hard conversation about grooming

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Avoid this guy! Hehe. :)

(Actually that’s me dressed up as my male coworker for Halloween. I won $50.)

(Which leads me to my point…)

I’ve been encouraged to post this publicly since it’s so very important.

This morning was hard. This morning my husband and I sat down over breakfast to explain some family rules to my sweet trusting six year old.

Rule #1: We don’t accept gifts from grown up men unless they get Mommy and Daddy’s permission first or are giving stuff out to everybody. (Like when her wonderful teacher, Mr. P, gives out books to everyone in class.)

Rule #2: We don’t keep secrets from mom or dad.

These are the rules for our six year old. They will be refined and redefined as Laelia gets older.

What brought this about was that Laelia started receiving gifts and attention from a bus monitor. Let me be clear: I truly believe he was just being nice to her; and I don’t think there’s any ill intent on his part whatsoever.

But now she will not accept any gifts from him and we practiced explaining why to him.

Because grooming happens when wonderful, kind people want something from us. Because people you know are way more likely to harm children than strangers. And there’s no reason to give my daughter more attention because she has a disability.

In fact if we teach kids with disabilities to expect focused attention from adults for no reason other than that they are “special” then they won’t be discerning when the wrong kind of person wants to give them that attention.

She asked questions and hubby and I provided answers. No, it’s not okay for someone to touch your body if it makes you uncomfortable EVEN IF they are helping you into your wheelchair or something else you need. Speak up! No, it’s not okay for someone to get too close EVEN IF it’s part of their job in physical therapy or occupational therapy. Tell them when to back off and the good ones will! You have control over your body, even over the parts you can’t move yourself. Your body should be respected at all times. Period.

The conversation went well, and we’ve honestly never had an issue with any of the wonderful adults in Laelia’s life. Laelia is a great self advocate. Also she knows if someone gets mad about our family rules then that’s wrong. A good person will understand.

In one of the most informative blog posts I’ve read on this subject, Checklist Mommy offers the following advice. I couldn’t say it better so I’m just copying and pasting her words here:

“Stop telling your kids not to talk to strangers. They might need to talk to a stranger one day. Instead, teach them which sorts of strangers are safe. You know who’s safe? A mom with kids. Period. Your kid gets separated from you at the mall? Tell her to flag down the first mom with kids she sees.” [quoting a child safety educator on NPR here]

  • It is unlikely your kid is going to be abused by a weirdo at the park (huge sigh of relief).
  • That said, if there is a weirdo at the park, he’s not going to fit the “stranger” model — so stop teaching your kid about strangers! He’s going to come up to your kid and introduce himself. Voila! He ain’t a stranger anymore.
  • Teach your kids about TRICKY PEOPLE, instead. TRICKY PEOPLE are grown-ups who ASK KIDS FOR HELP (no adult needs to ask a kid for help) or TELLS KIDS TO KEEP A SECRET FROM THEIR PARENTS (including, IT’S OKAY TO COME OVER HERE BEHIND THIS TREE WITHOUT ASKING MOM FIRST. Not asking Mom is tantamount to KEEPING A SECRET.)
  • Teach your kids not to DO ANYTHING, or GO ANYWHERE, with ANY ADULTS AT ALL, unless they can ask for your permission first.

See how I said ANY ADULTS AT ALL? That’s because:

  • It’s far more likely your kid is going to be abused by someone they have a relationship with, because most cases of abuse follow long periods of grooming — both of the kid and his or her family.
  • Bad guys groom you and your kids to gauge whether or not you’re paying attention to what they’re doing, and/or to lure you into dropping your guard. Don’t. Kids who bad guys think are flying under their parents’ radars, or kids who seem a little insecure or disconnected from their parents, are the kids who are most at risk.

SO:

  • Be suspicious of gifts that adults in positions of authority give your kids. There’s no reason your son should be coming back from Bar Mitzvah study with a cool new keychain or baseball hat.
  • Be suspicious of teachers who tell you your kid is so special they want to offer him more one-on-one time, or special outings. That teacher who says your kid is into Monet, he wants to take him to a museum next weekend? Say thanks, and take your kid to go see the exhibit yourself.
  • You know that weird adult cousin of yours who’s always out in the yard with the kids, never in the kitchen drinking with the grown-ups? Keep an eye on your kids when he’s around.
  • Oh, and that soccer coach who keeps offering to babysit for free, so you can get some time to yourself? NO ONE WANTS TO BABYSIT YOUR KIDS JUST TO BE NICE.

15 Responses to “hard conversation about grooming”

  1. Baggins says:

    Thank you for perpetuating the mass demonization of single men who enjoy the company of children, who would love to have kids of their own but will most likely never have that opportunity in life and who would cut their own throats sooner than harming a single hair on a child’s head.

    We appreciate the attention.

  2. admin says:

    We have quite a few of those men in our lives, thankfully so. But these rules not only keep the “bad guys” away but keep the “good guys” above reproach. One of my favorite Bible verses says, “Avoid even the appearance of evil.” 1 Thess 5:22.

  3. Baggins says:

    By that logic, we should just lock all the “good guys” away, so they never do anything wrong.

    If offering to babysit kids in order to give a stressed couple a night off is “appearing evil”, then most of the men I respect the most look like the Devil incarnate.

  4. admin says:

    For the 1 Thess 5:22 reference, I was applying it to the reason we don’t allow male teachers or doctors alone with young girls: first to protect the girls, second to protect the doctor. You can’t be imprisoned for improper conduct if you never were in the position to do so.

    I know you are concerned more with the view of the good guys than with the problem (and I sympathize), but let me give you a little perspective of the problem. The statistics are staggering. You can find studies that 1 in 5 girls experience some sort of sexual abuse in their lifetime. It’s 1 in 3 in some studies; hard to know for sure.

    To quote Hessler from G.R.A.C.E. “It’s a balancing act. We don’t want to live skeptically. How do you live in such a way that you’re not suspecting that everybody is a dangerous person but are realistic enough to create boundaries so that a person who is a would-be perpetrator would find this too difficult an environment to operate in? [...] You have to figure that out for yourself. But know this: Offenders exploit trust.”

    I know the very sincere protest of “but what about the good guys” or “not all men” are only natural, but they can derail a conversation without giving solutions.

    Okay not all men are bad, of course! Imagine a bowl of M&Ms. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead. Eat a handful. Not all M&Ms are poison.

    Creating basic rules for our daughter is a solution. One I’m very comfortable with. It was either this or locking her in the tower. Perhaps it’s not too late for the tower…

  5. Baggins says:

    You know what? “Some studies” show absolutely every horrible “fact” under the sun. If everyone lived their lives based on what “some studies” said, we’d all be sick or dead.

    You have every right to decide how to handle the care of your children and I would never tell you to do things differently. (Although if I hear you’ve stuck Laelia in a tower, I *will* be flying to California with a jackhammer and a Clue-bat.)

    What I take umbrage with is encouraging others to treat as suspect anyone who exhibits what I would consider normal and healthy behaviour. Specifically: the selfless giving of gifts to children who will appreciate them; offers of assistance to young, worn out couples; and *especially* the “weird adult cousin” who would rather make sure those kids out in the yard are playing safely than stick around a bunch of unconcerned, boring adults getting drunk while little Billy drowns in the kiddie pool.

    In any case, I’ve said more than is probably profitable and constantly checking this comment section is wearisome. I’ll let you have the last public word, if you want it (and if you want me to see it, you have my e-mail address.)

  6. admin says:

    I think we’ve both said our piece. Instead of adding, I’ll summarize both yours and my points:

    Mine:

    This happens a lot, The National Center for Victims of Crime say 1 in 5 girls. About a third of my friends, and myself, and some of my family members have experienced it.

    It’s avoidable.

    Be vigilant.

    Rules about secrets, gifts and outings/child supervision can protect your child from a would-be perpetrator.

    Have the conversation.

    Yours:

    Being suspicious of every gift or act of kindness can alienate a whole group of nice guys. No one wants their kindness made suspect. Measure risk with reality.

    Avoid grandiose statements such as, “No body wants to babysit your kids to be nice,” as they, by their all-or-nothing nature, do not apply to an entire group of people.

    Sometimes the MnM is not poisonous, in fact, most of the time.

  7. Linda Record says:

    Dear Baggins,

    I’m sorry you won’t be seeing this, but I need to say it anyway, so here goes.

    Poor YOU.

    Yes, this issue is all about YOUR feelings being hurt. It has nothing to do with the reality that such a high percentage of female children have been sexually assaulted (myself included). It has nothing to do with trying to protect a delightful little girl from becoming another statistic. Nope. The only issue here is with those men who feel unfairly maligned because most sexual assailants are… uh… MEN.

    You’ve gone to great lengths to misunderstand Alexis’ blog post. She and Charley did a great job in helping Laelia learn how to discern the difference between the many wonderful men she will meet throughout her life and the really bad men who will be masquerading as good ones.

    Laelia is six years old. There are few things more trusting than a six-year-old. There are people who would intentionally harm a six-year-old, and those people often PRETEND to be friendly, kind, and generous. You would prefer that Alexis and Charley ignore the very real risks their daughter faces so YOU don’t have to face the reality that SOME men do really bad things to children?

    You should reread this portion of the post: “Also she knows if someone gets mad about our family rules then that’s wrong. A good person will understand.”

    Why are you so angry about really important family rules designed to protect a six-year-old girl?

  8. Linda Record says:

    PS, Baggins. If you really want to SHOW Laelia what a great guy you are, embrace the family rules. Show her that good people are not offended by following rules no one wishes had to be there in the first place.

  9. Laura says:

    I noticed this in an excellent article from The American Prospect today:

    “It’s a balancing act,” Hessler says. “We don’t want to live skeptically. How do you live in such a way that you’re not suspecting that everybody is a dangerous person but are realistic enough to create boundaries so that a person who is a would-be perpetrator would find this too difficult an environment to operate in?”

    You and Charles did exactly what you should have, Alexis, and you handled it very well.

    If anyone’s interested in reading the article, you can find it here: http://prospect.org/article/next-christian-sex-abuse-scandal

  10. Bethany Bassettt says:

    Thanks for posting about this, Alexis! I’d also read that article about GRACE, and it’s dawned on me this week that though I’ve given my girls some rudimentary guidelines about boundaries, we haven’t been nearly thorough enough (mostly because I don’t want to live constantly paranoid and suspicious, but I think there’s a way to be informed and smart without assuming the worst of everyone). I ended up making a worksheet for my girls based on the information that you linked to… mostly about what being the boss of their bodies means, what warning signs to look out for, and the kind of open communication we want to be fostering with them.

    I’m not going to be telling them to mistrust every single adult male in their lives (that’s my disclaimer for Baggins :D ) but rather to trust their instincts, hold confidently to their personal boundaries, and talk to their dad and I any time they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. And yes, one of the things we’re going to discuss is how our priority is protecting THEM, not others’ feelings or the standards of politeness.

    Thanks for kicking my brain into gear over this. These conversations need to happen.

  11. Bethany Bassett says:

    (It keeps eating my comment… Trying again!)

    Thanks for posting about this, Alexis! I’d also read that article about GRACE, and it’s dawned on me this week that though I’ve given my girls some rudimentary guidelines about boundaries, we haven’t been nearly thorough enough (mostly because I don’t want to live constantly paranoid and suspicious, but I think there’s a way to be informed and smart without assuming the worst of everyone). I ended up making a worksheet for my girls based on the information that you linked to… mostly about what being the boss of their bodies means, what warning signs to look out for, and the kind of open communication we want to be fostering with them.

  12. Bethany Bassett says:

    (And the second part… grr for comment-eating forms.)

    I’m not going to be telling them to mistrust every single adult male in their lives (that’s my disclaimer for Baggins :D ) but rather to trust their instincts, hold confidently to their personal boundaries, and talk to their dad and I any time they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. And yes, one of the things we’re going to discuss is how our priority is protecting THEM, not others’ feelings or the standards of politeness.

    Thanks for kicking my brain into gear over this. These conversations need to happen.

  13. Maureen Roscorla says:

    Thanks for sharing Alexis. The info is very helpful and would have prevented some uncomfortable situations I found myself in while babysitting during my teen years with some dads who picked me up and brought me home – very uncomfortable. One of them also acted inappropriately, however, I never talked with my parents about it, just refused to babysit for them, making an untrue excuse up when asked by my mom why.

    It also would have helped me be more open with my own children when they were growing up instead of the “stranger” talk I am sure I gave to them. This is eye-opening information that all should take heed to and determine what this looks like in their own families.

  14. Maureen Roscorla says:

    PS. One of the rules we implemented when our daughter was babysitting age, because of my personal experience, was that we had to know or meet the family first and that the wife had to be willing to both pick up and bring home our daughter. I went to several potential families home with my daughter and spoke at length with the mom and met the kids if I didn’t already know them.

    We did not have any objections made to this as all respected our rules.

  15. Open-Source Parenting: Body Safety | Bethany Bassett says:

    […] there that I didn’t even think about my unwillingness to think about it… until recently when a friend with a daughter Sophie’s age had to confront some troubling attention her daughter was receiving […]

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