Thursday, April 24, 2014

Proactive Parenting!! What Parents Need To Know and Do!!

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  As with other wellness issues, it is important to designate time and attention increasing our awareness through on-going education and communication. However, with one in four girls and one in six boys being victimized by the time they are teens, I believe it is critical not only to continue our conversation on a daily basis, but it is also imperative to implement Proactive Parenting. Because there are several experts whom I highly respect and who have family friendly resources available to parents or guardians (*see references below), for the purposes of this blog I am going to give you two important strategies for Proactive Parenting.

I believe that most responsible parents work hard to provide nurturing, loving, and safe environments for their children.To do otherwise, in my opinion, is shirking the responsibilities of parenthood. At the same time, many of us know that no matter how hard we try to protect our children and to prevent bad things from happening, there are many factors that are simply out of our control. And, as we well know, not only do our children have free will but because their young minds lack good judgment, they sometimes make poor choices that invite harm into their lives. However, it is many times the case that because of the very nature of being children with their vulnerabilities, sensitivities, and trusting inquisitive personalities, our innocent ones are easily targeted, preyed upon, or abused and exploited by highly disturbed individuals. What then, can parents, guardians and those of us trusted with their care do to be more proactive as we parent our children? This is important. Let's examine two parenting principles.

First, integrate into your thinking and apply to your parenting style Proactive Parenting Principle #1. Regardless of the social danger, concern, or challenge, this principle holds true.

#1  - The degree of access or exposure to anyone or consumption of anything
 is a predictor to the degree of consequence - positive or negative.

Let me say it again.

The degree of access or exposure to anyone or consumption of anything 
is a predictorto the degree of consequence - positive or negative.


Let's look at a few examples of positive consequences with this principle. The more we expose our children to reading early on their lives, typically they become better readers. The more we introduce our children to music, sports, or other interests, the more they are likely to excel or exceed in those areas. On a more serious note, the more access our children have to healthy influences, interests, and environments, typically the more safe and well-adjusted they will be. 

Let's also look at this principle and a few examples of negative consequences. If our children largely consume unhealthy foods, the more their health is at risk. The more time our children spend in the sun without protection, the more dangerous it is for their skin. On a very serious note, the more time our children spend on technology without proper guidance, the more at risk they are for visiting unsafe net neighborhoods.The easier our children's access is to drugs, alcohol and other social dangers, the more likely our children are to participate in them.
     
As we apply this principle to the issue of child abuse, we must understand that although there are never any guarantees to prevention, we - as parents and guardians - must keep an active pulse on our children's degree of access and exposure to any familiar or unfamiliar person or environment. I strongly encourage parents to take a brutal assessment of each and every decision you make for your children regarding how, when, where and with whom they are spending their time, especially if it is time alone with an older individual. And although most parents tend to take a very active interest when their children are younger, often times their oversight diminishes as children age and as they test the rules and expect more freedom. Of course this is understandable, but the dangers do not decrease with age; in fact, as access, exposure or consumption increases, so does the severity of consequence. In next week's blog, I am going to address specific strategies for implementing this parenting principle, but for now do the following:
  • Assess each decision you make regarding where your children go, with whom, how much time, and what kind of supervision or oversight is in place (in their real life and cyber life). 
  • Do your homework. 
  • Run background checks.
  • Trust your gut.
  • Stay involved. 
  • Show up unannounced.
  • Be present and available for your child.
 
Proactive Parenting Principle #2  is a tough one - rarely discussed but critically important. Again, integrate it into your mindset and apply it to your parenting style. Here we go.




#2   - The degree of innate trust ascribed to a closed system can be a reliable predictor of an abusive environment and/or where perpetrators carry out their dangerous agendas.

Before you read that again, I want to define two terms used in this principle:
  • Innate trust - This kind of trust comes with the entitlement given to the trustor accompanied by the natural subjection or compliance of the trustee. This kind of trust usually carries with it a power differential.  Examples are parent- child; pastor - parishioner; coach - athlete; mentor - student; doctor - patient.
  • Closed system - This is a term which refers to any kind of  family unit, organization, place of worship, or any type of grouping of individuals where there is a system of rules or regulations in place (written or understood) which can be protective and constructive in nature but can also be secretive and isolating. A closed system typically has a person or persons of authority, power, or position who enforce or impose their rules or regulations. Given the hierarchy of some systems and their alliances, often times individuals in authority protect or cover up the offenses of the perpetrators.   Examples include families; places of worship; children's teams, classrooms, organizations or clubs; or familial extended relationships or friendships.   
With these explanations in place, read this again.

The degree of innate trust ascribed to a closed system can be a reliable predictor of an abusive environment and/or where perpetrators carry out their dangerous agendas. 

While I understand that child abusers can be random individuals and criminals, it is sadly and tragically more times the case that they are in our own homes, families, and within the organizations and/or groups of individuals with whom we and our children socialize and trust. Over the years treating victims of sexual abuse and trauma, I was constantly sickened by the perpetrator's identities: baby-sitters; step-brothers; uncles and aunts; step-parents; close family friends; biological parents; friends of older siblings; coaches; teachers; grand-parents; faith leaders; biological brothers and sisters. And the list goes on.

The point is this - children have a natural trust in those individuals whom they turn to for love, nurturing, and fulfillment of their basic needs. Horrifically, some of those same individuals are sick human beings who can manipulate a closed system by instilling fear, shame, guilt and secrecy in children in order to victimize them.

Although I am going to give parents more concrete strategies in next week's blog, Proactive Parenting Principle #2 works hand in hand with Principle #1.  As you are assessing your children's degree of access or exposure to anyone or any environment, parents - you must scrutinize the degree of innate trust that you have ascribed to that person or personsand you must evaluate the dynamics of the closed system.

Ask yourself the following questions regarding innate trust ascribed to a person or an environment:
  • Why do I trust this individual or organization? What proof or evidence do I have?
  • Have I done a background check or done my research?
  • Have I just assumed that this person or group is safe? 
  • Have I checked up on my child  when he/she is alone with this person or group?
  • Are there any unhealthy symptoms, signs or red flags with this individual? What does my gut tell me?
  • Am I ascribing too much trust to this person or group? Am I aware and paying attention to my instincts?
And ask yourself these questions regarding the healthiness or unhealthiness of a closed system: 
  • Do your children feel free to talk to you about anything? 
  • Are they fearful or afraid of someone in  your own family, neighborhood, or other?  Would you recognize their fear, anxiety, or other distress symptoms?
  • Have you asked your children lately if they feel safe? Have you asked them what they do if they didn't feel safe? 
  • Have you talked with them about their bodies - what is private and what to do if someone touches or hurts them in any way?
  • Is there someone that you are afraid of or who is abusive to you? Have you asked yourself what messages you might be teaching your children?  Have you asked them how they feel?
The next few questions are critical!
  • Have you talked with your children about secrets and threats? Do you know if anyone has asked them to keep a secret or threatened them if they didn't?
  • Do your children know, without a doubt, that you will believe them, protect them, and take care of them if they tell you something bad?
  • Are you a safe harbor for your children?

In closing for today, I know that this is a lot to take in. And I know that some individuals reading this are themselves survivors of sexual abuse or trauma. It is never to late to reach out and get help. There are so many good people with the same or similar story who have dedicated their lives to helping others and who are passionate about preventing child abuse. Next time, we will discuss more specific Proactive Parenting strategies, but for now I want to leave you with a few resources.  These warriors are nationally and internationally known, and I am honored to be associated with them. Please, visit their websites and their materials.

~ Proactive Parenting is not optional...
It is our responsibility  ~




Angela Williams is a nationally known advocate! Please visit her website -  Voice Today  - and take a look at the number of books, videos, and programs she has available.  One of her books, Tough Talk to Tender Hearts, is an absolute must for all parents to read with their children! She has many resources also for adult survivors of abuse.  Healing Books by Angela Williams and Expert Authors

Marie Waldrep is a dear friend.  Please take some time and visit her website.  She has a powerful mission and ministry!  Her book, A Voice That Has Spoken From Within, contains poems of hope and of healing. You will feel comforted just by going to her site!  Marie Waldrep and The Mighty Phoenix

RAINN is a national site that provides a myriad of resources and support. RAINN - Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network

If you are a victim of abuse or your son or daughter has been a victim of abuse within our military, please visit Not Invisible. You are not alone.  Support and resources are available for you.

If you are a parent/guardian of a teenager (or a tween- teen) looking for guidance in discovering their worth based on what is important to them and in  making healthy decisions for their life, get a copy of Another Way  by Holli Kenley, M.A., MFT.

National Safe Helpline -   877 - 995-5246

Featured Post

Protecting Our Youth Against Campus Sexual Assault: 3 Key Strategies

Today's blog is for mature audiences: ages 18 and over. Today's conversation is not an easy one to have, but it is critical.  Wha...