Protecting Your Tween: Red Flags and Other Early Warning Signs
Source: Kim Estes
As our children enter their tweens, they are spending more time away from us. This is a normal and healthy part of growing up. So, how does a parent protect their child but still encourage normal growth and independence during these tween years? The thought of someone potentially abusing our children is horrible. Especially when the statistics show that over 90% of abuse against children occurs by someone known to and trusted by the family. As parents, we want our children to be safe. It is a struggle to balance safety while nurturing and adapting to their growing independence.
Practice Your Elevator Speech: Talking to Your Tween About Personal Safety
When discussing safety with your tween, short, simple conversations on a consistent basis are extremely effective. Here are some simple pointers for parents.
- Don't use scare tactics.
- Keep it positive.
- Stay on topic.
- Be a good listener.
- Practice "what if's."
- Talk about healthy boundaries.
- Define what "job roles." (e.g. The coach's job is to teach the game, not help you change clothes.)
- Share your own experiences. How did you handle a personal safety issue?
- Initiate safety conversations.
Grooming the Parents
Predators can be anyone... a man, a woman, another child. It is important for parents to understand that predators gain access to your child through you. As parents you are the eyes and ears for your children. Pay attention to your "gut" and look for consistent patterns in red flag behaviors such as someone who
- Consistently insists upon arranging to spend alone one on one time with a particular child.
- Shares inappropriate information (normally only shared with adults) with the child.
- Seems preoccupied with a particular child.
- Seems "too good to be true."
- Insists on physical contact even when the child does not want the physical contact.
- Refuses to allow the child to set his/her own limits.
- Frequently walks in on tweens while using the restroom or they are changing.
- Makes inappropriate comments about the tweens developing body.
It is important for parents to not dismiss their gut feelings or dismiss red flags because of a person's age, their relationship with your family, or that person's social status. Boys and girls are nearly at identical risk for abuse. Trust your gut. As adults with more worldly experience, you will have a better chance of smelling a bad situation a mile away. Your child will not.
When to be Concerned: Warning Signs
Predators go to great lengths to "fly under the radar" and remain undetected. They are masters of communication. A predator will use attention and flattery to engage the child's interest. Sometimes, they may even use threats against the child to keep their actions secret. Tweens, by nature, can be moody and secretive. However, if things seem out of the "normal" range of tween behavior or there is a sudden change in behavior, you many need to take a closer look at what is happening. Here are some signs that may indicate that something is amiss with your child.
- He is secretive about e-mails, phone calls, or where they are going.
- She suddenly has advanced sexual knowledge.
- He displays regressive behaviors such as bedwetting or begins to have nightmares.
- She suddenly seems depressed.
- He no longer wants to attend school or activities that they normally enjoy.
- She suddenly refuses to spend time with a particular person.
- He suddenly wants to spend all their time with a particular person.
- You're not sure how your tween acquired items like iPod, games, jewelry, etc.
There are no guarantees and no one is immune to crime. However, you can greatly reduce your child's risk for abuse and abduction by talking openly about safety and implementing some basic rules for your entire family. By educating and empowering your family, you are helping your tween build a foundation of personal safety that they will carry with them throughout their entire life.
About the Author: Kim Estes is the co-founder of the non-profit organization: Parent Education And Child Empowerment (P.E.A.C.E of Mind) www.pomwa.org. Kim has worked with parents for over 12 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim and her cohort in crime prevention, Sabrina, help liberate parents from fearful parenting! Through non fearful techniques and easy to apply parenting strategies they help empower families to be safe.