Safety Tips Every Mom Should Know

Jesus had a special heart for the suffering and vulnerable.  Children are indeed vulnerable because of their youth, and it is our job as adults to protect them.  I recall Jesus' words to his disciples concerning our day of accounting in heaven, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40, NIV).  What can we do to come alongside our children and protect them from abuse in the name of Christ?

I attended a seminar on child abuse recently and learned that the best prevention is education; thus I am sharing some important tips with you.  Sexual abuse in children is more common than we might think.  It can make us uncomfortable to "go there," but doing so can be what makes the difference.  Perhaps you will find these statistics as starling as I did:

Startling statistics:
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday
  • The median age for reported abuse is 9 years old
  • 98% of offenses against girls and 90% against boys are committed by males
  • Less than 1% of child sexual assaults reported by a child have be found to be false
  • 90% of offenses are committed by someone known to the child and trusted by the parents

Child abuse is called the hidden epidemic, because it has the highest rate of recidivism (re-offense after a conviction or sentence) of any other crime.  What's more, 95% of child abusers were themselves abused as children.  Thus, it's a perpetuating cycle.

Luckily, most offenses occur after a period of grooming and desensitization by the offender;  therefore, they are often preventable.  The criminal prosecutor that I heard speak said that the offender often begins by showing favoritism to a child, like giving special presents and sitting next to him or her and casually rubbing their leg.  Therefore, having our radar up, observing our children around others, and trusting our instincts are key to prevention.

Because 85% of child abuse occurs in a one-on-one setting, here are some additional and concrete steps that we can take:
  1. Identify private parts to your child.  The best time to do this is during bath time for young children.  An easy way for them to remember is whatever is covered by their swimsuits is private.  Explain to older children that no one should pressure them to do things that make them feel uncomfortable.
  2. Teach your child the proper names of private parts.  That way, if your child ever attempts to report abuse, any adult can understand what is going on. 
  3. Never force a child to be physically affectionate with an adult.  Children need to know that they are in charge in a physical situation with an adult.
  4. Monitor the supervision of your child's activities and make a habit of stopping in unexpectedly, even on family members.  When I did youth ministry, we were encouraged to have "two-deep" leadership, meaning that there were always two adults with children - never just one.
  5. Trust your child's instincts.  Do not force or encourage situations where your child is uncomfortable.  Let him or her know you respect their feelings and instincts.  Our goal is to empower our children.
  6. Your child should speak with confidence after an interaction with an adult; monitor any changes in mood and reluctance to speak about time spent apart from you.  Both are warning signs.
  7. Set family boundaries.  All members of your family should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities.  If anyone in your family expresses a desire for privacy, all family members need to respect it.
  8. Do not have secrets in your house, only surprises!  I found this to be an interesting and helpful tip.  Make it a family rule that there are no secrets in your house.  Explain the difference between a secret (something that you are never meant to tell and excludes others) and a surprise (something that's exciting and revealed after a short time).  Tell children the worst secrets of all are secrets about private parts.
  9. One way to equip children with confidence in decision-making and self-protection is to play the "What-If Game."  When faced with an uncomfortable situation with an adult, children often don't know how to react and fall back into obeying the adult.  Use downtime at restaurants, appointments, shopping, etc. to give children real-life examples of situations that may happen and talk about what they should do.  Help them come up with appropriate responses.  With younger children, it often helps to mix silly situations in with more serious scenarios.  Use new experiences like sleepovers, camps, etc. or incidents in the news as opportunities to go over the "rules" with older children.
  10. Always encourage an open line of communication between you and your child! 

Finally, if you suspect abuse, here are some important pointers:
  • Believe your child and make sure he or she knows it.  Thank them for coming to you and praise their courage.
  • Encourage your child to tell you what happened without using leading questions and try to remain calm so that you respond appropriately.
  • Assure your child that it is your responsibility to protect him or her and you will do everything possible to make sure it happens.
  • Report the abuse to trained professionals and don't panic.  Sexually abused children who receive support and help can and do heal.  Your belief in them and your commitment to stop the abuse is a large part of the battle.

I hope you find this information as valuable as I did.  Please help me pass it on.  WE can make a difference in protecting our children!  Together, we can help make God's creation safer for the vulnerable who are under our watch.

These statistics and tips are a summarization and sometimes direct copy of information by criminal prosecutor Beth Little and are used with her permission.  She lives in NJ and has four children.  For further reading and help, Beth's recommendations include the DARKNESS to LIGHT and Stop It Now! agencies. 


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