Keeping an eye on boundaries
Adults have a responsibility to maintain clear and appropriate boundaries in their relationship with minors. Here are some specific behaviors that may indicate that an adult is failing to maintain proper boundaries:
- Having an excessively familiar relationship with a child (e.g., trying to be a child’s friend or “confidant” rather than dealing with them as a professional or treating the child as a “favorite”)
- Trying to be alone with minors, or being with them in private locations (e.g., in living quarters or bedrooms, or giving them rides in a car).
- Displaying sexual materials (especially pornography) to minors
- Having private communications with a minor (e.g., text messages, emails, cell phone calls, instant messages, “Friending” or putting a child on a “buddy list” through a social networking site)
- Giving gifts (especially expensive presents) to children without their parents’ knowledge and consent (other than small items distributed to entire classes or groups)
- Touching children in an inappropriate way (e.g., regularly kissing or hugging a child; tickling or wrestling; holding hands for a long time; repeatedly touching on the arm, back or legs; putting an arm around a child’s waist and leaving it there)
If you become aware of any of these behaviors, you should talk to your child to find out if there is anything else inappropriate going on. You should assure your child that this is not their fault, but that this behavior by the adult is not right. Encourage your child to let you know if anything else inappropriate takes place. You should also monitor very closely any further contact your child has with this adult, or exclude them entirely from any contact with your child. If the adult works with your child in an Archdiocesan program or institution, you should contact the adult’s supervisor immediately.
What to do if you suspect abuse
- Talk to the child. Believe what he or she says and allow them to comfortably discuss the events or actions. Do not pressure them with demands or numerous questions.
- Don’t dismiss the action as a ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘accident’ (sexual abuse is intentional and not an error in judgment.)
- “It’s ok to tell,” that’s the important message for a child to hear. Assure them that they will never get in trouble for tattling or not keeping a secret.
- Keep calm; validate the child’s innocence. Assure the child he or she did nothing wrong. “It’s not your fault.”
- Contact local law enforcement immediately.
Have open discussions with your children
- Emotionally support your child – always. Kids with a strong sense of self are much less vulnerable to an abuser.
- Discuss the human body and where it is okay to touch and where it’s not (“private parts”).
- Validate the idea that “My Body is My Own” and that no one has a right to touch a child anywhere that makes him or her uncomfortable.
- Talk about feelings and what makes physical situations good versus bad. Hugs from one’s parents can be good and different from sitting on a family friend’s lap, which could be weird or funny. (For young children, read-aloud “The Right Touch” by Sandy Kleven, LSCS, Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc.)
- Condition the child that if something happens that makes them uncomfortable they must “SAY NO AND GO” encourage them to get away from the bad person, and then “GO-and-TELL” direct them to find an adult in a position of trust and report what happened.
- Talk to your child daily about school and after-school activities. Listen carefully to his or her descriptions of encounters with adults at school or in programs. Assess the interest that adults show in your child: is it related to their professional concerns (e.g. how he’s doing in math) or their personal lives (e.g. personal outings, giving of gifts, etc.)? If you’re uncomfortable, talk first to the adult about it. Assess his or her reactions. If still uncomfortable, talk next to the adult’s supervisor.
- Be very cautious about outings that only involve certain children without other adult chaperones. Should you hear about such activities contact the program supervisor (e.g. pastor, principal, DRE, etc.) at once.
Teen-Talk, taking time with young adults
- Discuss self-esteem and build their confidence making smart choices and decisions.
- Validate the “trust your gut”- feelings, if it doesn’t feel right-then chances are it is not! The teen years are often confusing for what are bad, curious, or good feelings. No one has a right to touch a teen anywhere that makes him or her uncomfortable.
- Talk about peer pressure and any unusual friendships with older teens or adults.
- Remind them that silence is not a solution; secrets are a sacred and powerful tool for sex offenders and they may instill fear into victims who are ashamed admitting what has happened.
- Encourage an inquisitive mind during Teen-Talk by creating an open forum for questions about right and wrong behavior for teens and adults.
How to listen
The material in the “Younger Kids” and “Older Kids” links that follow is age appropriate for your children. We urge you, however, to review these items with your child as s/he reads them, or soon after reading them.
Better yet, we urge you to role-play situations that might suggest themselves to you by the material that follows.
FOR YOUNGER KIDS, role-playing a common situation like what to do if an aunt or uncle hugs or kisses them too hard is a good way to clarify for them what is bad or simply uncomfortable, and the best way to deal with those situations.
FOR OLDER KIDS, let them read the material themselves and then ask them what they thought about it. Since pre-teens and teenagers are beginning to move in reference groups other than family, the most vital thing is to be aware of their activities – at school, after school, and on the Internet – and with their friends. Rather than ask if they ever engage in certain behaviors, ask if they know of anyone who does. That might make it less threatening for your child and get him or her to open up more.
Above all, LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS, PATIENTLY AND NON-JUDGMENTALLY. Don’t convey in any way that they are at fault. (“How could you be so stupid?” “Why would you go there?” “Haven’t I told you to be more careful?”) Questions like that, along with the tone of voice or sense of anger that usually accompanies them, will simply drive your child away and s/he will be much less inclined to go to you when there is a real problem. Remember, sexual predators consciously choose their victims. They look for kids who don’t seem to have a curfew, who don’t have to stay in touch with their parents, and whose parents or caregivers are never home. If your kids are in frequent touch with you, or if they need your permission to be even a few minutes late, most predators will move on to another child.
WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR US PARENTS TO LISTEN PATIENTLY AND NON-JUDGMENTALLY? The first reason is because we’re grownups. We probably made some of the same mistakes we’re now about to discuss with our kids. We already know where the story is going, so why wait for the end? Let’s just “cut to the chase,” as we often say, or “get to the bottom line”? In our fully formed parental state, it’s always hard to experience something like a kid again. Remember, it took you a good while to develop the moral courage to resist peer pressure. What seems easy and matter-of-fact to us can be unimaginable to them.
SOME THINGS TO DO TO PROMOTE PATIENT AND NON-JUDGMENTAL LISTENING
POSITION & POSTURE:
Never discuss a difficult situation with your child while standing up. And even if you sit, try not to sit on the edge of your chair, as though you’re ready to pounce on the first thing you hear. Sit back in the chair, cross your legs, and drop you arms to the side or put them on the chair armrests – as though you’re watching a long movie. If you are in a relaxed position, it will be easier for you to listen patiently without interrupting and before responding. And a child who thinks s/he is being listened to will reveal more than if s/he thinks otherwise.
Bear in mind, however, that your child, particularly a teen-age child, will prefer to stand, especially in a doorway – probably to make a quick getaway for a dramatic exit followed by a door slam. (If you have stairs in your house or your child’s room is at the end of a long hallway, look out for this strategy!)
To meet this strategy, you should choose to sit in a comfortable chair at the farthest end of the room. That will draw your child into the room. Eventually s/he may sit down, especially if the discussion gets long (and especially if you look all nice and comfortable while s/he is standing!).
That’s better than demanding that your child sit down. If they think an ill wind is blowing on the parental poop deck, that’s the last thing they will want to do. And then the discussion ends before it even begins.
Always remember: the longer the discussion goes on, the more you will learn. If you act in a way that cuts off the discussion too early, that doesn’t benefit you.
REMEMBER HOW KIDS COMMUNICATE
Kids aren’t adults or business people. They will not “bullet point” a presentation to you. If they’re trying to justify themselves they are going to present lots of details that at the time may not seem relevant to you.
Let all of that pour over you. You may hear something interesting that you can follow up on later, when you start to speak. You may even hear something that makes your child less at fault. If you acknowledge that, your child will be much more likely to repeat the process with you in the future.
DON’T CLOSE THE SALE RIGHT AWAY! Take your time. Don’t feel as though you have to listen to the story, review its problematical elements, and mete out punishment all in one night! Taking some time to “process” what your child said accomplishes a couple of important things. It allows you to consider things enough so that you will be fair in whatever you decide to do. It allows your child to realize what he or she could have done better in the situation. Finally, it allows for a further conversation the next day, keeping the lines of communication open.
Remember, the last thing a sexual predator wants is a child who regularly talks with his or her parents!