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Summer activities: Is your child safe from predators?

Summertime should be a time for stress-free activities — playing at the park, swimming at the local pool or attending an organized activity such as a camp.

Parents may be supervising children less closely during the relaxed summer months, but are they potentially putting them at risk? Keep reading for what you should do to protect your children.

Are you signing your children up for organized activities this summer? Chances are you have at least one child enrolled in a day camp, organized sports event or overnight camp. Participating in these types of activities is a great growth experience for your child, but are you comfortable with the adults you are trusting to care for your child?

How to keep your kids active this summer >>

Face of an abuser

It is easy to assume that a sexual predator would be a stranger, possibly someone who looks menacing. The real face of an abuser may be more familiar than you think. Predators are usually able to win the child’s trust in order to abuse the child. Because of this trust component, the majority of sexual abuse is at the hands of adults familiar to the child who he already trusts.

There tends to be an increase in child abuse cases during the summer months. Why? “Children may be less supervised during the summer, or they may be in the care of extended family members so their parents can save money on child care,” says Michelle Bellon, child advocate and author. “Both situations put children at risk; the former for obvious reasons and the latter because 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the offender.”

Know the signs of child abuse and neglect >>

Questions to ask

When considering a summer program for your child, be prepared to ask specific questions to determine if the environment is safe.

  • What screening procedures do you use when interviewing potential employees or volunteers? Many employers might rely solely on a criminal background check, which isn’t always accurate since many predators have never been charged with a crime. Open-ended questions — in written applications or oral interviews — may sometimes lead to answers that raise a red flag about the applicant. All adults who will have contact with children must be screened.
  • Are older children in charge of the younger ones? Many programs utilize tweens or teens to assist the adults in running activities. Find out the policy about this, and what the rules are about how long your child will be unsupervised by adults.
  • Is your staff trained in recognizing signs of sexual abuse? Volunteers and staff members need to be accountable for what they may observe as unusual behavior, and know how to properly file a report. They should be on alert not only for signs of abuse in a child, but for inappropriate interactions between other staff members and the children in their care.

5 things to teach

Dr. Borba shares these five steps for teaching your child about sexual abuse on her blog.

  • Define “private parts” in a way that’s matter-of-fact and age-appropriate.
  • Teach “OK” and “not OK” touching and help your child understand the differences between good, bad, helping and sexual abuse touching.
  • Give permission to say “NO” then practice — because many children have been taught to always obey adults.
  • Teach them the “no secrets” rule — that uncomfortable secrets are not to be kept, no matter what.
  • Tell a trusted adult immediately when something happens that they are uncomfortable about.

What to teach your child

Child sexual abuse is probably the most easily hidden type of abuse, so parents need to be proactive. The best way to prevent sexual abuse is to educate your children early. “Not to talk about sexual abuse with children is a mistake,” says parent educator Michele Borba Ed.D. “Though you may fear it will be frightening, studies find most kids embrace information. The secret is bringing up the topic of sexual abuse to kids in a relaxed way just as you discuss earthquakes, pool safety and using crosswalks.”

By being proactive and teaching your child about sexual abuse, you give them the tools they need to make decisions and take action when you aren’t around.

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