“Listen to me sweet pea, don’t go up to any creepy looking people offering candy or kittens alright? Remember what we talked about?”
“And what else?”
“Don’t drop any F bombs in school?”
“That’s my smart safety girl!”
This is how I imagine our “stranger danger” safety talk would have sounded, if we’d ever had one. My daughter is agonizingly awkward around anyone who didn’t give birth to her (or help out in the delivery room). Even when my husband and I are nearby, she has a hesitancy toward playing with other kids, taking her turn on the slide or even claiming the free treat that comes with the kid’s meal.
I’m not implying that she’s better than other kids because she overly cautious. I didn’t teach her this behavior, not intentionally. I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of her being born prematurely with a lot of health problems and having highly introverted parents. I can’t really even fathom a scenario in which anything would able to lure my daughter away from whatever solo activity she was engaged in. Not for all the Minecraft games, ponies or screen time in the world.
By now we’re all well aware of the clichéd man in the trench coat, that monster we warn our children against. I’d also like to think we’ve graduated to questioning the boy (or girl) next door, quiet and unassuming, as a possible threat too.
What about our teachers? More and more it seems I’m hearing about another student/teacher affair. Whether it’s the female teacher taking advantage of a young male student and he thinking himself a stud or a male teacher with a female student and she thinking there is a real relationship there and they are in love, the point is they both think they are in a consensual relationship when neither of them are.
The Catholic Church is notorious for their sex scandals. Just over three months ago here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area of MN we had Archbishop John C. Nienstedt along with Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche resign in the wake of criminal sex abuse charges against the archdiocese.
Police Corruption has seen its share of the spotlight too. According to the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis Police Department faced 61 lawsuits in 2013 that alleged excessive force that led to injury. In addition to that, an estimated $14 million dollars was paid out in litigation for misconduct cases that were filed between 2006-2012.
And as scary as all that is, according to RAINN (Rape Abuse & Incest National Network) 93% of sexual abuse reported against juveniles was perpetrated by a trusted friend or relative. Ninety-three percent.
The very people we tell our kids to find and trust in a time of need are the ones taking advantage of the situation and abusing their power. Is it really that much more terrifying to imagine our children being traumatized by a stranger at a bus stop than to find out uncle Mike has been asking your son or daughter to keep their “special secret”? I’m not saying one is worse than the other, they are both horrible. Imagining a kid experiencing any kind of abuse by a stranger and of course it’s distressing. Hopefully they have the safety of their home and family to go to. They get the message that strangers are dangerous (which they can be), family is not.
What about the opposite? What about a child who is not safe at home? They might wonder, is anyone safe?
How can we expect our kids to trust the adults we’re not even sure we can trust? We need to teach them about boundaries. Having boundaries around their bodies and around their personal information, but how do we teach something we may not have learned ourselves?
My daughter is 12 now and sometimes she still kisses me goodnight on the lips and I wonder, is that ok? Sometimes the door isn’t locked when the bathroom is occupied, is that ok? I don’t know. I just have to trust my instinct. And teach her to do the same. Boundaries are so broad of a topic and everyone has a different idea on what is right for them. What I can teach her about is the feeling inside. If it feels icky in your tummy to think about hugging cousin Pat, you don’t have to hug cousin Pat. That’s your boundary. She should respect your feelings and in time, maybe that icky feeling will go away. And maybe it won’t. Either way, do whatever you are comfortable with.
I don’t know if there is one right answer or what that is, but I know it’s not spending the majority of our time and resources educating our children on where 7% of the problem lies.
Teach them about strangers. Teach them about family. Teach them about adults. Teach them about themselves. I think that’s a good place to start.