What I want to discuss today is how you, the parent, can do everything possible to prepare your child to encounter the Sandusky's of this world and take intentional steps to prevent the Sandusky's of the world from ever taking an interest in your child. This isn't a magic trick. There is no crazy formula for keeping predators at bay. The bottom line is that there is no substitute for involved parenting. Jerry Sandusky was able to do what he did largely because the boys that were attending his program did not have very stable homes or involved parents. But it was an involved parent that started the investigation into Jerry Sandusky's conduct. Does that mean that you have to helicopter over your child in order to prevent all kinds of evil? Of course not.
Know Your ChildYou should, however, attend your child's activities on a regular basis. Get to know his or her coaches and teachers. Get to know the other parents that attend regularly. If you are going to leave your child at an event, know who is in charge and make sure you trust them. There is a difference between being a helicopter and just being informed and involved. Being present with your children will deter most predators looking for an easy target. If you are constantly dumping your child off to their activities and then checking out to do something else, the Sandusky's of the world pick up on that lack of attention to your child. Get involved, be present, and know your child and their life better than they do.
Know the programs that you are letting your child get involved in. For example, I am volunteering at a Vacation Bible School this week. Any parent that is worried about their child's safety at our program has not asked enough questions. Every volunteer has to have a multi-state background check. There is a "two-adult rule" - there are always two adults in each classroom. There will never be a one-on-one situation between student and teacher. All entrances are manned by a volunteer to make sure that strangers do not enter the premises. I hope that most churches and event organizers take steps like this to ensure that the unthinkable doesn't happen on their property.
Listen To Your ChildMake sure you give your child opportunities to talk to you one-on-one. Allow them to feel safe telling you anything. Don't jump down their throat when you hear the first thing you don't agree with, they might clam up and not tell you the rest of their story because they fear you'll be angry. Listen to your child and refrain from judgement until you have heard the entire story. Make sure your child knows that there are no secrets between you.
Also, listen to the people around your child. Listen to the other parents, coaches, volunteers, and kids. Listen to the way they talk about anyone suspicious. Do they think he or she is overly friendly? Do they touch too much? These are the sorts of things that parents and kids will talk about in the bleachers, on the way back to the car, and even at other events off the field.
Educate Your ChildMost children are educated about good touch/bad touch, but they might be embarrassed to tell you if something happened. If you don't have that sort of conversation on a semi-regular basis, it might seem like a "taboo" subject to your child, and therefore, they will hesitate to talk to you about it. Let your child know what appropriate boundaries are: they should never be alone in private with a coach behind closed doors, they should not be in a coach's car without your permission, anyone offering a ride should always have a code word that only you and your child would know.
Follow ThroughIf something seems odd, investigate. If someone rouses your suspicions, be vigilant. Trust your gut. If something feels wrong, make sure that you follow through with any credible suspicions. If you have any evidence or well founded suspicions, REPORT THEM. If you don't know your local agency, just call 1-800-4AChild and you can anonymously leave all of the necessary information. These calls are then farmed out to the local agencies that are required, by law, to investigate any claim. One of the greatest tragedies of the Penn State scandal is that so much information seems to have been guarded by those who are mandated to report abusive activity. If you ever suspect a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, I urge you to please report it - no matter what may be at stake. The safety and well-being of a child is always the higher priority.
What about you? Is there any advice you would like to give parents who are looking for tips on keeping their kids safe at extra-curricular activities? What steps have you taken to improve your knowledge of your child's coaches, teachers, etc?