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
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.
I guess it’s understandable that the big question right now seems to be what Joe Paterno knew and when he knew it. As a Penn State alum, this makes me beyond sad. As an undergraduate, I actually had President Spanier as a professor in the College of Human Development, and my first masters degree is from what was then the College of Health and Physical Education. Parterno was among that faculty in my day, so this is personal to me.
I’ve devoted a large part of my career to the investigation, treatment and prevention of sexual abuse of children, much of it based on the foundation of the fine education I received from Penn State. We cannot condemn the entire institution. And solely focusing on Paterno – who I can’t help but thinking of as the Pope of Penn State – will not save any children. It’s truly unthinkable to me that a 21st century professional could think a phone call to anyone other than police was a sufficient response to an alleged eye-witness report of a child’s rape in one of his facilities. On the other hand, the thought of someone raping a child in one of his facilities may have seem so completely implausible that perhaps he thought his minimal response was adequate. Anyone who has ever had to face the crushing reality that a partner has been unfaithful for years or that a trusted employee has been embezzling money knows that the human mind only understands that which seems possible to us. Maybe, just maybe, this seemed so impossible to Paterno that he found his response sufficient.
So here’s one lesson for parents — Do not ever forget that the sexual abuse of children is a reality and the perpetrator really can be anyone. Even someone who appears to be a fine upstanding person who cares for your child and maybe even your family. Even a favorite teacher. A coach. The person you’re dating. The babysitter.
Here’s another lesson — There is absolutely no choice but to knowas much as you can about every adult spending time with your child. There is no substitute for vigilance. A convicted pedophile I interviewed for my book The Sex Wise Parent made it quite clear that kids lacking vigilant parents or caretakers were much more attractive targets. Pedophile coaches notice which parents stay for practice or show up unannounced then really pay attention to what’s happening on the field.
Here’s a third — Pedophiles ingratiate themselves into the life of your child and sometimes your family, and seduce your child by meeting his or her needs. This need could be emotional such as affection and attention from an adult male, or tangible as Todd Bridges described regarding his abuse by his publicist in his autobiography KillingWillis. By the time sex is introduced the child (or in some awful cases, the family) may accept sex as the price to be paid for the positive points of the relationship. The allegations reported in the Grand Jury report describe the seduction of vulnerable children with trips and gifts.
And the last lesson for now is this; families must provide children with information and language about sexuality. I’ll provide detail on how parents can do this in future posts. For now, concentrate on opening your mind to be able to think the unthinkable. Maybe if Joe Pa had been able to do that a few kids might have been saved.