"Stranger danger" used to be the main threat we warned our children about, the threat from the outside that crept in, the stranger in the darkened car that lured children in with candy. Now, sadly, parents must concern themselves not only with strangers hiding in public places but must contend with trusted caretakers who abuse children as well as the threat that comes from the internet.
How do we keep our children safe from danger? Below are some ideas.
Information is Key
A PSA from the seventies used to go: "It's 3:00 do you know where your children are?" These days, that kind of melodramatic message doesn't work, but the idea behind it is important. Do you know where your children are, who they are with, who their friends are, what their activities and schedules are? These are all important things to know because a dramatic shift in your child's schedule, a sudden need to either be with a caretaker more or to avoid them altogether may be signs that something is wrong. Know what your child does, where she goes, who she is with and pay attention to alterations in her activities.
Online Danger, Online Help
The internet has revolutionized our world and has increased accessibility to many services and information previously limited. It has also had the tragic side effect of giving sexual predators more opportunities to prey on children.
It is imperative that children be informed about the danger of online predators. Educate your children about the internet, warn them about revealing personal information to strangers on the internet, especially those that seem overly friendly or who make inappropriate comments or solicit invitations to meet secretly.
While the internet has given predators an opportunity to prey, it has also given parents a weapon to use in the fight to keep children safe. Numerous websites are devoted to helping parents protect their children. For example, the "Child Predator Watch List" has up to date information regarding child predators who are currently active, children who are currently missing or who have been abducted, and information on how you can keep your children from becoming a victim of a child predator.
Another way to stay informed regarding child predators is to search the National Sex Offender Registry. Most states currently have sexual predator registration programs and this information is not secret. You can search the database by name or by geographic area to be better informed about sexual predators in your neighborhood.
Keep in mind, however, that the danger comes not only from the places where one expects it, but oftentimes, sadly, the danger comes from where one least expects it. Be watchful. Be aware. Be involved.
Be Open About Sexual Abuse
Information should not extend in only one direction. Not only should parents be informed about sexual abuse, but children must be educated as well. Be open with your children. Talk to them about sexual abuse. Let them know you love them; make sure they know they can trust you with anything. Two of the major emotions sexual predators capitalize upon are the emotions of shame and guilt. Predators use these emotions to hold children prisoners keeping secrets they are too embarrassed to share.
Educate your children not only about strangers, but about what is and is not appropriate behaviour from any adult, including family members and caretakers. Teach them about their bodies, teach them about privacy and about how they and others should respect their bodies.
Educate your children, but don't scare them or make them paranoid. Help them to be aware so they can remain safe.
*~Aisling Ireland~* is long time human rights activist, a member of Amnesty International, a One Campaign supporter, writer, and an ordained Spiritual Counselor.
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