Free Range Kids need Sex-Wise Parents!

According to the popular blog Free-Range Kids, “Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts—safety! We just do NOT believe that every time school-age kids go outside, they need a security detail.”

I couldn’t agree more. I wrote The Sex-Wise Parent because I believe that giving kids information and language about sexuality is as important as buying that helmet or car seat. When my child takes off on his bike and runs into a family friend, I want him to know exactly what to do if that person’s hands end up in the wrong place.

If you’re shocked, you shouldn’t be. The pedophiles I interviewed for my book told me—in no uncertain terms—that they look for unaccompanied children. Is this a reason to turn into a helicopter parent? Absolutely not. What I believe is any child old enough to ride her bike to the playground is old enough to be given accurate information about the male and female sexual anatomy. The child should understand how to set and hold boundaries and know that they can and must share anything out of the ordinary and all adult interactions with their parents. While no one can diagnose “grooming” behavior from a single anecdote described by a child, parents need to be aware of every adult in their child’s life and draw their own informed conclusions.

Giving your child information about sex requires a different skill set than providing them a well-fitting bike helmet (a trained clerk in a sporting goods store can help you with the latter form of protection). When it came to providing my child with the tools about sexual health and safety, I knew I was the best source of information. It’s not easy and yes, it may even be uncomfortable but find the courage to talk to your child and explain what you want them to know. This parent-to-child communication is better and more effective that if the information comes from a third-party.

Free range or not a child needs language and information about sex to help keep them sexually safe and healthy. Free-rangers believe in “common sense parenting in uncommonly overprotective times” and so do I.

T-ball and sex-ed?? YES!

Summer means sports and baseball gloves are being oiled up in homes round the country.  Thoughts are turning to runs, hits, errors, uniforms, caps and spikes.

And cups.   It’s standard practice for leagues to require boys to wear a hard protective cup over their genitals during practice and games.  One family I know had a golden teachable moment when their 5 year old wanted know why he had to wear a cup over his penis.  “I’m not going to pee during a ballgame!”

Some parents might have answered the “why” question with a simple “Because it’s the rules”, a close cousin to “Because I said so”.   These answers have a place when disciplining a child, but in this instance would only stifle curiosity and an opportunity for a teachable family moment.

It’s fairly typical for pre-school aged boys to think of their entire genitalia as their penis.  This boys parents explained to their son and his now-curious brother that the penis is the name for the skinny part in front that boys use to pee, but behind it the sac that holds the special parts that men have that makes their Daddy seeds. And those parts, (called ballies in some families, testes in others) would hurt A LOT if they accidently got hit with a baseball!  They grabbed their copy of The Sex-Wise Parent, turned to the line drawing of male anatomy on page 59 and gave both of their sons an age appropriate lesson in sexual health  and safety.  Because of T-ball!

These little boys learned the anatomy of their genitals and  that Daddies make seeds in their testicles and mommies make seeds in their ovaries.  They learned that we take care of our genitals and keep them healthy – a precursor to a condom discussion due in about 10 years!

Before long, sex-wise parents will see how spontaneous, frank discussions with children as issues come up render THE TALK unnecessary!

 

Not everyone who sexually abuses a child is a pedophile; what parents need to know

Parents of young kids spent a lot of time worrying about pedophiles these days, as well they might. We read articles about how pedophiles ingratiate themselves into the lives of children, like ‘coach’ Sandusky allegedly did with the vulnerable young boys served by a charity he helped found. Many parents have heard the term ‘grooming’ used to describe the way that pedophiles seduce a child through friendship and affection, then use that trust to coerce a child to keep their dirty secret. Once the seduction is complete, pedophiles trade on shame, guilt and fear. They threaten to remove privileges the child has earned, and instill shame by convincing young victims that their physical autonomic response to stimuli meant that they were complicit in the sexual acts.

But adults who sexually abuse children are not all pedophiles! There are other predators in our midst who find themselves sexually attracted to older kids and teens, the ones who no longer look like children, but certainly, in many respects still are. This recent story about a teacher/student relationship provides an example of a reason for parents to be vigilant about all adults in their child’s life; a 40 year old teacher acting on his ‘crush’ on a high school girl is a predator, no matter how he wants to dress it up. In contrast to the dark tools used by people who seduce little children, these predators gain compliance by offering prestige, status and romance!

A teenager is developmentally incapable of being an equal in a relationship with someone expert on the matter of manipulating a young person to comply with his wishes. In fact, a predatory teacher is demonstrating is a tragic misuse of every developmental psychology course taken to earn teaching credentials!

Parents may breathe a sigh of relief when your child reaches puberty and ages out of the attraction range of pedophiles. But open lines of communication about all aspects of sexual health and safety can help your child have the strength not to succumb to the charms of more grown – up predators.  Learn more at www.SexWiseParent.com

Hot Weather Can Mean ‘Hot’ Clothes, So What’s the Dress Code in Your Family?

It may be snowing in Colorado, but it’s pushing 90 in LA, and the heat will reach all of us sooner or later. While lots of folks are worried about what these extreme weather swings mean for the atmosphere, (and I am thankful for scientists!)  I focus my attention on  a parents need to understand the effect the heat can have on kids. Let me explain.  Yes, dehydration from the heat is one issue, but some children have been waiting all winter for an excuse to bare their skin in clothes that are more suitable for a dance club than school!  Let the  battles begin.

Not necessarily.  For parents, a good  place to start is  determine your child’s school’s policy on dress code and how is it enforced.

At the very least, schools should prohibit children from exposing their belly buttons, breast cleavage, butt cleavage  and the wearing suggestive slogans on t-shirts by either students or staff. It is perfectly natural for teens and pre-teens to push boundaries and arrive in school wearing something that bends—if not actually breaks—the dress code rules. School staff should react firmly to any breaches in the rules, while not outright embarrassing or humiliating the student in any way. Consider calling a guidance counselor and asking about thier policies and procedures.

A common problem among younger kids is they may believe that a certain type of look equates to being attractive—without understanding that “the look” has a sexual connotation. When a nine-year-old girl chooses a bedazzled tube top with a decidedly “hookerish” look, her parents needs to supplement their “no” with an explanation beyond a “because I said so.” Explaining to kids that certain kinds of clothes carry a message (one that is not always appropriate for their age) is a good place to start. Try to use a uniform as an example and say something to this effect—“When you wear shin guards, I know you’re getting ready to play soccer.” This starts the discussion about how a particular look is seen by some people as a signal that you’re dressed for a specific activity. You could explain to young kids that certain items of clothing are seen as a “uniform” for people who like to “kiss” or “flirt” or an equivalent term that will make an eight -year-old think, “Yuck.”   What a great opportunity to discuss how people decide what they think is pretty, focusing on cocenpts like  choice and taste and individuality!

Girls are especially are pressured to appear looking sexual at young ages, by being exposed to promotions for  baby bikinis and padded bras for eight-year-olds. Boys may need help understanding what is really conveyed by the tough-guy looks. But all kids need to know your rules, your values and believe that you will enforce the dress code set by their school.

Learn more about how to support your child’s sexual health and safety from my book, The Sex Wise Parent by visiting www.sexwiseparent.com

 

Summer camp and safety – how relaxed is too relaxed??

It’s that time of year when we can smell summer in the air, and working parents thoughts turn to summer arrangements for their kids. Summer camps are a popular choice and can span the range from totally unstructured programs offered at local parks to seriously academic programs offered by schools and colleges. Your choice must be based on your child’s interest, the cost and convenience, and  the knowledge that the program is operated  in a way that ensures your child’s wellbeing. Limited adult supervision coupled with the joy of not being in school has been known to lead kids to act out in many ways– including exploring their sexuality —  at summer camp.

In many states, short-term summer camps are not subject to the same stringent licensing requirements as childcare centers, and some faith-based programs may be exempt from public regulation altogether, so it becomes even more important for you to do your homework before entrusting your child to a specific camp environment. To make sure your child will be sexually safe and healthy all day (and night) at camp, start with a typical day and consider all activities that your child will involve your child. Here’s some areas to consider:

The bus: If your children will be picked up by a bus or van, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can become unruly and distract a driver. Often, an older child is assigned to lead songs and keep order on a camp-bound bus. This may be sufficient if a staff member is not available, but if the bus is carrying multiple teens, the supervising child may be unable to resist peer pressure and may join the commotion. And, huddled groups of  kids or high-backed seats  can hide  aggressive grabbing and  all  kinds of showing off !

Sports and swimming:  If the camp day includes swimming, ask camp administrators if the staff has been prepared to deal with children who get embarrassed changing clothes in front of others, and be sure you’re comfortable with the reply. If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept at a healthy level?

Moving around camp grounds: You should find out if your child will be supervised as she moves through the camp grounds and facilities. If a child needs to use a rest room will an adult accompany her? If no, is there a policy in place to carefully monitor the amount of time a child is gone? In addition, if the camp takes your child on field trips, does the camp take adequate measures to ensure the safety of your child? Tight supervision is a must for field trips; whether walking to a neighborhood park or traveling to a local tourist destination, counselors should assign buddies and perform constant head counts to make sure all children are safe and accounted for.

Staff: Camp administrators should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers, or volunteers working directly with the kids. It is common for summer camps to employ adolescents; these young people should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values, and standards of the camp, and be assigned an experienced supervisor. Adolescent brains are still developing and lapses in judgment are expected. In fact, I’ve seen instances of young camp staff participating in bullying a targeted child!

Check with the camp director to see if safety and suypervision measures are in place before you entrust your child to their care. Likewise, you can visit the camp or talk to other parents who have sent their child in prior years to get a feel for the workings and safety of the camp environment.

Parents can find more information and a checklist to use in choosing a summer camp  in my book The Sex Wise Parent.  For a copy of the checklist, E-mail DrRosenzweig@SexWiseParent.com.

Check back  for more tips!

What counts in child abuse prevention? A call out to public officials

So what if April is Child Abuse Prevention Month? It seems not only as though every month is dedicated to somebody’s favorite cause, but also that attention to social issues runs in cycles.

But that’s not true for me — child welfare and protection have been the center of my career in public administration, and I ask my colleagues to take a minute and hear me out.

One evening, I was in the audience for a panel discussion about performance management in the public sector that featured speakers from the offices of several governors. My inspiration came not from the stage, however, but from a fellow member of the audience.

While discussing how to use performance monitoring systems in public social service agencies to manage response times to reports of child abuse and caseload sizes, a representative from one state repeated several times that “child abuse prevention is a very high priority.” But she was mistaking investigation  for prevention and this is a mistake that too many of us make far too often.

Standing next to me was a fellow Harvard MPA candidate,  a high- ranking official with the New York City Fire Department and a 9/11 first responder. “Joe,” I said, “when you dispatch a unit to put out a fire, would anyone ever dare to call that fire prevention?”

Of course state agencies have an obligation to protect children. And of course the public should be pleased that the national reports are showing some small declines in the number of child abuse cases.  After all, state and federal tax dollars have been supporting child protection services systems for three decades now and we should expect to see some results.   But millions of kids are still at risk and the effects are awful.

Here’s my Child Abuse Prevention Month challenge to public administrators:  Along with counting how a public agency responds after someone reports that a child has been injured, how about if we start counting a few other statistics:

  • Like how many parents have access to information on how to calm a crying baby?
  • Or how many new parents are served by a trained family support worker to help them through those confusing and sleep-deprived first few months of parenthood?
  • And how many parents have a job paying a living wage from an employer with family-friendly policies?
  • And how many adults in a community know how to recognize the sign that a pedophile is operating in their midst?
  • And how many courts determine the status of dependent children before a parent is jailed?
  • And how many communities support quality sex education, one of the best defenses against child sexual abuse?

Prevent Child Abuse America estimates that the U.S. spends more than $100 billion each year on the effects of child abuse and neglect.   The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that the lifetime cost from a single case of child maltreatment exceeds $210,000. Preventing child abuse is not only the right thing to do, it’s cost effective public policy.

Every aspect of public administration touches the lives of children and families, and we could all do a better job keeping children safe, families healthy and communities strong.

Be prepared — Sex Abuse CAN happen here!

Some people like to believe that abuse of children is a problem restricted to the poor, or disadvantaged.  No so.   The sex abuse allegations involving a prep school upscale enough to  include the son of a governor  are a stark reminder that people who prey on kids can be anywhere.

Predators come in all shapes, sizes, neighborhoods and income levels.  They can ingratiate themselves into the lives of children and families as friends, coaches, clergy, baby sitters or teachers.   The most important step a parent can take is to have  open and honest  age-appropriate  conversations with their children throughout their childhood and adolescence.  Natural discussions that include all parts of the body are a key.   Conversational lessons about nice relationships — the kind where everyone considers each others feelings –can start with toddlers and continue as children develop a wider circle of acquaintances.  And here’s the step that most people skip — ensure that your child’s school and the other institutions in your community have take steps to prevent sexual abuse and have a well thought out policy on how to respond if allegations are made.

The best news to come out of this story  from the NJ prep school is that the administration appears to be behaving responsibly.   The alleged perpetrator was brought back from another state to face the NJ investigation and press reports quote his superiors as saying he is being kept under tight restrictions.

The title of this blog post mirrors the title of the last chapter in my book, The Sex Wise Parent.  There’s a lot to learn about being a prepared family and community, and you can find it in my book.

 

 

 

When Talking Sex with Kids, Parents…….. Please Act Your Age

While conducting workshops for professionals working in child sexual abuse, I often start by having them work in small groups and answer the question:   “where did you first learn about sex?”   Their answers are all over the map, and most have one thing in common; as adults they remember the feelings being shown by the person speaking to them as strongly as they remember the words.  People remember their parents feeling embarrassed — even blushing bright red — or seeming to be angry at having to have the conversation.   Others remember older kids acting as if this information was forbidden, or illicit; never to be spoken of outside of the confines of their friendship.

Anyone who took a basic psychology course had to learn about Pavlov and his dogs.   He teaches us that feelings become ‘contiguous’ or stuck together with experiences.    If your child experiences receiving their early sex information in an environment filled with embarrassment, anger or secrecy, they may be at risk of associating these feeling with their sexuality, and that’s not good.   Secrecy, and anger and embarrassment undermine sexual health and safety. When you speak to your child about sexuality, bring the positive, parental feelings of love, intimacy, respect and concern.  Even if your information isn’t perfect, your lesson will be priceless!

A Sex Educator can help in the aftermath of sex abuse

The LA elementary school which attracted national attention for the disgraceful acts of a few teachers and the courage of the administration to act decisively on their behalf now has a new principal.   Dolores Palacio, New Miramonte principal has a long road ahead to achieve many goals, and none so important as regaining the trust of parents.  In order to do so, she has to establish a new, healthy and open sexual climate in the school and include all faculty, staff, parents and students in her efforts.

Scholars studying school achievement often talk about school climate; in my book the Sex-Wise Parent,  I borrowed their basic concepts to discuss sexual climate   to describe the overall  feeling  in a school building around sexual issues.  Palacio has an unprecedented opportunity to establish a new, healthy, open sexual climate, based on honesty, respect, accurate information and parental involvement.  To help this process along, I urge her to identify credentialed sexuality educators in her community and hire them to do the following:

  • Offer all staff a mandatory in-service training on how to discuss sexuality with children in an age appropriate way.  This comprehensive workshop should include a review of anatomy and physiology, the opportunity to practice using appropriate sexuality terms.
  • Offer all parents workshops on discussing sexuality with their children, including both the healthy, loving aspects and the opportunities for exploitation such as the acts that took place in their school. In many families it’s likely that this tragedy triggered their first discussion about sexuality with their kids; if this is the case, a balanced perspective is needed.
  • Offer teachers assistance integrating sexual issues into thier curricula in  the most  approproiate way;  health, bilogy, art, literature, history and other subjects often have unerlying sexual themes, and this is not the time for Miramonte faculty to ignore them.

Kids’ early lessons about sex can last a life time.  The services of sexuality educators  can be a remarkable asset for the Miramonte community as they work to support healing  for their kids, families and throughout the community.

Find more at www.SexWiseParent.com

Was removing the whole staff of a school with allegations of sex abuse a good idea? YOU BET!!

Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District took a courageous step  this week  by removing  the entire staff of one of the largest elementary schools in the country in the face of  evidence  supporting allegations of sexual abuse of children by his staff.  Of course, the fact that the most notoriously botched investigation of child sexual abuse  (the McMartin pre-school case which generated a trial lasting from 1987-1990) took place in a neighboring county, could have provided some strong motivation!

The Associated Press quoted Deasy: “We intend to interview every adult, every adult who works at that school, whether they are a teacher or administrator, or whether they are an after-school playground worker or a custodian or a secretary. I mean every single solitary adult who works at Miramonte.”

Advocates for preventing child sexual abuse should be waiting anxiously to read the findings of this investigation. Scholars in the field of education have spent decades studying the concept of school climate, defined as the way it feels to be in a specific school building. School climate has been shown to impact academic outcomes, student violence and other important issues.  In my book The Sex Wise Parent, I expand on that concept and focus an entire chapter on helping parents understand and pay attention to the sexual climate of their child’s schools.  We can no longer ignore the potential risk to kids who attend schools staffed by educators and administrators who are not paying attention to implicit and explicit message kids get from them about sex. A report published by the US Department of Education includes the estimate that at least 5 percent of all kids have some type of sexual contact with school personnel.

Deasy is right that every single adult in that school helps set the sexual climate.  For a checklist on assessing the sexual climate of your child’s school click here.