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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Your Top 10 Questions About Body Safety

1.  At what age should I begin talking with my kids about body-safety? 

Parenting Safe ChildrenIt's never too early or too late to start talking with children about their body safety, as long as the information is age-appropriate and
presented without fear. For example, when you're bathing your 18-month-old daughter, you might say:

"Mommy is cleaning your back and your legs. Now Mommy is helping you clean your vulva. Your vulva and vagina are your private parts. You're the boss of your body."

As your child gets a little older, you would add to the body-safety rule: "Your vulva and your vagina are two of your private parts, and no one is allowed to touch your private parts unless you need help cleaning them, or your private parts are hurt or sick and the doctor or nurse needs to examine them. And I will always be in the room if the doctor has to look at your private parts."

In the words of a two-year-old child, whose mother has been teaching body-safety concepts for over a year, "My vagina is mine!"

If you have a six-year-old child and you have not discussed body safety yet, you certainly can begin now. When your adorable child strips off his/her clothes running around the house, giggling while the neighbors are over, you can teach your child that when there is company in your home, clothes stay on, and private parts stay covered.

2.  When should my kids stop bathing with each other and when should I (we) stop being naked in front of them?

Parenting Safe Children

It is common for children to begin showing modesty around age seven or eight, but it could be as early as five, or even either side of ten. Your child may seek greater privacy when he or she gets dressed or uses the bathroom, and your child may tell you that he or she does not want to bathe with siblings any longer.

If your child doesn't express modesty through privacy requests, you might bring up the topic through teachable moments. For example, when siblings are bathing together, you might say:

"If at some point either of you prefer to bathe without your sister (or brother), that's perfectly fine because in our home we respect each others privacy."

I want to acknowledge that separate bathing, with two or more kids, means more work for parents, so you might consider other ways to
reinforce privacy.

A word about nudity: Depending on your values, you may or may not be comfortable with nudity in your home. If you do allow nudity, be sure to reinforce body-safety rules and consider introducing boundaries if any family member expresses discomfort. Also be sure to have everyone clothed when other children or adults are visiting your home.

3.  Do I have to ask permission every time I kiss or hug my child?

In Parenting Safe Children workshops and in my book, Off Limits, I discuss the importance of allowing children to choose if, when, and with whom they hug and kiss. Why is it so important to give children this choice? Because by teaching children early on about boundaries, you are setting the stage for mutual respect and consent throughout their lives.

Parenting Safe Children
 And it turns out that a child who can say "No" to a loved one in a safe environment has a better chance of saying "No" if approached in an unsafe situation. For this reason, I recommend getting consent, particularly with younger children. You might say, "May I have a kiss?" or "Do you want a kiss?" When you ask, and a child grants or denies permission, you are empowering your child to be the boss of his or her body. And sometimes, a child who feels empowered will then rush over to hug you; on the other hand, if your child runs off asserting his/her right to choose, you can feel good knowing that you are helping your child understand the ever important concept of consent.

With older kids, you can also read body language, and when you know your child doesn't want to be smothered with kisses, just name it -- e.g., "As much as I want to give you hugs and kisses, I can see you don't want them now and that's your choice. You always get to choose whether you want to be touched, or not."

If you're having trouble bringing a family member on board with this body-safety rule, please share this newsletter and invite that individual onto your prevention team.

4.  If my child doesn't ask questions or seem curious about sex, should I bring it up?  

Yes! Be proactive and look for teachable moments to open conversations. Some children are reluctant to ask questions about sexuality, or just don't ask a lot of questions in general. Your child may never ask, but it's still important for you be their first correct source of information.

You can normalize conversations about sexual development at different stages in your child's growth. For example, if your five-year-old child stares at your menstrual blood in the toilet but doesn't ask questions, use it as a teachable moment and provide basic information. "Mommy has her period right now which means there's some blood coming out of her vagina. Mommy is not hurt. The blood is coming out because Mommy is not growing a baby. When a baby grows, the blood feeds the baby."

Your child might say, "Oh" and run off to play, but you've started the  conversation and have let your child know that no topics are off limits. When discussing sexual development with children, all you ever have to do is just give the facts and tell the truth.

5. What if I teach my seven-year-old child about sex and he/she tells friends about it?

Parenting Safe Children
 Of course kids are going to discuss sex with their friends! It's fascinating, right?

I recommend being proactive by letting your children's caregivers know that you have discussed sex. If your child has a best friend, you might even tell his or her parents. In the same conversation, reinforce your child's body-safety rules.

Remember to avoid saying to your child, "Don't tell your friends about sex." If you do so, you'll be contradicting your "no secrets" rule, and kids will tell their friends anyway. If it's really a concern to you, you might say: "Many times parents like to be the ones to teach their children about sex, so let's let Liam's parent(s) tell him when they're ready."

6.  How do I know if my toddler is safe? She can't tell me if someone has broken a body-safety rule?

The fewer caregivers you have, the lower the risk of abuse. If you don't have the option of limiting caregivers, be sure to talk with every caregiver about your child's body-safety rules and invite each one onto your prevention team.

While screening is your best prevention tool, it's also important to know the signs of sexual abuse. (See Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.)

 7.  How do I speak with my children about touching their own genitals?

Like any other conversation with children, talk about touching genitals candidly, accurately, and perhaps most importantly, without shame. Your child will present you with ample teachable moments to introduce and reinforce body-safety concepts alongside your values, and it really is possible to answer kid's questions in an age-appropriate way.

Consider this common situation: Your child has her hands in her pants. It could be in public, when relatives are visiting, or while playing with other children, but here's what a response might look like:

"It's okay to touch your vulva/vagina, but that's something you do when you're by yourself. Your vulva and vagina are private parts of your body, so you touch them when you have privacy."

And then you would redirect your child's attention to something else.

It's even okay to acknowledge pleasure. Consider this exchange between a Dad and his 4-year-old son:

"Dad, look It's so big and purple!"

"Yes, that's because when you touch your penis it feels good."

Fast forward to fifth or sixth grade, and now age-appropriate discussions might include nocturnal emissions and an explanation that an orgasm is a pleasurable feeling that comes from your penis being touched -- and that it's normal and okay. Remind your child that he can touch his own penis but others cannot until he gives consent as an older teen or adult.

I know talking about masturbation may be uncomfortable, but just like you nurture your child's emotional, spiritual, and physical development, it's important to nurture your child's sexual development. Why? Sexual offenders look for children who are uninformed about sex so the offender can teach the child. The more you're available to your child with information about sex and
sexuality, the more likely your children will go to you for information, and the less vulnerable your child is to sexual abuse.

8.  If I teach my kids about sex in primary school, isn't it going to make them curious to try sex?

Parenting Safe Children

Contrary to popular belief, talking to kids about sex does not make them go out and have sex. Not talking about sex and sexuality, however, does contribute to misinformation, confusion, shame, and body image issues. And most pertinent to this discussion, talking with children about sex and sexuality, in an age-appropriate way, empowers children and teens around body safety. It lets them know that no topic is off limits, which makes kids more likely to speak with you about both safe and unsafe situations.

You can certainly reinforce your values while having conversations about sex. For instance, "I'm really glad we can talk about sexuality because I don't want you to be confused or get misinformation from other kids. In our family we really value ..."

9.  Do sex offenders "groom" children in front of other people?

Yes, sometimes offenders will groom right in front of you because they want to desensitize you to grooming behavior. Consider this situation: A neighbor spends more time playing with children than adults, and is seen pulling up a child's shirt and tickling a child's belly. By engaging in this seemingly playful behavior in front of you, the offender wants you to think, "Gosh, he's so great with kids," and hopes you will not set boundaries.

I am not suggesting that all adults who play with and tickle kids are offenders, but rather that it's important to learn the signs of grooming, which I discuss in Off Limits and the Parenting Safe Children Workshop.

10.  What happens when a report of child abuse is made to Child Protective Services (CPS)?
Child Protective Services (CPS and sometimes called Department of Children & Family Services) is a government agency and its mission is to keep kids safe. When you report actual or suspected abuse to CPS, a screening team reviews the reported incident and determines, based on the state's criteria, whether to investigate it. If the incident does not meet the state's criteria, the report is kept on file anyway, which is why it's important to report suspected abuse. If the incident does meet the state's criteria, the child is interviewed by a qualified interviewer who determines if the child is in imminent danger and what action should be taken. When the alleged offender is not a family member, law enforcement may get involved; otherwise, social services remains involved.

Remember, the purpose of making a report is to protect the child. CPS wants to keep families together. 

For more information about keeping children safe from sexual abuse, visit

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Grandma Wants a Hug – Teachable Moment

Parenting Safe Children ImageThe holidays are a time of greetings and affection, so it’s particularly important to remember that children and teens are safer when they get to choose when and with whom to show affection.

If a family member or friend wants to greet your child with a hug or kiss, and your child does not want to, then seize this teachable moment and stand up for your child by modeling healthy boundaries and communicating clearly.

Grandma: “Oh, it’s so good to see you. Give grandma a hug.”

Mom or Dad: “I know you’re a hugger, Mom, but we’ve taught Darius that he gets to choose when he shows affection and it looks like he doesn’t want to hug right now. Darius, is there another way you'd like to greet grandma besides hugging her."

I know how natural it is for parents and grandparents to want to shower their children and grandchildren with hugs and kisses, but giving children a choice about physical affection teaches that consent matters.

It is never a child’s job to manage the feelings of other people. For more on this topic, check out the Parenting Safe Children December 16 post on Facebook.

When Children Play – a Teachable Moment

Parenting Safe Children - ImageYou’ve just eaten a big meal and the children, of all different ages, are restless. They want to go play while the adults linger over coffee. What kind of supervision is required to ensure everyone’s safety?

Children can get into scenarios while playing which can be compromising. Remind kids to keep the doors open and review body-safety practices with them. Also let the kids know to come ask if they need anything and let them know that you’ll be in to check on them from time to time.

As children go off to play, remind both the children and the adults about your family’s four body-safety practices:

  • Everyone plays with their clothes on.
  • No one touches private parts.
  • We don’t keep secrets.
  • If you feel unsafe in any way, come tell a trusted adult.
Pay particular attention to much older children who are playing with much younger children—i.e., an age difference of four or more years. Consider these scenarios between Justin (14 years old) and Jaime (6 years old), and note the behaviors of potential or actual concern:
  • Jaime repeatedly pulls Justin out of the group of kids and disappears with him. (teen isolating a child from larger group)
  • Justin squeezes Jaime’s buttocks several times. (sexualized teasing)
  • Justin squeezes Jaime’s buttocks when Jaime has asked him to stop. (poor boundaries)
  • Justin shows Jaime an adult porn magazine. (sexually harmful behavior)
  • Justin swears Jaime to secrecy about a special place in the basement. (secrecy)
Children need supervision regardless of the setting. Listen to your intuition and speak up if you feel uncomfortable. By communicating safety practices in front of other adults, you are modeling prevention and opening the door for conversation.

Air Travel for the Holidays – Teachable Moment

Whether you are traveling over the holidays or sometime in 2017, here are some body-safety conversation tips for talking with your children about airport security, x-ray machines, and pat downs.
Parenting Safe Children Image

  1. Talk with children about airport and airplane rules. With young children (< age 8), have this conversation on the way to the airport. With older children (ages 8+), you can have the conversation further in advance if you wish. Language for young children: People who work at airports have rules we must follow just like at home, school, and other places. These rules keep everyone safe.
  2. Compare airport safety to other kinds of safety. Language for young children: Just like you have to sit in your car seat when we drive or wear a helmet when you ride your bike, there are certain rules at the airport. To make the topic of safety less scary, weave in general safety expectations.
    Language for young children: On the plane, we stay in our seats unless we are using the toilet. We keep our seat belt on at all times.
  3. Explain to children what to expect. Language for young children: We’ll check our bags and then we’ll stand in a line where we have to take off our shoes, jackets and belts. Then we’ll go through a metal detector or x-ray machine. In addition, a person who works at the airport and wears a uniform may have to touch our bodies over our clothes to make sure we are safe to get on the airplane.
  4. Answer questions directly and simply. Provide more details if your children are older and ask more questions. Language for young children: Because no one is allowed to take a knife or scissors or nail clippers on airplanes, and sometimes people forget to leave them home.
  5. If a pat down is requested, use this as a teachable moment to assert the body-safety rule on touching private parts. Language for young children: We've talked about body-safety rules and you know that no one is allowed to touch the private areas of your body except when the doctor needs to examine you and Mom or Dad is in the room with you. Well, this is another exception. The airport person may need to touch your body over your clothes. This is the only time someone can do this at the airport and I will be with you.
As always, try to make prevention fun. You might play a “what if game” to reinforce body safety at the airport, while including other situations as well.
  • What if someone else in the airport tried to touch your body—what would you say and do?
  • What if your babysitter wanted you to keep a secret—what would you say and do?
  • What if a kid at school wanted to look at your private parts in the bathroom—what would you say and do?
The answer to all of these questions is the same:
  1. Say “NO!”
  2. Go tell a trusted adult.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

What Does Consent Look Like at Different Ages?

Learning about boundaries and consent is a process that takes place over many years. Here’s what it looks like at different ages.

In the words of a two-year-old child, whose mother has been teaching body-safety concepts for over a year, “My vagina is mine!”

Toddler to Tween:
Mom to her Mother: “I know you love to hug the boys, but we’re teaching them that they get to choose if and when they give and receive hugs, so they know that if they are ever uncomfortable with touch from anyone, they have our permission to refuse.”

Any age:
“My five-year old son was having his annual physical and did not want the doctor to examine his genitals. After reminding him that because I was with him in the room, and it was part of a health check, it would be okay if he agreed. My son did not agree, so we passed on that part of the exam this time and will try again next time.”
Parenting Safe Children

(Note: There are times, of course, when you would have to reassure you child and go forward with the genital exam if there is a medical concern. And yes, there are times when children’s bodies need to be touched for a variety of other medical reasons when they have not given permission  (e.g., medication in ears, shots or even putting sunblock on when a child refuses); however, there are also times when honoring a child’s lack of permission is an excellent reinforcement in teaching consent.

Four to five years old
“My husband and I were out on a date and when we came home, our sitter told us that she was giving our son a bath and he said, ‘No one is allowed to touch my private parts, so I will wash my own butt.’ Our sitter knows our family’s body-safety rules and respected our son’s boundaries.”

Eight or more years old
“My eleven-year old was at a sleepover party and a couple of the kids suggested looking at porn on their phones. My child was uncomfortable but worried about refusing because of the peer pressure. In the end he said to his friends, ‘That stuff is not real and it’s illegal, and I don’t want to look.’ I think he was able to refuse because of our many talks about not compromising himself for others.”

Tween and teen
“I am comfortable kissing and nothing else for now.”

Adult Committed Partners:

“I know tonight is ‘date night’ but I’m really just in the mood to watch a movie and give each other back rubs. Is that okay with you?”

Talking with Children, Teens and Caregivers about Consent

Learning about boundaries and consent is a process that takes place over many years. By starting the conversation early, your children have more time to internalize body-safety rules and practice setting boundaries. And likewise, by talking with caregivers and family members about boundaries, you can model for your child, and the adults in their lives, what consent looks like and that it matters.

In this article, I will discuss how to talk about consent with caregivers and family members, younger children, and with teens, and will give you sample language for doing so.

Giving Children Choice Around Affection & Modeling Consent
Seize every opportunity to model consent for your children -- and actively support them in giving their own consent around touch. Allow children to choose if, when, and with whom they show affection.

A child who can say “No” to a loved one in a safe environment has a better chance of saying “No” if approached in an unsafe situation. For this reason, I recommend asking children before showing affection. For instance, you might ask, “May I have a kiss?” or “Do you want a hug?”

When you ask, and a child grants or denies permission, you are empowering your child to be the boss of his or her own body. If nothing else, read your child’s body language. If your child resists your hug, that's actually a good thing because your child is asserting his/her own boundary and that's what you want your child to be able to do if ever in an unsafe situation. You can turn this into a teachable moment by saying:

“If you don’t want a hug, that’s fine because you are the boss of your body. When you want a hug or a kiss, let me know.”
A young child typically will rush over and give you a hug because he or she feels empowered! I know how natural it is for parents and grandparents to want to shower their children and grandchildren with hugs and kisses. But giving a child a choice about physical affection teaches that consent matters.

Also invite caregivers to think about boundaries by sharing your child’s body-safety rules:

  • My child is the boss of his/her body.
  • We teach our children body-safety rules.
  • We teach our children to respect adults, but it’s okay for them to say “no” and tell if they ever feel unsafe.
  • Our children do not keep secrets.
But what about Auntie Irma who demands her hug, believes that your child owes her a hug and tells your child she’ll be so sad without a hug? Teach Auntie Irma “the why behind” this body-safety rule, that by teaching your children about consent when they are young, with all the people in their lives, they learn early that it is not their responsibility to manage the feelings of others.

With other adults, you might turn consent into a conversation about matching expectations before kids have a playdate. With babysitters, you might pose some discussion questions - e.g.,

“How would you respond to my children grabbing each other’s private parts while bathing?” and “What would you do if my daughter asked you to tickle her?”
Every time you speak up, you are helping to keep your child safe from sexual abuse and modeling the practice of consent, which will help your child for a lifetime.

Talking with Younger Children about Boundaries

You can start teaching children about consent as soon as they are able to understand basic rules and right from wrong. When talking with younger children (chronologically or mentally), be concrete, and use practice and repetition to help with learning.

Here are five body-safety rules you can teach young children about boundaries, the foundation of consent.

  1. No one is allowed to touch your private parts unless you need help cleaning them, or your private parts are hurt or sick and the doctor or nurse needs to examine them.
  2. It is not okay to touch someone else’s private parts.
  3. No one is allowed to take pictures of your private parts or of you doing anything while you're naked, e.g., going to the bathroom, bathing, or dressing. (This body-safety rule is not meant to prevent parents from taking a photo of their kids in the tub to share with grandma, but is important toward preventing someone from using children for pornographic purposes, which will be the subject of the January newsletter.)
  4. If somebody tries to touch your private parts, say “no,” try to get away, and tell.
  5. “No one is allowed to make you hug or kiss them if you do not want to. No one is allowed to hug or kiss you if you don’t want them to.
And remember to also teach your children that consent is a two-way street. Some kids are super affectionate and will hug and kiss everyone they see. This is a great opportunity to teach kids that they must receive permission from others to give hugs and kisses.

Implicit in all of these rules is the concept that everyone is the boss of his or her body.

Your children will give you ample opportunities to naturally bring up and reinforce these rules. For instance, when you’re washing your toddler’s private parts you might say:
“Mommy is going to clean your penis and testicles now. Remember, no one is allowed to touch your penis, unless you need help cleaning it, which is what I’m doing right now.”
Here’s another example - a four-year-old girl who is touching her vagina while watching TV. Here you might say:
“Since you’re the boss of your body, it’s always OK for you to touch and look at your own private parts, as long as you do it in private when no one else is around.”
Now consider these scenarios and what you might say. We’ll be talking about each one on Facebook in the coming days, so join the discussion.
  • Changing your baby’s diapers:
  • Two kids playing in a wading pool and grabbing each other’s private parts:
  • Older sibling grabs cell phone to take photo of naked younger sibling:
  • Dad showering with son or daughter:
  • Daddy, is that your tail?
Lastly, it is also important to teach children that if someone does touch their private parts, it is never ever their fault -- and they can talk with you about it.
Shame permeates the crime of sexual assault, and is often the reason why people don’t tell for years and years (and sometimes ever). Survivors often believe it was their fault. The abuser counts on this, so we have to remind every child and the adult they become that child sexual abuse is never their fault. Children can never give consent to sexual touch!

For more information about keeping kids safe from sexual abuse, including a complete set of body-safety rules, see Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.

Talking with Teens about Consent
When talking with teens, you can use more abstract terms like “consent” and “exploitation,” and guidelines such as “Trust your intuition” and “Set sexual boundaries.”

    Parenting Safe Children
  1. No one has the right to touch the private areas of your body without your permission. No one has the right to force, coerce, threaten, or manipulate you into engaging in any type of sexual activity.
  2. You don’t have the right to touch someone else’s private areas of their body without that person’s permission. And it’s never acceptable to force, coerce, bribe, threaten, or manipulate another person into any type of sexual activity. With teens it’s also important to discuss the legal ramifications of sexually assaultive behaviors.
  3. It’s a crime for any person (child, teen or adult) to take photos or videos of your naked body. If any person  ever tries to take a photo of your private parts or naked body, refuse and tell a parent or trusted adult. Also be sure that your child knows that “sexting” – sending nude photos by cell phone – is illegal.
Parenting Safe Children
Credit: Brookdale Community College
For a more detail discussion of these and other body-safety rules, see my book: Off Limits! 

One of the best ways to educate teens and reinforce body-safety rules is through “What-if” games because they lead to meaningful discussions with your child about hypothetical yet real situations.
  • What if you’re at a party and someone makes an unwanted sexual pass at you? What would you say and do?
  • What if you’re drinking and you’re not able to advocate well for yourself?
  • What if you see a friend or peer struggling to get away from someone? What would you say or do?
  • What if someone you don’t know very well wanted to take photos of your body, saying you could become a famous model?
  • What if you’re spending the night at a friend’s house and the friend’s older sibling or father walks around naked? What would you say or do?
  • What if someone you’re interested in starts sexting?
  • What if you agree to kiss someone and then the person you’re with starts pulling up your shirt or unzipping your pants?
When talking with teens and young adults, make sure they understand what consent really means and what it looks like in practice.

Consent is an agreement between people to engage in sexual activity. And in a consensual agreement, you can change your mind any time. This means just because you consent to kissing doesn’t mean you’re consenting to anything else.

Consent can be verbal or nonverbal, but verbal is preferred because it requires one party to ask and the other party to agree. offers these examples of what consent does and does not look like.

Positive consent can look like this:
  • Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
  • Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
  • Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level
Parenting Safe ChildrenEqually important is what consent does NOT look like:
  • Refusing to acknowledge “no”
  • Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
  • Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
  • Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
  • Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Winning Gold

I find it unacceptable that USA Gymnastics, the sole national governing body for gymnastics in the US with 3,000 gyms, regularly fails to report allegations of child sexual abuse to authorities. This is yet another example of reckless policy making, individual irresponsibility, and institutional failure on behalf of children.

Everything we know about child sexual abuse prevention indicates that we must take every report of abuse or suspected abuse seriously, no matter whether it’s first, second or third hand. The average age a person discloses child sexual abuse is 40, following decades of shame and fear. By then, how many other children have been harmed by the child sexual abuser?

To add insult to injury, USA Gymnastics, like many youth-serving organizations and schools, only conducts criminal background checks. Most people who sexually abuse children are never caught, much less convicted, so background checks are largely meaningless unless conducted as part of a three-pronged strategy that also includes: a) Interview questions about boundaries with children and b) Reference checks.

If the leaders of sports organizations reject best practices and ignore their own moral compass, where does that leave children?

We can and must do better on behalf of all children involved in every level of athletics, from local recreation programs, to school teams, to elite competition. Sexual abuse is not more prominent in one sport over another. All children are vulnerable, but fortunately, there are many small and large actions parents can take to put children first, before the all-consuming power of sports, heroes, and winning.

Here’s exactly what you can do now:

1. Talk with your children about body safety.

Regularly talk with kids about body safety. With all the responsibilities of parenting, it can be tough to continually reinforce body-safety rules, yet it’s important to keep those conversations alive—e.g., “No one is allowed to touch the private areas of your body or ask you to touch theirs. If anyone tries to or does touch your private parts, tell a trusted adult.”
Children don’t always tell when they are being abused because they may have been threatened and/or may fear losing a person (including a coach) they love or admire, or in sports, losing the opportunity to compete.

So remind them, “It’s never too late to tell. I will not be mad at you. I will always love you, and will make sure you get to safely play the sport you love.”

For teen athletes, you would modify the body-safety rule and have a meaningful conversation about consent. “Remember that consent is always a ‘must.’ This means that no one is allowed to touch the private areas of your body without your permission (and visa-versa) and no one has the right to force, coerce, bribe threaten, or manipulate you. It is also never acceptable for an older person in a position of trust or authority, like a coach, to be involved with you or any teen in a sexual way.”

Also talk with your children and teens about texting, emailing and phoning coaches and other adult mentors. Parents or another adult should always be copied on texts and emails. Youth should not be communicating by phone privately with coaches or other adults.

2.  Be vigilant about talking with coaches and administrators. 

Unfortunately, in the quest for power, wins and medals, adults may debase children. If you enroll your child in a program affiliated with a “hero,” or in a program which seeks the spotlight and winning at any cost, screen and screen again. Ask to read the organization’s child sexual abuse prevention policies, ask how the policies translate to practices, and find out how sexual abuse prevention policies and practices are monitored. You have a right to ask, “Has there ever been a concern about anyone in your organization behaving inappropriately with child? If so, how did you handle it?”

Ask about background checks and make sure that administrators are conducting background checks and also checking references and asking interview questions about boundaries with children. Lastly, be sure to ask about policies for adults being alone with children because an adult should never be alone with a child – not in the locker-room, field, gym, car, hotel, or at a competition.

3.  Be wary of hero worship. 

We cannot honor a person’s stature, position, or notoriety at the expense of children's safety. Think about your own attitudes toward the leaders in organizations which care for your child, and don’t be intimidated about asking hard questions. In fact, the more power the person has, the tougher you may have to be to keep your child safe. You have a right to ask any question and to see both policies and staff training materials.

4.  You don’t need proof to protect a child. 

While everyone has a right to due process, do not hesitate to speak up if you see concerning behaviors. Learn the warning signs that someone might be behaving inappropriately with a child—and if you see something or suspect something, tell the organization’s leader, call social services, and/or report it to the police. If you don’t, you are complicit and can be held liable. If you are scared or nervous to speak up, talk with another parent first or call Parenting Safe Children for a consultation.

If you don’t get an immediate and satisfactory response, you may be dealing with an organization or team that puts winning before safety, in which case, keep reporting up the chain and call the police if you have not already done so. Feel free to download for free this Parenting Safe Children resource: Behaviors to Watch Out for When Adults Are with Children 

5.  Own the responsibility. 

We all, as individuals and members of our communities, share responsibility for keeping children safe. Make sure the volunteers, staff, and administrators who interact with your children in school and youth programs have been trained to honor and uphold the body safety of all children.

If you would like some additional support on how to invite your child’s coach and youth sports program onto your prevention team, please see the Parenting Safe Children video: Talking with a Sports Coach about Body Safety

For more information about the source investigative reporting on USA Gymnastics, see A blind eye to sex abuse: How USA Gymnastics failed to report cases: