consent for privacy or discretion when it comes to the exchange of photographs and texts.

This is an issue for parents, because if your child has a cell phone and a bedroom door there’s a pretty good chance that at some point he or she may be tempted to ask for or send a sexually suggestive text or photo. And what happens to that text or photo is entirely out of your child’s control, no matter what the receiver says in order to get it.

Not your child, you say? And not you, for that matter?

Well,  one study  of 870 adults aged 18 – 82 found that 88 percent reported they had shared sexually explicit language or photos. Another study reports that at least 20 percent of high school students said they had sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email, and almost twice that number report having sent sexually suggestive messages.

Every photo carries the possibility of embarrassment, including the trauma of bullying and shaming, and most kids – and a lot of adults – don’t consider the consequences of trust gone wrong and the possibility that those private images could become public – and permanent.

You can’t keep someone from asking your child for a nude selfie or prevent your child from asking for one. But you can help your child understand the risks and make a sensible decision when temptation arises.

What do parents need to know?

  • More than 20% of teens report ever having sent a naked photo of themselves through email or text.
  • Girls are more likely to be asked to send an explicit photo than to do the asking and are much more likely to be bothered by having been asked.
  • Sexting or sending a sexualized image via text message almost always occurs within the context of a dating/intimate relationship.
  • Sexting is more prevalent among sexually active teens. Read one good study here.
  • Teens’ sexual and reproductive systems mature several years before the part of their brain that regulates rational decision making.

 

  • Sexual activity for teens is progressive, from kissing to touching to petting to oral or genital intercourse. By 17, about  75 percent of adolescents have engaged in genital “petting,” or mutual masturbation.
  • Sexting or sharing explicit images and text is becoming a common part of sexual progression; in fact, it is referred to by some as ‘the new third base.’

What can parents communicate to  their children?

  • There is no guarantee that a person won’t distribute suggestive texts or photos, even if he or she promises not to. Someone shouldn’t send a photo that one wouldn’t want his or her family – and potentially everyone else in the world – to see.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people consider the pros and cons of any sexual act before they engage in it, and sharing sexualized  photos  is a sexual act,  and are prepared for it physically, emotionally and socially.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people can discuss each sexual act with their partner before they engage in it to ensure they are both comfortable with taking that step. If a person can’t discuss the sex act, they are not ready to engage it.

Ideally, open conversations and parental support will discourage a teen from asking for or sending explicit materials, but inevitably many will. It is also inevitable that some of these images will be shared further. When this happens, the subject of the photos has two traumas to process – the breach of trust from a former partner and the reactions by the outsiders, including his or her family, who can now see the images.

All too often a female victim is shamed and humiliated by her peers.  Humiliation is defined as the emotion experienced  when your status is lowered in front of others. Psychologically, responses to humiliation were both more negative than to anger, and more intense than to happiness.  Teens are at an especially high risk for a dangerously severe reaction  to humiliation, because of the high value teens place on the perceptions of their peers.  Parents have an important role in changing  social norms  to support — instead of shame —victims.  Parents can model  sympathy or empathy for any  victim of a breach of digital consent and make it  clear to children that shaming victims is not tolerated in your home and you expect them to bring this value to their school and community.

The notion of digital consent is fragile enough to begin with, but it can also vaporize when a real relationship ends, or good feelings turn ugly. Sometimes the relationship itself was an illusion, an excuse to lure a victim into a trap. Predators gradually seduce a victim into online communications, then photos, then nude photos. Images may also be taken without permission; the 12-year-old who finds an explicit photo on his big brother’s phone and shares it with the entire 7th grade class is developmentally incapable of realizing the pain he caused the subject of the photo.

As much as they want to, parents can’t protect their children from the consequences of their bad decisions. But they can recognize the limits of their children’s social and emotional development and guide them toward healthy decisions when their relationships have an online component. And equally important, parents can set the standard that victims of breaches of digital consent are to be always supported and never shamed.

The prevalence of social media has  created many new and daunting  challenges, and parents have a  key role in  educating and supporting their children as they navigate them.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig  began working  with child sexual abuse in 1978, coming into this field  with credentials as a sexuality educator. Through four decades of work in public, non-profit and academic settings,  she  has focused on the need for  accurate and age appropriate information about human sexuality as a protective factor in promoting sexual health and safety and developing resources to help parents be a primary sexuality educator of their children.  She is the author of  The Sex-Wise Parent, and the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

This  post first appeared at https://medium.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-2019/what-parents-need-to-know-about-digital-consent-12e520bd0a03

 

 

 

 

 

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior  (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

Each year, April is designated as child-abuse prevention month by public officials all over the United States, serving as a reminder of the need for all of us to focus on healthy child development. Happy, healthy children grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults and strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.

April is also designated an Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and of course, the two issues intersect in several important ways.

One of the most obvious points of intersection is that abusers share a lack of regard for the impact their behavior has on the victim.

This month, former vice president Joe Biden was in the news for expressing a brand of affection that fits within his values of warm, hands-on contact with the public. But some people experience his touching as uncomfortable at best, and intrusive at worse.

On the more serious end of the spectrum are the type of sex offenders who develop relationships with victims and can convince themselves that the victim was a willing participant. Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary describing singer Michael Jackson’s long-term, “loving” relationships with boys is an example.

Radio personality Robin Quivers offers another clear example of this type of ignorance.  At age 12, she gathered the courage to confront her sexually abusive father, who apparently was so disconnected from his victim that he believed that she had been enjoying the sex; he never touched Robin again, once he knew her truth.

Here are two much more commonly practiced behaviors which science has shown unequivocally hurt children:

  • Hitting: The data is in and respected organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association now warn  of the harms of hitting children and urge parents to use more supportive forms of discipline. All organizations might consider becoming No-Hit Zones;  faith-based organizations might consider following the example of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, whose congregants voted  to make their church the first faith-based No-Hit Zone in the United States.
  • Psychological maltreatment: Constant insults, belittling, and threats take their toll on children. Many parents  just don’t pay close enough attention to their choice of words and tone — but in some families, terrorizing children seems to have become a sport. I’m shocked how many parents thinks it’s funny to scare the devil out of their child then  post the results online for others to see.

Both hitting and psychological abuse are known sources of toxic stress for children that can affect brain development, behavior, and relationships.

Most parents would do better if they knew better; everyone can spread the word about the impact of hitting and psychological maltreatment. We can have a long-term effect by raising this generation of children to focus on the impact all their behaviors have on others. And let’s reach out to the grown-ups too;  as Biden’s video explanation shows, it’s never too late to learn the lesson of considering the effects  your behaviors have on others.

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

This post first appeared at philly.com