I got a terrifying call the other night.
After months of discussions, my husband and I had decided that it was okay to leave my almost 13 year old son home alone with our almost 8 year old for short periods of time. My husband was hard to convince, he is a pessimist and trusts no one. I on the other hand, remembered babysitting a 6 month old and a 3 year old when I was 13. I thought we were being overly protective and sheltering. So my opinion won.
As such, my boys have been staying home while I bring my daughter to her local soccer games. And that's where I was the other night when I got the phone call. It was almost half time when I felt my phone vibrate. When I saw it was from my house, I expected I was about to have to referee a disagreement over how much time each was allowed to use the Playstation. Instead, I got this:
"Hi buddy, what's up?"
"Well, a man pulled into the driveway in a van, and I thought it was the FedEx guy. And then he used a flashlight and went up into the woods on the side of the house. So I thought he was peeing. But, now he's trying to get inside the house." (accompanied with very loud barking and growling from the dog)
"Yeah, he was on the porch trying to open the door."
Thankfully, my daughter plays soccer with some incredible girls with incredible parents so I left her in their care and made the fastest drive ever home. I called my husband to ask if he had headed home from work yet, hoping he was closer. He wasn't. I called my boys back and they reported that once the dog started barking and growling, the man stopped trying the door and left the porch. He apparently went into the shed/play house in the front yard and then drove out of the driveway.
I got home shaking to find two very calm boys. I called my husband to report that everything was okay and he should stay at work.
I couldn't figure out how my boys were so calm in the face of what just happened. I know I wasn't! But now, after a few days and talking to them a bit, I think I know why. They were prepared.
For many people, crime is a statistic, or something they read about in the paper. Its scary, but, it tends to be something we think of happening away, or to other people. When I was growing up, in a particularly wonderful place, something happened that changed me. Two young girls were lured from their yard, assaulted and murdered. This particular crime has stayed with me and greatly affected how I parent. In addition, I also spent a good amount of time working as a tutor for a young girl. Her mother worked for the district attorney's office as an investigator for crimes committed against children. Due to confidentiality, she of course could not share anything about her specific cases, except to tell me that she wished more parents were less embarrassed to teach their children the proper names of their body parts and talk in general with their children about how their bodies functioned. I have made sure to include her advice in my parenting style.
My husband and I have been very open with our kids, being clear that while it is our job to keep them safe, that they need to be aware. Another parent questioned me once and asked if I didn't fear giving my kids nightmares. I don't. I think my husband and I have found a good balance of sharing information with our kids at appropriate times and also always making sure that they are aware that B and I will always view keeping them safe as our priority.
How does leaving them alone, ever, fit into this you may ask. At some point, when he was still pretty young, I discovered that my oldest was afraid. Of everyone. And I realized I had done that. And while some may think that being afraid would keep him safe as he would be less likely to trust a stranger, it actually would make him more likely to become a victim. He oozed fear, the scent every predator recognizes, be it pedophile, thief or bully.
So I tempered my message and provided lots of opportunity to gain confidence. And it obviously worked given his ability to stay calm in the face of actual danger.
After all these years, I have often toyed with the idea of creating a series of presentations that I could market to school systems, things I think kids should know to keep them safe. I'm not quite organized enough to do it, but hope that perhaps this post goes viral and enough parents read it and share the information with their children.
1. Teach your kids the right names for their body parts. Don't let embarrassment stop you from using the words penis and vagina. I realize some purists will be aghast at the thought of using the term vagina, as that is actually the part of the genitalia that is INSIDE us, but here in America the term is used so often for the outside, that is has become the de facto name. I was told by my student's mother that if a child is ever assaulted, a defense attorney can destroy a child's testimony if they use euphemisms for body parts.
2. Be clear on what bad people may do. Children should know that there are people out there who like to touch children and like to make children touch them. Don't scare your child with an all encompassing "bad people". Your child's imagination can take over. They do better with specifics.
3. Do not teach your child to not let someone touch them. Many children allow abuse to continue because they think they were bad to allow it to happen. Instead, teach your child that no one should touch them, but that bad people can be tricky. And bad people are liars. A bad person can trick a kid into being touched and then will lie to try to prevent the child from telling. Teach your child that the most important thing is to tell you if anyone touches them. Teach them that if the bad person says they are going to hurt them, or hurt a sibling, or hurt one of the parents if the child tells, that it is a lie to prevent getting in trouble.
3.5 As parents we need to realize that for every minute we spend thinking of how to keep our kids safe, there is a pedophile out there spending 10 minutes (or more) thinking how to lure or trick a child. We will never be able to think of and warn our children of each lure and trick. Instead, we should concentrate on raising confident kids, who are less likely to be victims and ensure out kids know they can tell us anything. Also, recognize that parents are groomed by pedophiles, as much as children are! Some great work has been done by Warriors for Innocence and here is a great article by them on how children and parents are groomed to be victims. Google "pedophiles groom parents" and a plethora of information will pop up. Pay close attention to the links to FBI research.
4. If you feel comfortable, teach your child that God (or mother nature) made certain parts of the body feel good when they are touched. Pedophiles will often use a child's own body response to keep them quiet. "You liked it, you must be bad."
5. Notice I am saying bad people and have avoided the word grown ups. I don't think we do enough to recognize that people don't suddenly become abusers at the age of 18. This may be too scary of a concept to teach to young children, but adults need to always consider it. Juveniles account for one quarter of sexual offenses in the US!
6. Have a plan. We live in a state that has a lot of home invasions, thanks in part to a huge problem with prescription drug abuse. We keep our doors locked all the time. I am actually more likely to leave my door unlocked when we are NOT home. If we are home and all in the house, every door is locked. If we are home and in the back yard, all the front doors are locked. If someone were to get in and we were home, we have a plan that we developed while taking our concealed weapons course. We found the room in the house that gives us the most options for escape as well as hunkering down. Our plan is to get everyone in that room.
7. Always remind your kids that it is your job to keep them safe, and you take that job seriously. Remind your kids that it is highly unlikely anything will happen and that you are simply preparing them. I often tell my kids that a safe kid is a prepared kid. Do not over teach any of the above, or do it all at once. Spread it out and look for teachable moments.
After much consideration, I left my boys alone again last night when I had to take my daughter to a banquet and my husband had to leave for an overnight business trip. I did make sure my neighbor was home and asked her to keep an eye out. We discussed what should be done differently if there ever was a "next time" including that fact that FedEx guys do not pee in people's yards! My husband agreed that he underestimated our oldest son's ability to handle a crisis, and we are both so proud of how calm he remained during and after. We also both agreed that Stella Thunderpaws was worth every single cent we spent on her and every moment of house training.