Every day we hear news reports of stories involving coaches, teachers, youth ministers, camp leaders, day care workers and other adults entrusted with the care of children on a daily basis who are violating that trust. As a parent, we wonder if anyone can be trusted with our children. How can a parent or child know when an adult is crossing the line of mentor to abuser?
First, whenever an adult, regardless of who he or she may be, shows special interest in your child, you need to stop and ask yourself why this is happening. Is the adult truly trying to help your child be a better soccer player, math student, or is there an ulterior motive? Do not question your parental concerns. You have every right to be concerned when another adult thinks your child is special.
Second, consider if the adult would be meeting with the child individually or in a group. If it is in a group of similar age and gender children and more than one adult is present you may have less concern than when the coach is offering one to one training after practice ends or before it begins. Any adult meeting individually with a child outside of regularly scheduled times should always be sure to ask the parent for permission, explaining when, where and for how long the meeting will occur. If anyone is uncomfortable with the arrangements, speak up immediately.
Third, to protect yourself as an adult working with children and to prevent rumors that may cost you your reputation you should never meet in private with young children. Always arrange to meet when a parent can be present, or another trusted adult is available.
Fourth, consider talking to your child directly about how adults may show them special attention as a way of grooming them to become a victim. Children are smart and resilient and may pick up vibes that other adults miss. Remind children to tell another adult immediately if anything makes them uncomfortable and report it to their parents.
Finally, if an adult mentor is in any way inappropriate towards your child or any other child, do not let it slide. Be sure to confront him or her directly and preferably with other adults present. Make a note of who was present and witnessed the encounter and when it happened. Next, report it to the individualís boss.
One reason child predators reach so many victims is they are extremely charming and able to talk their way out of a situation by twisting it around. Yet, every time a parent or victim does not report the incident, the abuser becomes more bold and confident of his or her abilities to groom both children and adults. He or she uses the misunderstood me or it is not what it looked like excuses to prove that he is doing nothing wrong, and if that fails they will swear this is the first time and that it will never happen again.
Please always report your concerns to the police if you witness something and always follow your heart it something tells you not to trust someone. Our internal mechanism of awareness is rarely wrong when it raises the hair on the back of our neck, unfortunately many of us are too quick to dismiss the thoughts we have too quickly because after all he or she is a coach, teacher, youth minister, camp counselor or other adult that society tends to trust without a second thought.