Sexual predators are not everywhere, but they are anywhere. This week, my family was rocked with the news that police arrested a local basketball coach for producing child pornography. This too-close-to-home development reminded us of the importance of talking openly with our son about sexual predators. It’s not an easy thing to talk to our kids about this stuff. However, from my experience, I can shed some light on such a dark conversation.
For the past 11 years, I’ve been working my way through the process of healing and surviving childhood sexual abuse. But during those 11 years, I also navigated the rough waters of being a first-time father. Not only have I been correcting almost 20 years of emotional turmoil, but I also had to ensure that I didn’t pass any of that pain onto my son. His life and mine, while connected, do not have to share any of the same narratives.
For the early years of my son’s life, it was easy to shield him from the worry of sexual predators. His social circle was small, and our trust within that small circle was strong. But as my son grew, so too did his social circle. Daycares, playdates, sleepovers, school and even strangers at the park became a part of his growing community. I won’t lie. It was an internal struggle for me to see him in the caring hands of others. But, I knew from a foundational parenting rule, the only way to protect him from a predator is to arm him with his independence.
So, where do you start? Trust.
As parents, we must raise children to be caring, trustworthy and productive adults. But that doesn’t mean we must be their protectors every hour of every day until they reach 18. Like a momma bear raising her cubs, at times, we have to leave our kids to fend for themselves, only intervening when the adversary gets to be too threatening. Along every step of the parental journey, we have to teach our children to protect themselves and identify situations where they feel unsafe. It’s the only way they learn to trust themselves.
To be trustworthy, you must trust. While ill-equipped with a deep vocabulary to express emotion and sometimes illogical, trust that your kids can process in-depth topics better than you give them credit. When my son was in pre-school, I had disclosed what had happened to me as a young boy. While I spared him every disturbing detail, I didn’t hold back how I felt when being abused as a child. And I didn’t hold back how I was feeling now as a grown-up. By entirely open with him, he learned how to express challenging emotions brought on by tough situations.
While I understand that not everyone has a sexually abusive past to leverage, we all have had to deal with trauma in our lives. Life is far from perfect; we all have baggage. By articulating your emotional baggage in a non-reactionary way with your children, you help them learn to express theirs. It’s very uncomfortable to express our deepest emotions with our children. We don’t want to appear weak or unworthy of their love. But the more we share with them, the more they can share with us. These conversations during good times create a blanket of trust for when they turn bad. Practicing this discomfort when times are easy makes it easier when times get tough. Parenting is an endless series of fire-drills until our children experience the raging inferno of adulthood.
Emotional safety is a priority.
It’s important to have your kids understand that the world is filled with criminals lurking at every opportunity. Making the world a dark and dangerous place develops the mindset that they have no control over their world. And when they feel that they have no control, they will live a life of incurable anxiety. Equipping your kids with emotional independence helps them identify those with whom they feel safe -not those who make them feel safe.
Your kids are your most treasured people. They are an extension of your life and the successor to your legacy. While it’s only natural to protect them from harm, it’s unreasonable to protect them from the realities of life. Open your emotional pain to your kids; don’t hide it with provoked reaction. I can assure you that opening the window to your heart doesn’t rush them into adulthood. It only helps them understand their emotions well before they get there. If you aren’t your kids #1 emotional teacher, they will find a tutor in someone else. Hopefully, If they’re lucky, they will learn from a kind-hearted soul and not by the hands of an emotionally pained predator. While they aren’t everywhere, they sure can be anywhere.