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

Today Show Online Interview on what parents need to know after “Leaving Neverland’

Today Show Online Interview on what parents need to know after “Leaving Neverland’

By Kavita Varma-White

It’s the elephant in the room of parenting topics: child sexual abuse.

And it’s no surprise parents have difficulty addressing it — especially with their children — because the statistics are so horrifying and sobering, you don’t want to believe them.

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE STATISTICS:

  1. Approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  2. 90 percent of children who are victims of abuse know their abuser, according to government reports.
  3. 60 percent of child victims are sexually abused by the people a family trusts.
  4. Nearly 40 percent of child victims are abused by older or more powerful children.

So what exactly can parents do? TODAY Parents asked experts for guidance on how to confront a threat that is still something many people feel “could never happen” to their child.

“What the statistics really should be telling us is that… all of us who care about kids and mental health and communities ought to be doing something about it,” says Janet Rosenzweig, author of ‘The Sex-Wise Parent’ and executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

Rosenzweig and Katelyn Brewer, CEO of the child sexual abuse prevention organization, Darkness to Light, offer this advice:

1. TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEX, EARLY AND OFTEN.

Rosenzweig says she’s always surprised at how parents find it difficult to talk about sex with their kids. “They can talk about poop and vomit… but for some reason, sex is more embarrassing than other bodily functions,” she says.

Start when kids are young enough to name their body parts and teach them proper anatomical terms. (Yes, call a penis a penis, a vagina a vagina, an elbow an elbow.)

Rosenzweig suggests making a “Family Values About Sex” checklist of questions and go through it with the family once a year. When kids are younger, start with questions like, “What terms are we going to use?” and “Who gets to see who in what stage of undress?” As kids age, the questions change accordingly.

Use as many teachable moments as you can find. If your child wants to be in a bedroom by themselves, explain it as a matter of privacy versus secrecy, saying: “Privacy means you get to do it by yourself but mommy and daddy know about it. Secrecy means that we don’t know about it, and our family doesn’t do secrecy.”

2. TEACH KIDS ABOUT AROUSAL (AS UNCOMFORTABLE AS THAT MAY BE).

Arousal might be one of the most important physiological responses related to sexual abuse that your kids need to know about. Explain why touching certain parts of their body makes them feel the way it does and who is allowed to do it to them. (The answer: No one but themselves can touch their mouth, their chest and their private parts.)

“Arousal is autonomic, a reflex that your body does in response to a stimuli,” explains Rosenzweig. “But one of the things that makes kids so vulnerable to being exploited is when you have a really skilled molester, they go out of their way to make sure their victims experience arousal, which feels good. And when kids equate arousal with love, they are sitting ducks for bad guys.”

Ultimately, kids need to know from an early age that they have agency over their own bodies.That means parents should never insist that kids kiss or hug people, whether it’s the grabby uncle at Thanksgiving or the cool babysitter.

3. YOUR KIDS ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO TALK ABOUT SEX AND SEXUAL ABUSE.

If you feel like you “missed the boat” continuing to talk to teens about sex, it’s not too late.

Nearly 40 percent of kids are abused by older children, and child on child sexual abuse has grown from 40 to 50 percent in the last 10 years, according to research by Darkness to Light. (The younger child in this scenario is in the 10-year-old age range.)

Much of these incidents are related to pornographic content online. Brewer says kids are “going to get access to [online] content anyway. And they don’t know what to do with their hormones once they see that content. So they test it with a younger, accessible child. They don’t mean to traumatize this child — they aren’t pedophiles — but the child is traumatized because something is taken from them that they didn’t consent to.”

“As much as we’d like to put our kids in a bubble, it’s not possible,” she says. “Actually sitting down and having that uncomfortable conversation with your kid is going to help prevent things in the long run because… they are going to understand that you are a safe person to talk to and you aren’t going to freak out that they’ve said the word sex to you because you brought it to them first.”

Also, if you have teens that won’t entertain a conversation, Brewer suggests different ways to communicate.

“Send them a link via text to an article,” she says. “That’s a great way to continue to have the conversation without even having it.”

4. PAY ATTENTION TO WHO YOUR KID IS SPENDING TIME WITH.

Kids are going to be in situations where they may have one-on-one time with individuals, whether it’s friends, teachers, coaches or sitters.

So how do you not get paranoid with every person your child is with?

Having such routine conversations will make a child feel OK to tell you if there is ever an incident where they do feel uncomfortable.

Brewer adds that while it’s important to minimize opportunity of incidents of child sex abuse by avoiding isolated situations with adults or other youths, it’s best to take a rational approach and trust your gut.

“If someone is spending considerable one-on-one time with your child, redirect their energy. Make them get together in public places. A lot of sexual abuse happens in the car. Don’t let them be in the car together,” she says.

5. KNOW THAT ‘STRANGER DANGER’ IS A MYTH.

“We have grown up with ‘stranger danger’ being forced down our throats,” says Brewer, referring to the idea that kids should avoid strangers to be safe from predatory activity.

The reality: 90 percent of people who are abused are abused by people who they know and trust.

“If that doesn’t make you pay attention to what is happening in your own back yard, I don’t know what will,” says Brewer.

People who abuse children look and act just like everyone else. They go out of their way to appear trustworthy, and seek out settings where they can gain easy access to children.

6. EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE SIGNS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.

This is always the hardest with parents, says Brewer, because there aren’t always specific physical signs. “Trauma manifests itself differently” in everyone, Brewer says.

Focus on the extremes, she says. “If there is an extreme reaction to something, trust your gut and know something may be wrong.”

One example is the student who all of a sudden is growing their hair out, gaining weight, wearing baggy clothes, dabbling in substances. They are doing things that are going to hide the pain, hide themselves from what’s actually happening.

“They do that to try and look unattractive, so their abuser won’t want them anymore,” says Brewer.

7. KNOW THE THREE WORDS TO SAY IF A CHILD TELLS YOU OF ABUSE.

If your child, or any child you know, comes to you with a potential disclosure of being a sex abuse victim, there is only one thing to say: “I believe you.”

“Those three words alone start a conversation off the right way,” says Brewer. “Don’t interrogate them. There are professionals who know how to do that. Making your child relive that trauma is not helpful to you, to the child, or to the professional. They are the ones that are going to ask the right question to get the information they need.”

Rosenzweig adds that one of the toughest things for parents is to not feel guilty upon hearing of a potential abuse situation. But, you should never make a kid feel bad about it.

The response should be all about thanking your child for being brave enough to tell you about it. Ultimately, says Rosenzweig: “The amount of courage it took to break the spell and seek help is nothing short of heroic.”

A lesson from “After Neverland” — Seduced kids don’t relate to the term ‘sex abuse’!

A lesson from “After Neverland” — Seduced kids don’t relate to the term ‘sex abuse’!

Millions of people were glued to the HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, but many turned away. Some turned away because they believe these were false allegations, but others – particularly parents – turned away because they just could not emotionally handle the words of the young men describing how easy it was for a predator to seduce a child in front of their parents and the world.

This is understandable. Healthy people are wired to not think of children in a sexual way. But please don’t look away – it’s this aversion that gives predators cover. Find the courage to work through your discomfort and make talking about sexual health and safety an important part of your family life.

Here are basics that adults need to know:

  • As Oprah Winfrey helped make so clear in the special that aired after Leaving Neverland, sex abuse does not always hurt! In fact, for many kids, being singled out by a high-status adult, receiving special attention, affection and gifts may be a highlight in their lives.
  • Predators seduce victims through a gradual process of benign touch, progressing to touching of genitals, then to sexual acts.
  • Many acts of sexual abuse do not cause physical pain — it does not feel like abuse.
  • Some acts of sexual abuse cause physical pleasure, which can be extraordinarily confusing for a victim

Here are some basics that children need to know:

  • There is a difference between privacy and secrecy – as kids mature, they earn the right to privacy, but children should NEVER keep secrets from their parents for more than a very short time (like knowing about a surprise party).
  • Their genitals will feel good when touched in certain ways. Most kids figure this out for themselves when they discover masturbation. This feeling just means that their body is working right — it is NEVER to be confused with love at any age!
  • Their parents are always there to help or answer questions.
  • A grownup might look uncomfortable occasionally talking about sex, because they are used to sex being private.
  • If a parent can’t answer a question immediately, they’ll find an answer and communicate it to the child in an age-appropriate way.

The level of detail will vary by age. If parents provide an emotionally safe space for discussion, the questions of their children can guide the topics and detail.

The phrase, “sexual abuse” is certainly correct from a legal and moral standpoint, but too often it lacks accuracy and confuses children. As young boys, the men interviewed in Leaving Neverland did not feel abused until much later in life. I’ve experienced adult women speaking to me after a workshop telling me that until they learned that day that sexual arousal was an autonomic reflex, they had  always felt complicit in their abuse.

Child and adolescent victims lack knowledge and language to understand; but this knowledge and language is a gift all parents can give.  It may  help prevent your child from being entrapped or from feeling responsible if lightning strikes.

 

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.

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Take the Doctors Advice — Don’t Spank

Today is an important  day to  take a brief diversion from my focus on  sexual abuse prevention and  honor an important  landmark  for anyone who works with child maltreatment — If you you ever wondered  whether it’s OK to spank your kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics says an emphatic “no” in an updated policy statement issued Monday that calls for a ban on corporal punishment, or spanking. Thousands of professionals who work with children and families agree.

Why? Decades of scientific evidence show that, when compared with children who were not hit for discipline, those who were hit have an increased risk for health problems of all kinds as they age: social, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical. They’re at risk for increased aggressive behavior, anxiety, and depression.

The stress of being spanked or even severely verbally admonished can raise levels of stress hormones in children and teens in ways that impede brain development. Overly harsh discipline such as hitting disrupts a child’s ability for bonding and attachment to parents and caregivers, the very backbone of loving family life and a foundational element in learning how to be social.

Current data show most U.S. adults report that they’ve been spanked and believe it is a necessary form of discipline. There is a common thought of  “I turned out OK, so how bad can it be?” Of course, we may all be OK, but it’s time to stop the practice, given what we know now. Let’s not forget the times back then. In the 1960s, parents didn’t make kids wear seatbelts.

This is the Time to Talk to your Kids about Teen-on-Teen Sexual Abuse

With everyone talking about teen on teen sex, parents should be too!

Perhaps 20 percent of American homes tuned in, one way or another, to the hearing Thursday in which a woman described being  the survivor of sexual abuse 35 years ago  to   the U.S. Senate, the American people and the man she accused, a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s hard to imagine that most people weren’t exposed to it, and the hearing may have riveted you and your children.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe the accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, or Judge Brett Kavanaugh – this is an excellent time to have a conversation with your teenaged and pre-teen children about how a man should behave, and how a woman should stand up for herself. You should do this at home,  and you should  check in with the  educational and social organizations that serve your children to encourage them to do so as well.

Let’s start at home, where the seeds of sexual health and safety are planted. For parents, this is a teachable moment, building on past conversations about empathy, trust, boundaries and sexuality. If you’ve never had these conversations, start now. Even if you don’t think your child is listening, there is good research to show that parents underestimate the value that their children place on their opinions about sexuality.

  • For your sons: Any disrespect toward women diminish a man in that moment and forever. Girls are not objects  to be lusted after or sought after as a challenge,  and  initiating a sexual acts  of  any kinds sex using either physical force or dishonesty is as disrespectful as can be.  It can leave terrible scars  that may be totally incomprehensible to a boy, for whom sex may seem  game or a challenge.
  • For your daughters, this is a moment to make it clear that your love and support are ferocious on her behalf, that you will believe what she tells you and that she must not endure the pain of abuse alone and without pursuing justice. She was at a party? She thinks it was somehow her fault because she felt aroused for a moment?
  • Ensure that your child understands that sexual arousal is an autonomic response, and no matter when or where he or she find themselves experiencing arousal, it is nobody’s responsibility but their own. A person can experience arousal and still be a victim.
  • All kids need to learn that  no  person exists to serve his or her  needs, sexual or otherwise.
  • And to state the obvious, take every step you possibly can to ensure that your child neither hosts nor participates in unsupervised parties, ever.

Even if you’ve never spoken about sex with your children, you can use this moment to start the conversation about sexual health and safety in a non-judgmental way. For instance: “I know a lot of people are reacting to the Senate hearings, listening to a woman describe being abused, and I’d like to know what you think about it.” Listen carefully without interrupting; prompt a recalcitrant child with “What are your friends saying?” or “What have you seen online?” Even if they don’t want to discuss their feelings with you, you can say, “In our family, we don’t ever want anyone to behave the way the boy might have, or for someone who has been hurt to keep silent.” These messages can be modified to fit children of all ages, but the message is the same; your children should consider the impact of their behavior on others, and to come to you if they’ve been hurt.

It’s hard to imagine that any child would want to grow up and experience what either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh faced in those hearings; this is a great time to promote healthy discussions and for schools and youth-serving organizations to do their part. Start by becoming aware of the responsibility to create a healthy sexual climate, in which every adult in the school models respect and calls out violators. Schools should avoid enforcing the peer group distinctions that are fundamental to adolescents – just because adolescents form themselves into tribes doesn’t mean adults should reinforce that

We don’t know yet whether any benefit will accrue to Dr. Ford, Judge Kavanaugh or the country from this painful, divisive moment. But perhaps the best that can be said of it is that you can create a conversation and a lesson that will benefit your children for decades to come.

For more resources on talking to children, follow these links:

For parents:

American Academy of Pediatricians

Talking to children about sex https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Talking-to-Your-Child-About-Sex.aspx

Talking to teens about date rape https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/dating-sex/Pages/Date-Rape.aspx

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center materials on prevention https://www.nsvrc.org/safety-prevention

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig 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, follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group

 

 

What Parents Can do to Hold Youth Serving Organizations Accountable

One of the most troubling aspects of many high-profile allegations of sexual abuse of children in youth agencies is the failure of these institutions to protect them. Some may argue that this happens out of greed or self-protection. Others will argue that the officials receiving the complaints just couldn’t believe them; after all, had anyone ever heard of a team doctor sexually abusing hundreds of young athletes, or a beloved coach having sex with young boys after practice? Whatever the cause of institutional inaction, the fact remains that parents have a critical role to play in holding institutions accountable, and here are some ways to do that.

Believe your child: I recall a conversation with a friend who grew up in the ’60s; we were discussing the then-breaking story of pedophile priests, and he said that when he told his parents about what he now jokingly called a “Father McFeely” he was harshly punished for disrespecting a priest. In his book, Killing Willis, former child star Todd Bridges alludes to being silenced by his parents when he tried to tell them his publicist sexually abused him; the publicist was key to keeping Bridges working. Parents can learn from these mistakes and come to all conversations about their child’s feeling of safety and security with an open mind.

If your child shares a concern, stay calm, express your support for their feelings, belief in their report and listen carefully. Resist the urge to repeatedly question your child; the science of forensic interviewing has taught us that frequent questioning can cause a child’s narrative to change, which can be a problem if a criminal charge is later filed. Open-ended questions about how a child feels are much safer then demands for times, dates and places.

Young athletes, especially when they reach levels of elite competition, can be trained to ignore their own instincts. While most people respond to feelings like pain and hunger, athletes with a training regimen and weight requirements are trained to power through. We do not want our children powering through any feelings of any nature that make them uncomfortable around their coaches, trainers, or others who have a role in their success.

Speak Truth to Power: When you sign your child up for a sports team or other organization, learn its process for hearing complaints. Be fair and open-minded as it reviews your concern and keep your child away from the suspect circumstance. If after a week or two you feel as if your complaint is being ignored, consider contacting higher authorities. If you are unsure if the issue is serious enough for legal intervention, consider speaking to an expert, such as staff from a Child Advocacy Center.

Perhaps the worst reaction I’ve heard was from a summer camp where my child was enrolled years ago; when I contacted the director after another parent contacted me about an allegation her son was making about a staff member, the director told me that I was welcome to remove my child if I didn’t think the camp was safe. I can still recall my anger as I responded that if the camp wasn’t safe enough for my child it wasn’t safe enough for any child. Parents owe it to each other to consider the safety of all children and not just their own.

We shouldn’t let the fear for our child’s safety keep us from enrolling them in beneficial activities, but we can be mindful of our role in keeping them safe.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig 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 , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group

 

#MeToo:  advice for parents on making this a teachable moment

#MeToo: advice for parents on making this a teachable moment

Film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s abominable behavior has surfaced a legion of stories of sexual harassment, abuse and violence from men and women of all ages.  Millions of people have shared the hashtag #MeToo,  posting on social media their long-ago memories of abuse and harassment.

How can we parent in the midst of this news? How can you help your children deal with seeing #MeToo in the social media feed of a teacher, neighbor, relative or friend?

And perhaps most important of all: How can help your children to never feel like they need to trade sex for advancement?

The best news that comes from these uncountable tragedies is that a watershed event like the #MeToo campaign is a priceless teachable moment; and as always, the place to start is a conversation with your children.

While you’re carpooling to a soccer game this week, ask your child if they’ve seen #MeToo in their social media feed, or heard the name Harvey Weinstein. Discuss Weinstein by using age- appropriate language for bullying.

Younger kids will understand that a bully is mean to other people because it is fun for them in some way. With older kids discuss that sexual abuse is taking bullying to its ugliest extreme; consider sexual abuse as the ultimate expression of a total lack of consideration for the feeling of another, in pursuit of satisfying oneself.

Some bullies have physical power because they’re the biggest kid; other bullies have social power because they can control access to things like social circles. Help make sure that your child knows that he or she can talk to you if they are on the receiving end of any of this type of behavior or if they observe bullies targeting another child.

And stress that your family’s values mean that they should never, ever behave that way toward another person. If we teach kids to recognize and refuse juvenile affronts, we set the stage for them to behave better as a teen and adult.

The #MeToo conversation can be complicated; it’s important that a child understand that they can sometimes feel awful about words and events that may not seem so bad – or are even funny — to someone else. For instance:

  • Boys pulling the straps of a girl’s bra at school;
  • A high school teacher closing the door on a tutoring session and standing too close;
  • Boys in the locker room teasing the shortest guy about the size of his genitals;
  • A graduate teaching assistant offering a college student a better grade in exchange for a date;
  • A dinner ‘meeting’ to discuss a possible promotion.

These behaviors happen at every age, and no matter what age.  What a perpetrator may consider “no big deal” may be a trauma to his or her victim.  Remind your child that everyone is different, and it’s our responsibility to consider the effect our behaviors have on each person. Similarly, they have a right to feel bad about something that someone else trivializes, and reinforce the fact that you’re always available to listen and help.

If you think your child is too young to have this conversation, consider that The Girl Scouts report that one in 10 girls is cat-called before her 11th birthday. Start now. The vast majority of the victims of sexual abuse and harassment are not the glamorous starlets on the casting couch – they’re everyday children, teens and adults exposed to abuse both subtle and overt. The key is to help your child realize that that their sexuality, their body —their physical and mental health – are more precious than any bribe a bully offers.

One of the best things you can do for your children is to talk with them now and throughout their adolescence to make sure that #MeToo never applies to them.   You may feel like you can’t change the world, but you certainly can influence your own family,

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig 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 , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

origionally published as   http://www.philly.com/philly/health/kids-families/metoo-talking-to-kids-about-bullying-and-sexual-harassment-20171023.html

Parents have an important role on keeping kids safe in youth sports

Every so often there is a new report – or a wave of reports – concerning sexual misconduct in youth sports, with a resulting wave of searches for solutions. Both the government and  both the government and advocacy groups

The fact is, though, that the most effective solution for your family is very much in your own hands, and it’s as much your responsibility as putting food on the table: The key ingredient to the sexual health and safety of your child in youth sports is your own involvement.

Below is a letter that you’ll probably never see printed anywhere else:

 

Dear Parent:
Welcome to Main Street Sports League! We hope your child has a great experience in our program. Our policy is to conduct a criminal background check on all our paid staff and volunteer coaches. This will allow us to identify the approximately 5 percent of child molesters who have been reported to police, caught, charged, and convicted of a sex crime. We can’t protect your child from the other 95% without your help.

Spectators in our bleachers, vendors in the food stands, maintenance contractors working on the field, and others can potentially be near your child. They have not been screened, so we lack even the minimal 5 percent safety net here.

Pedophiles, one type of child molester, are people whose primary sexual attraction is to children. They often develop relationships with children based on trust, friendship and affection that lead to sexual abuse disguised as sex play. Most pedophiles have learned to identify children who really enjoy or even need attention from adults; predators are particularly interested in the children less likely to be supervised by parents or other adults. Hebephiles and ephebophiles, predators attracted to adolescents and teens, are similarly taking stock of opportunities.

 

Attending your child’s practice and games has many benefits for you and your family, but probably none as important as the added measure of safety that extra pairs of eyes and ears offer your child, our team, and our community.


Sincerely,
Commissioner, Main Street Sports League

Now, of course it’s impossible for most busy working parents to attend every single game and practice for each of their children who participate in sports programs. But if a predator happens to find that your child matches his or her attraction, he or she will begin to watch to see how much attention you are paying to your child.

So, get out of your minivan and talk to your son’s coach at pickup or drop off. Arrive a few minutes before your daughter’s gymnastics practice ends and watch from the bleachers. When you’re organizing your schedule for the week, pretend practice ends fifteen minutes before it really does, leave the iPhone in the car, and pay attention to your child’s athleticism, and interactions with other athletes and the adults. Talk about it on the way home.

Can’t do it all on your own? Team up with another working parent with a child on the same team and take turns doing this—and be sure to cheer on all kids. Be wary of teams or clubs that overly restrict parental access to practices or coaching sessions.  I suggest that teams add a new volunteer role to their roster, along with snack-parent, or car-pool parent —   add a ‘stand-parent’, whose job it is to be in the stand keeping an eye out for any child whose parents could not be there.   You’re not just taking my word here about the importance of  knowing that a grown-up is watching; this warning and advice comes straight from the mouths of convicted child molesters I interviewed, whose perspectives helped inform my books.

Background checks, great policies and even certain laws might help, but nothing is more important than the watchful eyes of an aware, loving and communicative adult.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig 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 , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.
originally publisher at   http://www.philly.com/philly/health/kids-families/Sexual-misconduct-in-youth-sports-What-can-parents-do.html

Poverty and child well being – how you can help!

In early 2016,  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)  recommended that all pediatricians screen for poverty in children, hoping to reduce the toxic effects of poverty on children’s health.  AAP researchers produced a policy brief that is a must-read for any student of health, economics or public policy, but it contains important lessons for all of us.

 Poverty weighs on parents in ways both subtle and obvious. For example, a Yale study found that low income mothers who could not afford diapers are more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety interfere with the ability to respond emotionally to a baby and such response is a most critical role of a parent to help promote early brain development. Poor nutrition, substandard housing, and living in a high-crime neighborhood – all side effects of poverty – place burdens on a child’s physical and mental health.

More than a quarter of the population of Philadelphia, including one-third of all children, live below the poverty level, and Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the nation’s 10 largest cities.  Poverty is not always obvious; the economic downturn of recent years has brought poverty to suburbia in unprecedented numbers.

While the AAP recommends specific screening tools for pediatricians to use in their practices, each of us can look closely to see where we might lend a hand. Decades ago, if a neighbor noticed a hungry family, she might send over a casserole; now, too often the temptation is to call Child Protective Services and report neglect. It’s time to reverse that practice. Each of us can offer compassionate and dignified support to a friend, neighbor, or relative who may need it. A meal, a week’s worth of groceries, a carton of diapers now and then can make a difference to a family.

Years ago when my son was around 12-years-old and I was a divorced grad student, my son spent an afternoon at the home of a friend. When I went to pick him up, I learned that he had enthusiastically eaten anything and everything the hostess Mom offered. Hostess Mom gently suggested that if there wasn’t enough food in my house, she’d be happy to send an extra lunch to school each day with her son for mine. She didn’t know that I had good job, and my son was just being a voracious pre-teen, but her concern, compassion, and tact could be a model for anyone. If being that personal doesn’t suit your style, support efforts of your religious community or local anti-poverty organizations who share the mission of alleviating the effects of poverty on a child’s development.

Some pediatricians may respond to the AAP’s recommendation by noting how little time they already have to spend with patients and the increasing demands placed on their practices. Perhaps as the health insurance industry recognizes the toxic, long term effects of poverty on child health poverty screening will be come as routine as vison and hearing screening.

In the meantime, “screen” the children and families in your life to see where you can help. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, the perfect time to ask yourself what else you can do to support the great childhoods all children deserve.

Rosenzweig is also 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.

 

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/How-we-all-can-fight-the-effects-of-poverty.html#RjmKYU0VMdMyRR8P.99