Note: In light of the recent controversy surrounding charges of child molestation at Penn State, I will delay posting the second part of “Simple Advice For A Successful Marriage” until next week so that I may deal with this serious issue facing families in a timely manner.
When I was growing up my parents were overprotective, unrealistic, nosey, bossy and didn’t understand at all my need for freedom or privacy … and I’m thankful. I know that may sound odd in our current culture of parental obliviousness, but when I see the dangerous – and even deadly – world that children are raised in today, I am thankful that my parents loved me enough to not let me do whatever I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.
This morning, as I thought about the sick allegations of repeated sexual abuse of young boys by an emeritus professor at one of our nation’s most prestigious universities I kept asking myself, “Where were their parents? Why didn’t their parents do whatever was necessary to protect them from this animal? Why were these boys out by themselves with this man?”
Now, I know that there are many children who are abused by family members, friends and even their own parents. In fact, we have heard just in recent days of parents who have evidently abused and even murdered their own children. I also know that reports state that some of these boys who were sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky were either foster children or underprivileged children of families who sought help through the professor’s non-profit organization, The Second Mile. However, I think that more could have – and should have – been done to keep from having their young lives ruined.
To be sure, it’s natural for children to want the freedom to go where they want, with whoever they want, whenever they want. But I know from my own observation and personal experience that even though this may be what children want, it is not what they need. Children don’t need unfettered freedom or unlimited privacy. They need parents who love them enough to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe, even if this means being nosey, unrealistic or overprotective.
Growing up in Milan, Tennessee I had two friends whose parents basically let them do whatever they wanted to do from a very, very early age. I have to admit that I was jealous. They could eat whatever they wanted to eat. They could go wherever they wanted to go – with whoever they wanted to go with. There was no curfew when they had to be home, and most of the time there was nobody waiting for them when they got home. They could watch anything that they wanted to watch on the television or VCR. As a result they saw things in their homes that no doubt had a deep and detrimental impact on their young hearts and minds. There was nobody standing over them at night to make sure that they brushed their teeth or got their homework done. I have to admit that at the time I was jealous. I wanted the freedom that I thought they had. I felt that it would be great to eat, go, come and watch whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
As I reflect on this “freedom,” I realize that it wasn’t a good thing after all. In reality it was a bad thing in the lives of my two friends. One of them ended up as a teenage dad with a “shotgun wedding.” And while his life has been a testimony to the grace of God and the blessings that come from having a caring and committed church family, no doubt there were tough and troubled times early on. My other friend wasn’t as fortunate. He ended up dead in a cotton field, the evident victim of a drug deal gone bad. I will never forget seeing the black and white picture of a pool of blood on a country road with a cotton field as a background and his name in the caption in our local, small town newspaper.
So, this morning when I heard the reports of sexual abuse and absentee parents, I thought first of my two friends and then about my own two children. I began to think about what I could do to make sure that nothing like this ever happens to my children. After all, I am responsible for them. I am to be their primary and strongest protector. Nobody is to hurt or harm them in any way. It’s my job to make sure of that.
As parents it is our responsibility to protect our children from those who might seek to harm them, whether that person is a family member, “friend” or complete stranger. So, let me share five simple statements that I believe will go a long way towards making sure that your children are safe from predators.
1. Know where your children are. I remember getting so angry with my parents when they told me that I couldn’t go somewhere with my friends. I felt like they didn’t trust me. I thought that I should be able to go hangout with my friends at the mall or park or wherever. It never crossed my mind that these places, where young kids hang out, could be hunting grounds for child predators. Also, I was not allowed to go to friends’ houses whose parents my parents did not know and trust. If you know where your children are at all times, this is a big first step towards making sure they are kept safe.
2. Know who your children are with. Children are naturally trusting. They should be. That is part of the innocence of childhood. It is our job as parents to protect this innocence. We should know who they are with, whether it be other children, their older siblings or parents. If you don’t know their friends or their friends’ siblings or parents, you have ever right to be cautious or even suspicious. Better to err on the side of caution than to put your child into a dangerous situation.
3. Know what your children are doing. We can all remember times when we told our parents we were doing one thing, when in reality we were doing something else. How many times did we say we were studying with a friend and in reality we were cruising the mall? How many sleepovers at a friend’s house were a clever cover for hanging out somewhere else with a bunch of friends at a party? Even if our parents didn’t know better, we should know better now that we’re parents. If you’re children are going to be away from you for a while, ask what their plans are before you drop them off and ask them what they did when you pick them up. To follow a well know maxim, “Trust, but verify.” Also, as a parent, you have every right to check up on your child to see if they really are where they say they are, doing what they said they would be doing. What about privacy? There is no privacy as long as my children live under my roof and I’m responsible for them. Trust? I trust them to act like kids and do stupid things. Their job is to be the child. My job is to be the parent.
4. Know who your children are talking to. Children today have more access to various kinds of communication than any other generation in the history of the world. IMs, DMs, texts, cell phones, Skype, email, etc., our children will grow up in a world where communication is not only constant, but instant. So, set up rules and boundaries on who, when and where they can talk with friends. If you don’t know who the person you’re child is talking to, make it a point to find out. Not everybody who says that they are a 13 year old girl on the computer is a 13 year old girl on the computer. That’s why, if you have children who are old enough to have and use a computer, make sure that it is in a common area, install software to protect them and then watch over them. Also, check their web history frequently to make sure that everything is as it should be and there are no suspicious contacts with your children. Remember, “Trust, but verify.”
5. If they are way from home, know when your children will return.If your child goes out with friends for the afternoon or spends the night at somebody’s house, you should know exactly when they will be home, and then be there waiting on them when they do. Not only do I believe that this will reassure your child and breed a sense of security and safety in their mind, but will also show others that you are watching out for and over your children. This may even serve as a deterrent to a predator if they were to consider abusing your child because they know that you’re vigilant over your child’s comings and goings.
These are just a few simple ideas that I believe will serve as a solid foundation for protecting our children from predators who would seek to harm, or worse, our children. Remember, your children are your children. Don’t worry about huring their feelings, worry about doing what is best for them. Afer all, nobody should be more concerned or more committed to your childrens’ safety and well-being than you – their parents.