Part 3: Lessons Learned

This is the finale of a three-part series chronicling my family’s experience with a potential child predator. You may want to start with Part 1: It’s Someone You Know and Part 2: Warning Signs.

For us, the story is over. The neighbor has been sentenced. While he still lives behind us, I expect that his tenure in the neighborhood is probably drawing to a close. It’s certainly clear that he is not going to have any more interaction with my children, which is fine with me.

3248283617_c23445ea31[1]But we are the product of our experiences. And this experience makes me suspicious. Where are my children going? How are they spending their time? Who is home at that friend’s house they’re visiting? I’m much less a fan of sleepovers and play dates and letting my children out of my sight. But that’s not healthy for them or me. There’s no more risk to them now than there was three years ago before all this happened. But you can bet we’re paying attention. No, you’re not going to ride in coach’s car unless there are others in the car too. You will take your cell phone with you, and you’ll call if anything happens that makes you feel threatened or uncomfortable. You’re not running or biking alone. You will always let us know where you are and what you’re doing.

We will drive you crazy, my children, with our involvement in your lives. We want to know your friends. We want to know their parents. Where do they live? What do they do? We’re going to judge people by how they treat one another, and by the decisions they make and the actions and attitudes they demonstrate. We’re probably not going to force you to disassociate with people, but we will help you make your own decisions about the kinds of people you choose to spend your time with.

We’re going to continue to monitor your online activity. We do not want to know everything you’re thinking and doing and saying. But we do want to know if you’re putting yourself in danger. Most of all, we want to be able to follow up on other warning signs. We are not spies. We will respect your privacy, unless you give us a reason not to. But know that we’re still the parents, and we need the tools to help you through this.

We’re going to pay attention to the adults you spend time with, and we’re going to be more suspicious of them than we were in the past. We will question the person who directs children’s theater productions but doesn’t seem to have any interest in adult casts. We will wonder about the coach who is passionate about girls’ basketball or soccer or track, but doesn’t seem to care about those sports for boys. We will be suspicious of the person who gives private music lessons but doesn’t seem to be interested in performing on her instrument of choice or teaching adults. We’re not going to automatically judge these people as harmful, but we’re going to give them additional scrutiny.

3872738624_cdeac87688[1]In the wild, the most dangerous place to be is between a mother and her children. If you find yourself between a mother bear and her cub, you’re in trouble. In Kenya, we found ourselves too close to the baby elephant, and yet not quite far enough away from Mamma. She let us know, in no uncertain terms, that we were too close. Our driver was smart enough to get us out of there before she felt the need to protect her baby. We are going to be much more like that Mamma elephant because we now have experience with people threatening our babies.

But most of all, we’re going to err on the side of caution. I don’t need proof that there’s a serious threat. I only need a suspicion. On some level, instinct takes over. If it doesn’t feel right — if intuition is telling us that something is wrong — we’re going to act on it. So we’ll wear the badge of the overprotective parents if we have to. But we will protect our kids, and we’ll teach them to protect themselves.

And what can you do, faithful blog reader? You can pay attention to relationships between children and adults in your life. You can be aware of warning signs, like these:

  • Child predators may push social, emotional, and physical boundaries.

  • Child predators may try to arrange opportunities to be alone with children.

  • Child predators may use inappropriate innuendo when communicating with children.

  • Child predators may offer to babysit, take children on special outings, and buy gifts for children.

  • Child predators may show an inappropriate level of interest in or affection for a particular child or children.

  • Child predators may try to get children to communicate online with them, away from the watchful eyes of parents and other adults.

  • Child predators may share too much personal information with children.

  • Child predators may encourage children to lie to or mislead their parents.

  • Child predators may be interested in activities that allow them to be around children, even though they have little interest in analogous activities for adults.

  • Child predators may seem to relate better to children than adults.

  • Child predators may take an unusual interest in children, even if they have no children of their own.

You don’t have to have evidence that a person had ill-intent to remove your child from the situation. When it comes to your children, you’re the boss. You don’t have to accuse the adult of anything. Just indicate that you’re acting in the interest of child safety. If there’s an online component, contact the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for help. If you want more resources, check out this page from Safely Ever After and this article from Modern Mom.

Edit: I also really like this list of 8 Red Flags for Identifying Child Predators.  It’s the list we originally used when we cut off the art lessons, but I couldn’t find it when I originally posted this article.

Finally, teach your children how to get out of uncomfortable situations. Give them tools to help them know when they’re in danger and how to get out. They know not to take candy from or get in cars with strangers. But what should they do when someone they know makes them feel uncomfortable? Who can they talk to? Hopefully, there’s an adult besides Mom and Dad that they can confide in.

I have a friend who established an elaborate phone code with her children. If they’re somewhere and want her to come get them immediately, they can call her. “Don’t forget to record my show,” they’ll say. That means “I’m feeling uncomfortable and want you to come get me.” Mom can make up an excuse, come up with an emergency, or just step in and get the child without raising any alarms. That’s not a bad system to put in place.

I wish we didn’t have to worry about these things. I wish we lived in a world where the idea of hurting children were so far beyond the realm of our wildest nightmares that it would never occur to anyone to actually do it. But we don’t live in that world. And until we do, we have to protect our kids.

Photo sources: Thecrazyfilmgirl on Flickr and, uhh, me.

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4 comments

  1. In addition to getting the training and paying attention, we took two additional actions which in hindsight really helped us manage the situation. The first was to be honest with our daughter in an age appropriate way. We did not WANT to talk to an 11 year old about child predation, but we DID tell her from the very first day she had lessons to trust her instincts (which we said was one way God talks to her) and to tell us if anything felt wrong. We gave her concrete words and actions to use and we talked about them periodically: “If you feel uncomfortable at any time, tell him you feel like you are going to throw up and run home immediately.” (Very few people like dealing with vomit!) We also talked to her when she was much younger about private parts of the body remaining private, which allowed us to question her directly when we had to about whether he had ever touched her on her private parts. In other words, we established open dialogue and comfortable language to use with her, even at a young age.

    The second action we took as our suspicions grew was to tell our daughter of our discomfort and growing distrust of him (and the reasons for it) without accusing him of anything or calling him a bad person. We emphasized that good people can and do get sick and make bad choices. This was critical after her trust and admiration of him had been established for the previous two years. It is natural for teenagers to rebel against their parents and our growing negative view of him could have caused her to get defensive of and run right to him (something many potential child predators count on happening). By speaking to her in a more adult fashion, we headed off that trajectory so that when we DID cut off contact with him, we did not lose the relationship with our daughter.

    The one thing I wish we would have done differently is to have contacted the police with our suspicions – and the reasons behind them – even though they may not have constituted a crime. Several people encouraged us to do this, but because we had no proof that an actual crime had been committed, and because it was hard to see the forest for the trees when we were IN the forest, we did not report him. I think had we reported our situation in October, the police might have been able to act sooner. But this is pure speculation on my part and we did the best we could do at the time.

  2. Thank you both for sharing. It is a really tough balance of letting our kids be who they are, become independent learners, and allow them to grow up without constant fear, while also keeping them safe and our radar up. The warning signs are very helpful. And the need to have the ability to monitor online activity. It typically is not your child that you are concerned about initiating something dangerous. It’s letting them know you’re looking out for them, and sometimes making them aware of what you’re looking for so they too can keep themselves safe.

    If you have several red flags that you’re concerned about, law enforcement prefers that you talk to them sooner rather than later. They typically will be able to ask you questions and may be able to either uncover other red flags, or give you escalation items to watch out for. If you aren’t as fortunate to have the data trail you both had, they may also be able to guide you in establishing one in case. They may also be able to look at the red flags and help in case it is someone who does have good intentions.

    Speaking as someone who did teach riding lessons while childless by chance, one of the things that you as a parent should be able to ask is a question such as “what can my son/daughter work on outside of lessons to improve?” They should be able to give you a few things, and would be able to follow-up or include areas that they are working on. You can follow-up with a question such as a general lesson plan/path to improvement. If there is a concern by the instructor, they should try to mention to you concerns when the student is out of earshot. And, they should every so often, come up between students and mention an area that has improved. As long as you’re approaching as someone interested in their child and wanting to encourage an interest, rather than pushing the child/interested in goals, instructors usually welcome feedback as to what the child enjoys about lessons and their goals for the activity.

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