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.”

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

 

 

Back to School in the #MeToo era: Sex Ed and Sexual Climate

Back to School in the #MeToo era

Well, the kids are back at school, and whether they’re just starting to read or learning the Pythagorean Theorem, they’re going to be learning something about sex.

Don’t look so surprised. Regardless of your children’s age, many of the behaviors they will learn or face as they navigate the jungle of the corridors and playground have their roots in sexual behavior both instinctive and learned. As parents you can help with each for the benefit of your children and everyone around them.

First, there’s sex education itself. Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia including New Jersey, mandate some sort of sex education, but it’s up to the states to determine what to teach. Twenty-seven states, including both Pennsylvania and New Jersey require schools provide STD and HIV/AIDS education, and the school’s curriculum must be available to parents for review.

While  there are  highly regarded professional  standards  available to educators,  curricula as taught may not be medically accurate, may teach abstinence-only and only two states – California and Louisiana – specifically prohibit the teaching of religion as part of sex education. So, parents should be engaged enough to know what, if any, sex education curriculum is taught in their children’s schools.

Then there’s what I call the “sexual climate” of a school, how it feels to be in that specific building, among those specific faculty, staff and students.

Generally, scholars describe a healthy school climate as having 4 components:

  • A physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning
  • A social environment that promotes communication and interaction
  • An affective environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem for all; and
  • An academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment

A healthy sexual climate in a school addresses these issues as they pertain to sexuality.   A school with a healthy sexual climate promotes tolerance and respect and responds’ quickly to real or perceived threats including rumor, innuendo and bullying. Responses by school personnel to teasing and touching offer teachable moments early in the year, and opportunities to show the consequences of ignoring rules as the school year progresses.  Little ones learn not to tease, and older ones learn that even high-status kids don’t get to grab anyone’s breasts or genitals.

Here’s where parents can play a most important role:  teaching children about empathy. It doesn’t always come naturally to a child, and in fact, it is developmentally normal for  young people to  see the world as revolving around him or herself. But a healthy regard for what other people are feeling will help   your child resist the impulse to snap a girl’s bra strap, tip over the books she’s carrying or call her names when she starts to develop physically. It will help them from shunning the unpopular student, or making fun of their looks, manners of speech or interests, or posting anything on-line without the expressed permission of the subject.

It’s too easy for parents write these behaviors off as “kids will be kids” or to recall one’s own childhood behavior. After all, you turned out all right, didn’t you? But if you look back, what did those inconsiderate and bullying actions mean to the boys and girls at whom they were directed?  How did you learn empathy, and how should your children learn? Does your child stop and think about how his or her actions or words will make the other person feel?

Living an empathic life takes a conscious effort for everyone, but one only has to look at how society is roiling over sexual abuse, sexual harassment and the decline in civil discourse to understand how important it is.

The highest standard for promoting sexual health and safety is for parents to send their children out in the world filled with age-appropriate, medically accurate information about sexuality, wrapped up in their  family’s values. If you haven’t had the conversation about empathy you haven’t finished the conversation about sex. Empathy is certainly a subtext of a great deal of what’s taught in school, but if your children are really going to learn this most important lesson you’ll have to start by teaching it at home.

 

 

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

 

Conspiracies of silence endanger sexual health and safety

The news that more than 300 Pennsylvania priests may have sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children during the last 70 years is shocking for the enormity of the accusation, but by now there have been enough of these tragic accusations against so many of our institutions that parents should be neither unaware of the risks to their children nor unwilling to confront those risks before their own child might be abused.

The grand jury indictments accuse the Catholic Church of covering up the abuse with criminal conspiracies of silence. Healthy institutions – and the family is the most basic institution of our society — need to break the silence about sexual health and safety, and there is never a better time than the present to do that.

Let’s start with a few basic ideas:

  • Children should have medically accurate, age-appropriate facts about sexual anatomy and physiology. Little kids should know all the external parts; as kids age they need to know the internal parts and all kids need to know that sexual arousal is an autonomic reflex. Too many predators entrap kids by convincing a child they were not a victim because they became aroused. Parents can neutralize the pedophile’s devastating, all too-common tool with medically accurate information.
  • Parents can open a conversation by reminding children that many people will put their own interests above that of someone else. Children may have already experienced that by being bullied or lied to or experiencing someone taking something of theirs. Abusing someone sexually is but one of the many ways people put their own feelings above those of another, and it’s one that can leave most damaging scars. Especially if faith plays a role in your family, you will want to address the difference between a person who espouses or teaches the words of  your faith,  and the meaning of those words. Widespread allegations of abuse = can challenge the faith of both child and family, and this is a good chance to draw a defining line between the meaning of your religion and the actions of the accused priests and the people who protected them.
  • Focus on trust. Damage can cut the deepest when abuse is in the context of a trusted relationship. Pedophile priests are in our news now, but other trusted adults including physicians, educators, parental figures and coaches have been there too. Parents can support their children to trust their own instincts when something doesn’t seem right, and to trust that their parents will listen to them and support them when they share those concerns. I’ve heard stories from peers growing up in the 1960s whose parents smacked them for speaking ill of a priest when the child tried to tell about sexual abuse. I hope those days are long gone –children deserve better, and parents can do better.

Too many parents still feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, yet research shows that parents consistently underestimate the importance children place on their thoughts. Parents may feel as if they don’t know to what say, but other professionals and I can provide resources to help you. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Sex-Wise Parent books and website are but two of the places where you can find help. If you’re’ really uncomfortable, practice roleplaying with a friend, or ask your school or faith-based organization to schedule a parent workshop.

Our children deserve the very best from all the institutions designed to help bring them to healthy, productive adulthood. Parents can focus on their own children now, when headlines can be causing fear and confusion, but in the long term parents can focus on the policies, procedures and sexual climate  of the institutions that serve their children.

Support for your children’s sexual health and safety must start at home and spread out into the community. Use this current spate of tragic stories to ensure there is no conspiracy of silence around sex in your home.

 

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

 

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

Whats the true rate of abuse in youth serving agencies? What parents need to know…

As a parent, you’ve probably heard enough stories about child abuse in sports teams and youth organizations to make your head spin. A study published online today in JAMA Pediatrics offers both good news and cause for some concern when it comes to the rate of abuse in these groups.

This good news is that this study, whose authors are among the most respected names in child abuse research, finds sexual abuse in youth-serving organizations to be relatively rare. The researchers combined data from three national population telephone surveys to create a sample of 13,052 children, ranging from infants to age 17.

Less than 1 percent of all children report any type of abuse in “youth-serving organizations such as schools and religious/recreational groups” and only 6.4 percent of that number report sexual abuse. While this is a thankfully low percentage, it tells us that as many as 100,000 kids may experience sexual abuse in a youth serving organization and that prevention efforts by these organizations and all parents must continue.

Results from this study left me with an unanticipated area of concern: Of the children who reported abuse in a youth-serving agency or organization, 64 percent of the abuse by an adult was verbal or emotional. Based on this study, it’s estimated that up to 1 million kids could answer yes to the question: “Did you get scared or feel really bad because grown-ups in your life called you names, said mean things to you, or said they didn’t want you?” Emotional abuse, or bullying by an adult in a youth-serving organization, is 10 times more prevalent than sexual abuse, and the scars can be deep and long lasting. This is unacceptable, and is a call to action for parents.

Parents should consider action on two fronts: with their children and with their youth organizations. First, open communication with their children should include a conversation making it clear that coaches and other adults may say things are difficult to hear sometimes, but remarks from a good coach make a child want to work harder and do better, not make them feel bad or unwanted. Parents should encourage their children to share any concerns about a coach or staff members’ behavior or language.

Secondly, parents and caregivers should also investigate the policies and procedures of any organization serving their children. Learn the basics like how staff and volunteers are screened and trained, but don’t stop there. Most youth sports teams have specific volunteer or required roles to help the team operate, like “snack parent” or “equipment parent.” As the next team season approaches, think about collaborating with other parents to develop a rotating schedule for a “stand parent”, an adult to attend each game or practice to watch from the stands and cheer for each player, while keeping an eye and ear open for inappropriate treatment of kids by staff and volunteers.

Child abuse statistics are notoriously inexact for many reasons, including difficulty identifying people to count, and wide variations in definitions. Last week, the federal government released its major annual report which shows a much lower count of all types of child abuse than the estimates reported in the JAMA article. The federal report only counts children where the abuse is both known to the public child protection agency, and if the abuse appears to be serious enough to meet each state’s legal definition.

The study reported in JAMA this week uses a very different, but critical definition: does a child feel as if they have been abused.  There are hundreds of thousands of children who feel the scar from some type of abuse and there’s no public agency on the way to help.  Every caring adult can do their part in counteracting that by being a loving, respectful, and trustworthy presence in the lives of all children about whom they care.

All children deserve great childhoods, and all adults have a role to play in making sure that happens. These two reports remind us just how much farther we have to go to ensure safe and healthy childhoods for all.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and Programs for Prevent Child Abuse America 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.

 

 

Help Kids Have a Safe and Healthy New Years Eve!

Help Kids Have a Safe and Healthy New Years Eve!

Many families plan big celebrations for New Year’s Eve, and many kids may think they’ve outgrown spending such a social evening with their parents. Separating from parents and individuating socially and physically is a key part of growing up, and planning for New Year’s Eve together can provide an opportunity to strengthen the foundation for sexual health and safety of your children.

School aged kids may be old enough to celebrate with sleepovers at a friend’s house. In this case, make sure you have accurate information about the host parents plans for the evening. Know every person who will be in the house and spending the night, both kids and adults. Parents hosting the party may be inviting their adult friends to spend the night as well as the friends of their children; that could potentially expose a vulnerable child to an intoxicated stranger.

I strongly recommend that sleepovers operate under a “check your cellphone at the door” rule. Even when you’ve reminded your children how much your family values honesty and respect, sleepy kids facing peer pressure can forget your values quicker than you can say “Instagram”.

Teens may want to emulate the celebrations they see in the media. Like prom night, New Year’s Eve can be a night where high expectations for a special occasion can cloud judgment. If your teens will be going out, make sure they have a plan for the evening, have them share the plan with you and set up a check -in mechanism so you can be sure that they stick to the plan.

Remind teens that your family’s values include staying sober, and making conscious, deliberate decisions about sexual activity. The pre-party or big-date discussion might also include a reminder about the physiology of sexual arousal; arousal is an autonomic response to stimulation and a sign that a growing body is working properly. Arousal is not an invitation or permission slip to be sexually active. This is also the right time to remind your child that your family’s values do not include pressuring anyone into any sexual act.

People of all ages may use New Year’s Eve as an excuse to drink alcohol. A toast may be considered socially acceptable for adults, but for kids it’s still underage drinking with all of the risks that implies. Parents can be criminally liable for enabling underage drinking and your pre-party chat should remind your child about the stupidity of getting into a car with someone who has been drinking.

New Year’s Eve is a good time to introduce a promise to your teen that they can call you to come pick them up, any time, any place with no questions asked until the next morning. This promise can life-saving; one bad judgment by your teen or one of their friends may place them in a place or situation that they need help getting out of. If that happens, you want to be a phone call away; your teen should not have to weigh the dangers of your temper against the dangers of their situation.

The littlest children will be at home, but thought needs to be given to their wellbeing if parents plan to celebrate. Demonstrate your value of placing your children first on your priority list by having a designated parent-in-charge so a child will always have access to a sober, attentive parent when they need one. If you plan to go out, be sure to thoroughly vet the baby sitter and leave hard and fast rules about visitors, celebration and kids’ bedtimes. Get accurate information about what’s happening in your house by calling home; enjoy a video-chat and send New Year’s greeting to your kids!

The best recipe for growing sexually safe and healthy kids is based on parents sending their kids out in the world filled with accurate information wrapped up in that family’s values. Special events when a child might think that every day rules don’t apply present an important opportunity for parents to a have their say, and now is the time to prepare for your child’s New Year’s celebration.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and Programs for Prevent Child Abuse America 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.

 

 

Helping kids understand the meaning of Halloween costumes

Helping kids understand the meaning of Halloween costumes

 

Parents are in the final throes of preparing for Halloween, buying candy, decorating their houses and in too many families fighting over costumes that make a parent cringe.

Whether the costume makes a politically-incorrect statement or projects an image you can’t stomach (Miley twerking, anyone?) Halloween can present some important teaching moments.  Even if you ultimately ban the costume with a strong “because I said so” you can get a few points across during the debate.

Girls especially are pressured into appearing sexual at young ages, exposed by the media to baby bikinis and padded bras for eight-year-olds. Boys may need  help understanding what is really conveyed by the tough-guy looks or dressing  as a character known for violence.  A common problem among latency aged, pre-sexual kids is that they may know that a certain type of look is equated with being attractive without understanding that it has a sexual  or dangerously violent connotation. When a nine-year-old girl chooses a Halloween costume with a decidedly “hooker-ish” look, a parent needs to supplement their “no” with a justification.   Explaining to kids that certain kinds of  clothes carry a certain kind of message (one that is not always appropriate for their age) is a good place to start. Consider using  a uniform as an example.   “When you wear shin guards, I know you’re getting ready to play soccer”.   You can then continue on and explain to a school-aged child that a particular look is seen by some people as a uniform to “kiss” or “flirt” or some other term in that will make a nine-year-old think, “Yuck.”

Older kids may think they know exactly the message they are conveying with their costume and are happy to do so.  In that case a Sex-Wise Parent makes it clear that “this is not a message we allow in our family.  It does not support your sexual health and safety, which is very important to me.”

This  is also a good time to remind our kids, particularly adolescents, that a persons attire NEVER is to be taken as an invitation for sexual contact.    If your teen reminds you that those two messages sound like they contradict each other  remind them that not everyone understands  or lives by the  latter point.

We must let our kids know that there are some rules we’ll bend on Halloween, like how much chocolate they can have in a single day, and other rules that are hard and fast.   They don’t get a day off from thinking about the messages they send  about their sexuality.

For more information, see The Sex-Wise Parent!

Mutual consent laws?  Parental advice has much  more to offer!

Mutual consent laws? Parental advice has much more to offer!

 

Consent for sex is in the news these days – from Bill Cosby’s acknowledgement to using drugs which removed partners’ capability to consent, to proposed mutual consent state laws and campus policies — there is a lot of buzz on this topic and that’s a good thing.

The buzz is turning into initiatives on college campuses and elsewhere to require clear and provable mutual consent before sex, but that solution brings with it another raft of problems. The better solution – which parents can do themselves, today – is to show and teach their children the values of honesty and respect that will make date rape unthinkable.

Parents need to be their children’s primary sex educators.  But unlike the conversations about anatomy and physiology, which I know makes some parents uncomfortable, conversations about honesty and respect should be easy to have.

And you’re probably doing some of it already.

We start with the youngest of kids when we teach them not to take things that don’t belong to them. We teach them to think about the effect their behaviors have on others.  We teach them to be kind and honest, and we teach them to stand up for themselves if they are being taken advantage of.   And as they grow up, we hope they will develop good judgement.  That doesn’t happen overnight and there’s a good reason why.

In his book aptly entitled Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen[1]Dr. David Walsh says that modern neuroscience provides a window into some of the mysteries of the teen years. He says “because the prefrontal cortex’s (PFC) wiring is incomplete, the adolescent’s PFC can’t always distinguish between a good decision and a bad one, no matter how smart a kid is.”  Couple this undeveloped ability to assess risk and make good decisions with hormonally induced physical urges and appetites, and we see that kids need adult guidance now more than ever and want it less, making parenting a challenge.

 

Brain development continues into the early twenties; we are sending kids off to college before their capacity for judgement is fully formed. Situations that arise from  bad judgement, like substance abuse and  ill-considered sex  on campuses is certainly not news; the American College Health Association has been promoting programmatic solutions to these issues for at least three decades, and many campuses take advantage of  proven tactics to reduce  out of control behavior.

 

What is new now is that we are finally  talking about  sexual coercion and  ways to make it stop;  the calls for  consent laws and polices is a sign that this behavior is no longer tolerable.

Social media is filled with expressions of disgust at entitled,  high-status males helping themselves to the sexual acts with  females incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

 

Whether it’s TV’s favorite Dad or a college football team, its variations on a theme and the mood is right to make it stop. Parents can step up and be the heroes here who raise children to live by the values that abhor this behavior.  When teens are in situations where their undeveloped sense of judgement may be overcome by hormones and alcohol, they need sober peers and adults in their life to monitor their behavior.  And if parents aren’t physically present, their values can be there with their child.  When tempted  to do something stupid there’s nothing wrong with a parents voice resonating a  young man’s  head  saying “that’s not how we  behave in our family”.

 

Consent laws are also a new idea, but as well-intentioned as they are, consent laws are essentially unenforceable and may also have some unintended consequences. Recorded consent to sexual acts may go viral and do as much damage as a physical act.  A wide net may be cast and trap people who had no ill intent.

 

The best thing about the proposed consent laws and polices is  that they’re starting a starting some very important discussions.  The best prevention comes from parents’ expression, in word and deed, that sex is an expression of a relationship between two people whose consent is never coerced.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and programs for Prevent Child Abuse America 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.



[1] David Walsh Why Do They Act That Way? Free Press, NY 2004

 

This post originally appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Mutual-consent-laws–can-we-legislate-intimate-conversations-.html