Short of pulling my kids out of sports, what can I do to protect them?
I’m a former gymnastics mom, a cheer mom and a soccer mom. I’ve seen lots of good and some of the bad up close and personal. I wanted to share some of my strategies with you. Bottomline for parents: It’s our job to arm our children with the tools they need AND be vigilant as their parents. Keeping open lines of communication and trust is key.
Here are some thoughts on how you can take steps to protect your children.
- Talk about it. Use age appropriate terms and examples. But please don’t pretend that sexual abuse doesn’t happen. Kids need to understand that their private parts are just that … perfectly private.
- Have their back. Oftentimes perpetrators of abuse gain control of their victims by threatening them with horrible things if they ‘tell’. Make your kids aware of this. Tell them that the bad guys will say scary things like “I’ll kill your family if you tell on me.” Tell your children that even if that abuser says scary stuff, it’s your job as the grown up to protect everyone. Let them know that you will call the police and take action to keep them safe.
- Give your kids permission to resist. We want to raise compliant, lovely children who are polite members of society. Guess what? Kids don’t always have to be compliant, especially if they feel uncomfortable or scared. Give them the words and they actions they should use if they find themselves in an inappropriate situation. Let them know it’s okay to scream, hit and be rude to protect themselves. Many of our kids need to hear this from us. Especially because sports like gymnastics require kids to be compliant, suck it up and follow orders.
- Hugs or High Fives? Again, kids can say no to physical contact that they don’t want. Many coaches give kids hugs after a great gymnastics routine. And as long as that’s okay with the coach and the athlete it’s perfect. But if a child does not want to get a hug you can teach them to offer their coach a fist bump or a high five. Our children should be able to make choices about how much physical contact they are comfortable with receiving.
- Be present. Show up when you can. Let coaches see you watching practice. Duck into the locker room regularly. Your presence alone can be a helpful deterrent to a would be abuser.
- Use your network. Chat with the other parents and develop relationships. It takes a village to raise our children and we all need to be watching out for each other. Don’t be afraid to raise concerns with other parents.
- Set communication rules. Insist that all meetings with your child take place in the open, not in a closed office. Let the coaches and your child know this. If the coaches communicate through social media make sure it’s not snapchat or a disappearing type of social media. If your child communicates via text make sure it’s a group text with the entire team, or if it’s a private text with a coach and your child…make sure you are included as well. There is nothing a coach should say to your child that you can’t be privy to.
- Look for strange behavior and know the warning signs. You don’t have to be anxious, just a little vigilant.
- Make the call. If you suspect a problem, you owe it to yourself and the children involved to investigate. Our children need adults in their lives who are willing to have the difficult conversation.
It’s our job to arm our children with the tools they need AND be vigilant as their parents.
Parenting is tough enough as it is. And although I don’t specialize in children’s safety, I do work really hard with parents to keep the doors of communication open with your kids. That’s a big part of the work I do.