Child Abuse and Child Safety
How do I talk to my child about abuse?
It is important to talk about personal safety rules just as you would talk about any other rule. In doing so your child will view the information in a matter of fact way. Find a comfortable time and place to talk. Remember this is not a one time process and needs to be repeated frequently. Young children can begin to use their instincts to trust and follow their “gut feelings.” Encourage your child to trust his feelings and apply personal safety rules in situations where he feels uncomfortable or unsafe. Most often sexual abuse involves someone the child knows; it is important that your child understands that it is the behavior and/or the situation that is wrong regardless of who the person is and where they are.
What do I do if my child says he’s been abused?
If your child discloses that she has been approached or has actually been abused physically, emotionally or sexually by an older child or adult, let your child know you believe her. It is extremely important to tell her that it is not her fault. It is never the child’s fault; the responsibility for such acts lies with the perpetrator. Let your child know that if she is in a situation that makes her feel unsafe you want her to tell you. You may respond by saying: “It is not your fault. I’m glad you told me, I believe you, and I will help you.”
There is help out there for children. Contact your local mental health agency for guidance and referrals. If this is a case of reportable child abuse, contact the hotline in your state or your local police.
Doesn’t my kid have a right to defend himself if he’s being physically bullied?
Children should defend themselves, but this does not necessarily mean in the form of physical aggression. Those who fight run the risk of paying a serious price – even if it is in self-defense or retaliation. Most schools have a “zero tolerance” policy for physical aggression and suspension is the usual punishment (regardless of the circumstances). Second, in regards to personal danger: the aggressor may use a weapon, or gather reinforcements to gang up on the child after school.
I’ve tried to talk to the school, but nothing happens.
If you want to approach your child’s school, make an appointment with the teacher. Gather any information/evidence you have. When you arrive, you should be calm and assertive.
- The classroom/school policy and programming regarding bullying
- Are there clear and consistent consequences for this behavior?
- Is there built-in support for kids involved in bullying incidents?
- Has the teacher noticed anything in the classroom?
- Does your child appear to have any friends in the classroom or on the playground?
Formulate a plan, and make an appointment for your next meeting on this matter. The plan might include:
- Establishing a safe place/person for your child to go to
- Pairing your child with peers who are friendly and helpful
How do I explain to my child that he shouldn’t be posting personal stuff on line?
Just saying “don’t give out personal information online” is not an effective rule. Kids need to learn which information is ok to share (personal interest info) and which is not (personal contact and financial info, intimate personal info, reputation-damaging material.) COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Act, protects the privacy of children under 13 by requiring parental consent for collection of personal information over the Internet. Unfortunately, this does not prevent children under 13 and/or their parents from lying about their age in order to join social networking/gaming sites or making purchases on line.
How do I know if my child is at risk for having problems on line?
Some of the signs of a child being high risk on line include:
- he or she is high risk off line; seeks acceptance/attention from others
- is more vulnerable to manipulation by others
- tends to be less resourceful or resilient in getting out of difficult situations
- reacts in a volatile, extreme way to negative interactions
- is unlikely to ask for or rely on you and/or other adults for assistance
How do I know when it’s time to step in?
Each family must decide on the rules that fit and work for them; but here are some of the red flags to watch for which might indicate a need for adult guidance and perspective: They
- click away from the page they’re on every time you walk by
- are always upset after they use their phone or computer
- are experiencing bullying issues at school
- are constantly looking at their cell phone/texting
- even sleep with their phone
How am I supposed to compete with the popular media culture for my daughter’s respect and attention?
Ultimately, mothers and fathers are extremely important influences in their daughter’s preteen and early teen years. When asked who their role model is, most girls name a mother, a father, a cousin or an aunt. Even though it may not always show, girls at this age still see their parents and other close mentors as major resources for information and emotional support. You have the power and ability to help put into perspective these powerful media messages. You can be the bridge for your daughter.
I don’t think my daughter is being mean but she seems so scared to speak up when someone else is. Isn’t that just as bad?
What you are describing is bystander behavior which is very common. In fact, the majority of kids are bystanders – witnesses to incidents and behaviors they know are wrong, but go along with anyway. There are a few possible reasons for this willingness to stand by or even sometimes participate. One of these stems from a strong developmental need to be in a group. Another may be because she’s afraid if she doesn’t go along with it, she might be the next target in line. But your daughter has some options. She just might need to hear them so she can make a choice about what she wants to do. For instance she can:
- simply not participate – walk away from the situation.
- speak up on behalf of the person who is being targeted. Chances are that there are lots of kids who would welcome the opportunity to follow her lead, rather than that of the mean person.
- offer to sit with her at the lunch table.
- tell her that she thinks what’s happening is really unfair. A little kindness and empathy can go a long way for all involved.
My daughter is being bullied by a group of girls. How do I help her without making the situation worse?
A parent who is angry and hurt will often end up making things worse. Listen to your daughter, with focus and without judgment. Accept her need to be in a group. Ask her how you can help. Share your own experiences, past and present. In retrospect, girls who have been targets list some things that have helped them:
- get advice from neutral others (cousins, sisters, etc.)
- expand their circle of friends/activities
- spend time with “safe” people