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By Tara Pringle Jefferson
8:15 AM Feb 22nd, 2012
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With the recent investigation into an L.A. elementary school after a teacher has been accused of spoon-feeding several students his semen over the course of a few years, parents everywhere might be wondering: Are our kids safe anywhere?
Kenya Prade, mom to a five-year-old girl, said the recent events are troubling, but she’s had her guard up for a while.
“I’m very overprotective of my daughter,” Prade said. “I’ve gotten in plenty of arguments with family and friends in regards to letting my daughter go certain places or spend the night. A lot of times, it’s the people you know who are the predators.”
And certainly with cases like the L.A. school and the Penn State cases fresh in our minds, it might cause parents to reevaluate how they talk to their kids about sexual predators, moving from the “Stranger Danger” approach to a more inclusive strategy.
Kim Estes, founder of Savvy Parents, Safe Kids, a website for parents to learn about child safety, says this is spot-on.
“The most important thing parents can do is to be aware of red flag behaviors in adults and older kids—especially anyone who has access to your kids (through sports, tutoring, teaching),” Estes says. “Parents also need to be present in their kids’ lives. That means asking questions of other adults, talking to their children on a regular basis about safety ‘What-If’ situations, and taking time to get to know the adults who will have access to their kids.”
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Estes adds that those red flag behaviors are considered “grooming,” when a sexual predator tests the waters to see what they can get away with.
However, psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus urges parents to keep things in perspective.
“It is important for parents to recognize that incidents such as this are not common and being over-protective just for the sake of doing so will not benefit either of you,” Dr. Bacchus says. “Extracurricular sports or other activities are essential—not letting your child play after-school sports due to fear of them being taken advantage of can be equated to not letting your kid drive because you are afraid of them getting into an accident.”
She adds that it is possible to teach kids about sexual abuse without destroying their sense of security in the world.
“The idea is to convey a healthy fear without instilling a complete sense of distrust for all adults,” Dr. Bacchus says. “Make sure your tone is serious, but not too scary. This type of education should be ongoing and suited to fit your child’s age group.”
Dr. Bacchus recommends teaching preschool children about “naughty places” where no one is allowed to touch them, and older children should be taught to stay away from strangers and anonymous people on the Internet.