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.”

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

Kids and Trauma:  Science Trumps Handcuffs

Kids and Trauma: Science Trumps Handcuffs

There has been lot of buzz about a video shot last year of a Kentucky deputy sheriff handcuffing an 8-year-old schoolboy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) . Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the deputy for this incident and a similar cuffing involving a 9-year-old girl.

The video is almost a caricature of how not to deal with children, and it should prompt parents to ask a simple and important question:

Even if the personnel at my child’s school wouldn’t think of calling the police if he acted out, would they know the right way to handle him?

There are a host of reasons why your child might misbehave. While this child’s acting out is attributed to his diagnosis of ADHD, a problem faced by about  10 percent of American children, all children risk exposure to traumatic events that can result in acting out. For example:

  • One of five children may experience some type of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, and in about a quarter of those cases, the abuse will be from another child or adolescent.
  • More than 1.5 million children experience their parents’ divorce each year, meaning up to 20 million children experience parental divorce before they reach age 18.
  • At any point in time, almost 3 million children under 18 have an incarcerated parent, meaning that as many as 10 million children suffer the incarceration of a parent before they reach age 18.

Each of these experiences is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE, and long-term studies supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that these experiences can have both immediate and lifelong effect on social and emotional health. And new research   is expanding the list of ACEs, demonstrating that poverty, racism, and other experiences have the same negative effects on social, emotional, and physical health as the original eight ACEs identified more than a decade ago. ACEs can be a cause for dramatic changes in a child’s behavior, with boys being more likely to act out and girls being more likely to quietly internalize the pain, and thus staying under the radar.

Children who have not been alive long enough to experience ACEs still are at risk for environmental circumstances impacting their brain development and therefore potentially their behavior. For example, research shows that that inadequate nurturing and exposure to constant stress can cause structural changes in how a baby’s brain develops and how a child learns to react to her environment.

Enlightened educators and caregivers understand the relationship between the word discipline and disciple, embracing concepts like trauma informed practices and social-emotional learning to intervene with troubled young people. There are  great resources to support this work   and parents would be wise to determine if the schools and agencies serving their children have brought these resources home.

As a former public official, my standard always was that if a program or policy wasn’t good enough for my child, it wasn’t good enough for anyone’s child. As a citizen, I challenge parents to ensure that kids in their school district who act out due to disability or trauma are treated with evidenced-based strategies to help them recover and grow.  As Frederick Douglas said almost two centuries ago “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” It’s also more humane.

The next crying child could be yours. Don’t you want him to be treated properly?

 

This post first appeared at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Kids-and-trauma-Science-trumps-handcuffs-.html

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Why new technology available to parents to monitor kids online behavior is insufficient

Parents have both a right and the responsibility to be totally aware of their child’s online life, and the earlier you make that clear to your child the easier it will be to enforce. A 2010 Pew Research study revealed that “the bulk of kids … are getting cell phones at ages 12 and 13 – right as they transition to middle school” and a 2013 study found that 95% of teens are online. And while the true incidence of sexting with explicit photos is probably less than 5 percent of kids online, we also know that at least 10 percent of kids report an unwanted sexual solicitation. Here are two good reasons why parents need to stay on top of their kids’ online activity: Neither young children nor teens are a match for a skilled predator;  and adolescents have a mature sex drive managed by a not–yet-mature brain. And if you still need convincing, read this report prepared by the Crimes Against Children Research Center and see how many of the cases reported to law enforcement were uncovered when parents checked their kids’ phones!

Parents of young kids can set a precedent starting when their kids use their first electronic devices. Certain security measures are low-tech, like keeping the device chargers outside of the bedroom in order to keep devices off the bed, setting all passwords yourselves, and checking devices daily. The most readily available of the low-tech options is parent-child communication. Let your children know why you intend to monitor their on line use; little ones should not have independent internet access until at least age 12; their first experience of your limit setting can be when they learn that your plan only covers a certain number of calls, or of you program their phones limiting the numbers they can call or receive calls from

Continuing conversations about online safety provide a countless opportunities to discuss your family values around relationships and sexual health and safety with young teens and adolescents. Discussions about unanticipated solicitation, sexual and otherwise, lead right into a conversation about respecting other people’s boundaries, and being empowered to hold their own. A dialog about predators opens the door to conversations about the importance of really knowing someone — online or in person — before placing full trust in them. And when you get to the talk about sexting, don’t stop at the tech-based reminders that photos exist forever and can be shared beyond the intended recipient. Try having a discussion about how normal it is for young people to be confused about making any decisions about sex. Chapters 5 and 6 in my book, The Sex-Wise Parent will be helpful.

Don’t give a predator an advantage!

On a beautiful Sunday morning, I was enjoying a walk in a park, admiring the views, the gardens, the art and the variety of people, when something caught my eye and took my thoughts right back to work. A mom was strolling with her two young children and both kids had their first names written in huge letters on the back of their tie-dyed sweatshirts.

I think this is a dangerous thing to do.  Twenty years ago, when law enforcement stressed stranger-danger and abduction-prevention advice to parents, a cardinal rule was to avoid personalizing children’s clothes. The fear was that predators could call kids by their first names and engage them through familiarity.

While I’m the first to remind anyone who will listen that the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse against children is perpetrated by someone they know, there’s absolutely no reason why we should we give any predator an advantage. Kids need to know about boundary-pushing relatives or acquaintances who prey on children and youth, and that strangers can be predators as well. Adults can turn to the Take 25 Campaign from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a resource to start the conversation in their family using the materials available in English and Spanish.

Predators who would take advantage of a child’s name on her clothing often feign familiarity and indicate that the parent sent them to pick the child up. Another recommendation that bears repeating is for families to specify a code word that a child should expect to hear from any adult claiming to know the child or his family. Preparation is so important; young children — and many adults — are incapable of outwitting a charming sociopath.

Stranger-danger is easier for parents to talk about than sexuality but that conversation is not enough. Children will want to know what a stranger can do that is so scary and if we don’t explain in developmentally appropriate concepts, kids will fill in the blanks. They have many fears and any child with access to the media knows that sex crimes occur.  Please don’t let your children share the experience of a child who believed that a stranger might ‘rake’ her, which she thought meant being beaten with a garden tool.  The comprehensive discussion about child safety might come after sharing the personal, positive aspects of sexuality and this resource can provide guidance.  Then a  safety discussion can cover the fact there are people who try to abuse a child’s personal and private sexuality.  The first discussions with their parents about sex should revolve around love and intimacy, not stranger danger and anxiety.

Monogram your kids’ robes and pajamas, and discuss why you don’t want their names on their sweatshirts and jackets.   It can provide another opportunity to foster the kind of discussions that strengthen families and protect children.

 

This article first appeared in the Healthy Kids blog of philly.com at   http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Dont-give-a-predator-an-advantage.html

 

Family Summer Safety Tips Part 2 –Restroom Safety!!

Family Summer Safety Tips Part 2 –Restroom Safety!!

Part 2 in my series for the Centre Daily Times, State College, PA

  An important summer safety rule is to drink lots of liquids, but we all know what that means — bathroom breaks. When you’re traveling and nature calls you may not have time to be choosy but there’s always time to be careful, especially when traveling with children.

The best option is to use the “family restroom.” A single stall with its own entry provides privacy and security; a stall designated for people with disabilities may fit the bill.

Stay with a child until about age 8 or 9 in a multiple toilet facility even if the child has hit the “I can do it myself” stage. As children get older, they should still be kept within range for you to see or hear them.

Things get more complicated when the child and adult are not the same gender.

Boys traveling with mothers reach an age when they hate being dragged into a ladies’ room. Too bad. Sex offenders watch for this when seeking targets. Never accept an offer from a seemingly nice guy to keep an eye on your son. If you notice a family where a man leaves his wife and takes his son to the men’s room, consider asking him to keep an eye on your son. It’s difficult to imagine someone hurting a child with his own as a witness, but use the 300-second rule. This means setting a time limit of 300 seconds for a trip to the men’s room. Both of you should start counting together, and do not hesitate to walk in if you reach 301. Always be aware of your child’s location and keep your eyes glued to the exit.

Men traveling with girls have a bigger problem because urinals are rarely in stalls. Girls old enough to be out of diapers are old enough to recognize that men are urinating. Dads can carry a little girl into a restroom, shielding her eyes, and head right to stall with a door. Because of this, girls may age out of accompanying their fathers at a younger age than boys with their mothers. When this happens, consider asking a mother heading into the ladies room with her kids to watch your daughter. And still play the counting game.

Teens need to be reminded that drug users, purse snatchers and sex offenders are among the unsavory people that can operate in a restroom. Remind teens to scope out restrooms with caution and common sense. Parents may feel more at ease if there are a dozen people lined up for the facility. Bad guys (or gals) don’t operate well with witnesses. On the other hand, if the crowd is all teens, consider finding another option for your younger child. Teen judgment is not fully developed and this can lead to the occasional cruel or stupid act.

Common sense should rule. Kids need to learn that life is not always totally safe. Discussing restroom safety is a great opportunity to teach your child to be aware and cautious.

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). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/17/3690651/communities-that-care-restroom.html#storylink=cpy
CentreDaily.com
Family Summer Safety Tips:  Part 1 ~ Discuss safety rules prior to family vacation

Family Summer Safety Tips: Part 1 ~ Discuss safety rules prior to family vacation

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 with your family. Spend a few more minutes planning for safety and improve the odds that the vacation will be everything you want it to be.

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 men or older boys. 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). This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.

 

This article appeared originally at  http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/07/10/3682979/communities-that-care-discuss.html#storylink=cpy
T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting?  YES!

T-Ball and Sex-Wise Parenting? 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 to share values and facts.

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!

And, they learned that they can talk to their parents about ANYTHING, including their genitals — an important protective factor in keeping pedophiles at bay.

Before long, sex-wise parents will see how spontaneous, frank discussions with children as issues come up render THE TALK unnecessary!  Get more information at www.SexWiseParent.com!

Plan a sexually safe and healthy summer for your kids!

Plan a sexually safe and healthy summer for your kids!

The school year will end before you know it, and NOW is the time to make summer plans for kids.   Some parents look for a summer program that is educational; others look for a program that builds a special skill; many pick a program with hours that match parents work schedules.  Regardless of why a program is chosen, one thing should be certain: that the camp is run in a way to keep children safe.

Let’s go through a typical camp day to see some how a camp can ensure a child’s physical and emotional comfort and safety.

If the children will be picked up, 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. That child requires a regular check-in with a supervisor to keep thier judgement on track.   If parents drop off the children, are there procedures in place 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?

Camp administration 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 kids. It is common for summer camps to employ students; these young folks should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values and standards of the camp, and be assigned a supervisor who really supervises!  Teens have not finished maturing emotionally or intellectually and even great teens can show bad judgement…. don’t accept a camp that skimps on supervision!

Parents need to know how children are monitored as they move about the camp, for example if a child needs to use the bathroom. 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.

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.

The camp should maintain a list of people allowed to pick up children provided by parents at registration. Honor the process by avoiding last minute changes that the camp can’t verify.

Emotional safety requires attention. If swimming if offered, have the staff been prepared to handle children’s discomfort about changing clothes in front of others? 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? Remember, teen aged counselors may not be much better at empathy than the campers, so be sure this is emphasized in pre-camp staff training/orientation.

A parent could learn about these issues by interviewing the camp director, or talking to parents who sent their children in prior years. If the program that’s most convenient for you because of location, cost or hours does not meet all of these standards, the administration may be willing to take some of your suggestions! But trust your gut if you’re not comfprtable with any of the answers and look elsewhere.

Throughout the summer, parents should ask kids questions on these topics just to make sure that the policies they expected are indeed in place. 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 for their children.

Get more straight-forward, common sense advice from  The Sex-Wise Parent by Dr. Janet Rosenzweig!

April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, a good excuse to talk to your kids about sexuality!

Parents are the strongest influence on their children’s decisions about sex and sexuality, yet most parents underestimate their own power. A major national survey reported in 2010 that 46 percent of teens continue to say that parents most influence their decisions about sex, while just 20 percent say friends most influence their decisions. At the same time, parents overestimate the influence media and friends have on their children’s decisions about sex and underestimate their own.

The same study tells us that 88 percent of parents agree with the statement that “parents believe they should talk to their kids about sex but often don’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to start.” (Albert 2010) It’s easy to see why:They were raised in the era I’ve dubbed “The Neutered Nineties”. That’s when we traded rational discussion about sexuality for Megan’s Laws and sex offender registries, in the name of ‘prevention.’ It’s when cash-strapped school districts had to teach abstinence-only topics or lose federal funding. And when answering a question about masturbation at an AIDS conference got the U.S. surgeon general fired. Too many adults stopped talking to kids about sex. Qualified professionals went quiet and left a vacuum too easily filled by people who sexually offend.

Accurate and age-appropriate information about sex all but disappeared from most professional work in child sexual abuse, and it’s time to put it back.

Where to start? With two critical messages for our children:

They need to know accurate names for all their body parts; and

They need to understand that physical sexual arousal is an autonomic response — like getting goosebumps when tickled.

One now-grown female victim of child sexual abuse I interviewed for The Sex-Wise Parent told me that good touch-bad touch programs can actually be dangerous to a victim because sometimes the touch actually feels good! Further, men who were victims of sexual abuse report that the confusion resulting from a climax is one of the most difficult issues resolve.

People who sexually offend exploit children’s guilt and their lack of knowledge related to sexuality often try to convince them  that they must have actually enjoyed the abuse because of a physical response over which they have no control. Understanding sexual response is important for boys and girls — people who prey on teen-aged girls exploit the fact that very few girls understand that their physical response to a sexual thought, feeling or touch has absolutely nothing to do with love.

Language and knowledge that parents equip children with are a defense against abuse. Raising a child who knows the parts of his or her body, and knows that it’s safe to tell parents or a trusted adult if they have been touched, can prevent their victimization and probably other children’s, too. And, if abuse occurs, harm may be mitigated if the child understands their body’s response.

For parents who need support as they heed the advice to ‘talk early-talk often,’ I suggest practicing with friends and getting used to using sexual terms without discomfort. Take turns role-playing, asking each other the kinds of questions you fear getting from your children. Watch this video for ideas and encouragement. This may not be easy at first, but the reward can be lifelong — a sexually safe and healthy child!

Pubished by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center at   http://www.nsvrc.org/blogs/saam/sex-wise-parents-can-raise-sexually-safer-and-healthier-kids