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Amanda Morin is a parenting and education writer who draws on over a decade of expertise as a teacher, early intervention specialist and parent educator. She is author of The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book, writes and maintains KidsActivities.About.com; and is a regular contributor to numerous other media outlets, including PopSugar Moms. She is passionate about online safety for children.
Sep 10, 2013
My husband and I have always been very open and frank with our kids. Conversations about the tough stuff like sex, drugs, peer pressure, and sexuality? We started having those at developmentally appropriate levels when the kids were really young and continued to add more information and answer questions as they grew older. The kids talk to us about pretty much anything, which makes me feel like we’re doing our job well.
But it’s amazing how some things in life sneak up and smack the smug right off of you. Things like finding out a close family member has been downloading, watching, and possessing sexuality explicit material of minors for years.
As soon as I found out, I had to go into Super-Mom mode and have a tough conversation I never thought to have with my kids. A discussion about child pornography, sexual predators, and how crimes some people might see as “victimless,” aren’t victimless in the least.
How do you tell your kids that “Stranger Danger” isn’t just about strangers if you never stop to consider it yourself? On that count, I know I was naive. Professionally, I’ve worked with a number of children who were victimized by someone they knew. And I know the statistics. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that in 3 out of 4 cases of reported child sexual abuse, the abuser is a family member or an adult who is otherwise in a child’s circle of trust.
This was true in our case. After I sat down and told my teen of the arrest, I asked her very plainly if she’d been asked to look at, talk about or do anything that made her uncomfortable. In fact, I asked her over and over in a thousand different ways. Then I asked my preteen the same questions in a less overwhelming, but just as direct, way.
Thank goodness, neither of them had been victimized. But in a way they had been. I had to explain to my kids why they couldn’t, wouldn’t and shouldn’t have any contact with their uncle. They were betrayed by a person they loved and trusted, and all of us learned our world wasn’t as safe as we thought.
We all had the conversation we probably should have had a long time ago. We talked about child pornography, what it is and how it exploits children. We talked about how people use the Internet to lure children into unsafe situations. We talked about what they, as kids can and should do when they feel uncomfortable or as though something just isn’t right.
We talked about how I had ignored some of my instincts in the way their uncle related to them because other adults weren’t willing to hear me out, and that I shouldn’t have ignored the niggling unease.
It’s a conversation we should have had a long time ago, before we needed to. I’m here to tell you sex offenders live among us, and not talking to your children about it because you think it will never come up in their lives is arrogant, naive, and potentially harmful.
Start having the conversations. Let your child know that there are “sneaky people” out there, not just that they need to be aware of “stranger danger.” Let them know the world isn’t always safe, but you, as their parent, will always do what you can to keep them safe. And know that talking about sex offenders is one way of keeping them safe.