By Dr. June Stride View more articles
The Babysitting Episode
“But Mom, I just don’t want to go. You have no idea what it’s like babysitting for Aunt Ruth and Uncle Bob. I can’t do it anymore.” Michelle said with a pleading voice, hopeful that her mother would understand without further discussion.
“Michelle, Uncle Bob specifically asked for you. He always says the kids just love it when you stay with them. And he pays awfully well, doesn’t he?” Michelle’s mom replied.
“You just don’t understand, Mom. It’s not how you think. Yes, I make a lot of money for a few hours, but it’s not worth it.” Michelle continued.
“I thought the kids were really good when you babysat. They go to bed early and then you can watch TV until you go to bed. Sounds like an ideal setup to me. Can’t I tell them that you’ll do it?” Michelle’s mom asked, feeling certain that Michelle was going to agree.
“Mom, please don’t make me. It’s not fair for you to push me. Can’t you take my word for it, it is not a good idea for me to baby sit for them?” Michelle pleaded, almost in tears.
“Michelle, what on earth is wrong? I certainly am not going to force you. You obviously have your reasons, reasons so powerful that they are causing you to cry. Talk to me.”
Almost hysterical crying now, Michelle managed to get out, “Oh, I had so hoped I wouldn’t have to tell you. I feel like I’m letting Aunt Ruth down. It’s Uncle Bob. After they get home and Aunt Ruth goes to bed, he comes in to ‘check on me’. Mom, he’s a creep. He lies down next to me, tells me how pretty I am and how much he cares about me, then tries to kiss me and touch me. I know I can’t scream cause I’ll wake up the kids. I can’t tell Aunt Ruth, she’ll never believe me. I’m so sorry, Mom.” Sobbing, Michelle ran to her mom and folded herself into her arms.
Is Michelle’s experience so unlikely? Think back to your childhood. Did you have someone expose him/herself to you? Were you ever in the movie theatre when some dirty old man sat next to you and tried to touch you? Maybe you even had a family member like Uncle Bob. Can you recall how you felt… deeply upset, as if you dare not tell your parents or any adult because it somehow must be your own fault?
Awareness and Preparedness Helps
Abuse is not a pretty topic, whether it is seductive abuse by a formerly trusted person, or violent abuse by a relative or date. Many of us had no idea how to handle such situations when we were growing up. We want to better prepare our children for they will have many of the same challenges we had, but amplified by easy access to drink and drugs, widespread sexually transmitted diseases, and certainly AIDS. To compound matters, our kids ARE maturing earlier, frequently have little adult supervision and too often find themselves in situations that require more wisdom and experience than they have. Often, even without our knowledge, our kids must respond to risky situations that could endanger their physical health and emotional well being for the remainder of their lives.
FYI: Snyder & Sickmund, (1999) reported that approximately 8 million kids are left unsupervised after school daily. According to the US Department of Education, (2001) the after school unsupervised hours are when most children experiment with alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex and fall prey to abuse.
Obviously, I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already considered. Obviously, this information is doing nothing to improve your parenting comfort level. So, now, let’s talk about some TIPS that could help prepare you and your preteen/teen for the challenges out there.
TIPS: Preparing for Challenges
1. First and foremost, work on improving your communication with your child. Build trust by actively listening and showing your deep concern about them. Establish and keep a consistent daily time to talk with them, not ‘at’ them. Include sensitive topics related to sexual challenges: abstinence, STD’s, AIDS, rape, casual sex, intercourse, sexual abuse, drug abuse.
2. Do not suppose because your child acts as if he/she is well informed about sex and abuse that it is so. When discussing sensitive and frightening topics, maintain a calm, reassuring tone of voice so that your child does not feel a sense of panic.
3. Use the newspaper/TV, all media stories as starting points for discussion. Ask your child how he/she sees the situation, ask him/her what options there might have been or how the person in the story might better have handled the situation.
4. Encourage your child to think about choices and consequences, pleasures and penalties.
5. Gradually increase your child’s decision-making opportunities. Start simple.
6. Use TV shows/movies/CDs/video games as the catalyst for discussing risky behaviors and deadly behaviors. Discuss the image that celebs project and the dangers of some of their messages.
7. Reinforce the notion of respect for self, to include respect of the body, e.g. when is touching good/loving or bad/selfish?
8. Develop an escape plan for your child. List safe places as well as trusted people and phone numbers who can provide immediate help.
9. Reinforce the notion of ‘safety in numbers’ when shopping, walking to school, etc. as well as remaining alert to the surrounding environment for potential danger.
10. Establish an understanding that you (or a designated trusted surrogate) will always be available for ‘rescue’/transportation should the need arise and without a lecture afterward!
Bright Idea: Sensitive topics are often more easily and effectively handled with the help of professional assistance. Seek out relevant books/articles that can guide you and your preteen/teen to consider and discuss the facts, the situations and potential consequences. Select engaging and informative resources that ‘speak’ to your child. Awareness of sexual challenges is an essential part of helping to prepare your child for a healthful young adulthood.
In conclusion, think about that old saying, “Better safe than sorry.” Your ‘abuse-proof’ preparations will improve your state of mind and hopefully, make your child’s journey to adult-hood less risky.