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Protecting Your Children: Tips from an expert

June 24, 2009

I have a colleague, friend and fellow nurse practitioner who works exclusively with abused children.  It is an honor to know her and gain from her knowledge. Below is a recent e-mail she sent to a friend and myself about protecting our children from being victims. With her permission I am publishing it as good information for any parent. Thank you Cindy Tull MSN, APRN, FNP-BC for  your work and care of those who cannot defend themselves.

Prior to being a nurse practitioner I have worked in the health care industry for over twenty years from medical assistant, to nursing clinical instructor. (Her primary focus has been pediatrics) I have seen a number of children abused over the years and always had a heart and desire to serve abused children in some capacity. After receiving an opportunity to be a full time medical provider for a child advocacy center my naive view has been broadened; my “eye’s being open” to what children are exposed to has me alarmed and I feel the need to tell others and to hopefully bring more awareness to those raising children of their own.

I would like to humbly give advice to parents and stress the emphasis that today is a different world than when we were a child. I would also like to stress that by living in a rural community or in the “bible belt” does not make you exempt from abuse. Today children are at a greater risk of being abused by older siblings, step siblings, cousins and friends. There are many theories why abuse is more prevalent. I personally believe children are exposed to over sexualization, which is contributing to abuse by older children and adolescents. These children are watching more television and movies than ever before. Likewise, they are not being monitored with Internet or cell phone use.

They are exposed to sex and nudity and it’s all available at their finger tips.  Unfortunately, parental controls are not a total safe guard. If you have parental control I encourage you to put in basic images searches such as “models” and see what you find.  Also, email and Internet sites like Facebook and MySpace are a source for perpetrators to prey on your kids and for kids to prey on each other. Check out YouTube for yourself, there are plenty of adult sites and inappropriate material. These sites go unchecked and your child is exposed to explicit nudity and graphic dialog.

I previously mentioned the cell phone use. This is a place too where children are exposed to messages with graphic dialog and explicit pictures. There have been  known “sex rings” where pictures of one child naked are sent to another child. Some phones have internet access and can easily access pornography. Texting leaves children open to vulgar conversations, language and bullying.

What are you to do?

  1. Talk to your children. This may seem a bit obvious and it is one of the most crucial tools of parenting. What should you talk about? Tell your children that you know what it is like to want to be “liked” and to have friends.  You are the expert, you’ve been there so share your experiences openly.  Inform your children what to be mindful of and to be guarded of what they see and hear.
  2. Tell your child never  to go or be alone with anyone, even if they know the person well. For example: If you are at a family gathering and the children are off playing in another room and one of the older children want to tell your child a secret and they need to be alone and they tell the other children to go away.
  3. Know your children’s friends and their parents. Know who and where your child is going to be. If they tell you they are spending the night with a friend, call the parent of the friend and have the child make contact with you during that visit.
  4. Tell your child they will not be allowed to have a computer in their room. They can use the computer on the kitchen table or locate a computer desk in the main living area, so you can see at any point what they are working on. Also, check the sites your child is visiting. Know your child’s pass codes. There are ways around these codes too, if you are not a computer specialist…. seek a computer specialist out and utilize them.
  5. Do away with facebook and MySpace?  Talk with your child about only allowing close friends and to not accept friends of friends and especially no one that you do not know personally. AND MONITOR.
  6. Discuss the cell phone. Tell your child to not accept picture images.  Monitor your child’s texted messages.
  7. Perpetrators at times have a “grooming” process. They get to know your child and gain their trust. They may present an opportunity to your child as a “teaching” opportunity. They are very persuasive and good at what they do.
  8. Watch for any changes in behaviors. This may be difficult with aging children to adolescents because they are emotional and all over the board at times; obvious signs are new fears or depression. Sleeping problems and decline in school work and or attendance.  Verbal comments about “hating themselves” and eating disorders (anorexia or over eating).  Also, drug and alcohol use.
  9. Know the laws. Children ages 12 and under are not able to consent to sex (even if it is consensual). Look at the laws of your state for child abuse.
  10. Tell your children and teens to use the buddy system. Never go alone.  If being abducted “make a huge scene”. Kick, scream, fight…. Knock things over, throw things, and get as much attention as you can.  If you are abducted, make every opportunity to fight and run. Never get alone with the person.
  11. Reassure your child they can tell you anything (and mean it) and if needed report to the child abuse hotline immediately. Do not handle this hideous crime on your own. Help put perpetrators off the streets and behind bars. If your child discloses to you about a friend – hotline!

Last but not least….. LOVE your children. They are precious and valuable human beings who look to you for parenting and love. Unfortunately, we may not be able to always protect our children from harm but we can do our part to prevent it. We are called to an enormous responsibility to be parents to our children. This is the highest honor and also most challenging job in a person’s lifetime. It’s a job you never get to retire from nor take time off from. It’s truly a lifetime of loving and teaching.

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