By Janel Breitenstein
Summer’s winding down, and the kids are back in school: new teachers, new coaches, new slumber parties. But with all the excitement, there can actually be a darker side–new dangers to our kids.
Maybe, like I was, you’d like to know what the typical profile of an abuser could look like.
It could be anyone.
Nobody is beyond the power to abuse…and the danger doesn’t necessarily change if we know the person. Statistically, the majority of abuse actually happens within families and trusted friends! Most of us can name at least one person whom we thought, for example, wouldn’t be subject to moral failure– only to discover how wrong we are.
I had to think: Would I believe my son or daughter if they’d said this was happening to them, and it was by my friend, or in my house? What if they said it was by a church leader, or a Sunday school teacher?
What can be done?! Here are a few tips that were recommended to me by some victims of abuse.
Communicate, “I believe you.” Kids are far from innocent, and they often try to manipulate us. But they also must feel they’ll be heard and trusted. Early in life I can try to instill honesty and accuracy in their speech in the smallest communication, so that when it matters, the relationship is there. They can be trusted to tell the truth and I can be trusted to listen.
Communicate, “You can believe me.” It’s so easy as a mom to fudge on uncomfortable truths. But Jesus describes Himself as Truth (John 14:6), and Satan as the Father of Lies. Even simple, understandable, truthful explanations about the world establish a relationship of trust far before abuse ever happens. When my kids ask questions about sex, for example, do I pretend I don’t know what they’re talking about? Do I give them the message that this is an embarrassing topic?
If authenticity is my policy, my kids will feel more comfortable approaching me sooner about abuse as it escalates—which often happens gradually as a perpetrator prepares and desensitizes his chosen subject. If I can’t talk about sex without looking ashamed or evasive (This is a dirty, wrong thing to discuss!) I can’t expect them to feel comfortable approaching me about questionable sexual stuff.
Don’t always believe the best. It is a well-founded biblical principle that we regard others with love and charity. But I also need to train our children that if someone makes them feel uncomfortable in any way––including those in authority or someone they know I like or respect––they can and need to actively, confidently resist that person and tell us.
Avoid situations of unnecessary risk. Without acting out of fear or unreasonably keeping my kids from life experiences and relationships, I’ve got to use discernment with my kids’ activities. What will the atmosphere and activities be like at the slumber party? Will someone else be riding home with my son and the coach? Am I aware of their location when I’m with friends or family? (By the way, I’m going to establish an “open door” policy at our house.)
I need to thoughtfully, prayerfully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of my boundaries, choose wisely, then leave the protection of my kids in their Father’s capable hands.
The threat of sexual predators doesn’t allow me to live in fear and distrust. After all, the Word reminds me that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear … and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). I find myself worrying about my worst nightmares coming true (I’m famous for playing the ”Where’s my husband? He’s LATE!” game). Or I can seek to control as many aspects of my kids’ environment in hopes of heading disaster off at the pass (after all, it’s soooo much easier to lean on my own understanding!) But instead, I’m commanded to cast all my anxiety on Him, because He cares for my family (1 Peter 5:7). He cares for them, and He has purposes for them–and even the events He allows in our lives. Biblically, I shouldn’t love others less in self-protection. Jesus is the ultimate example of that.
But I don’t want to love in foolishness. My kids, too, can learn to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). I want to walk wisely–and then, walk in peace. Trusting that my kids’ heavenly Father loves them and longs for their good even more than I do, I can open these clutching hands, surrendering the well-being of my kids––His kids!–– to His all-seeing, all-powerful care.