Preparing Your Child for School: More Than Supplies and Clothes

Pencils in a row on a deskAs summer draws to a close you may be relieved to have all your children’s school supplies and clothes ready, but have you done all you can to prepare them for everything they face at school?

Now, on the heels of the Catholic Priest sexual abuse scandal comes another of historic proportions—one that has the potential to be much greater and far-reaching. According to a draft report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, in compliance with the 2002 “No Child Left Behind” act signed into law by President Bush, between 6 and 10 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees and teachers.

Charol Shakeshaft, the Hofstra University scholar, who prepared the report, said the number of abuse cases—which range from unwanted sexual comments to rape—could be much higher. Almost everyday the stories are in the news:

One such story includes an accusation that could not have been lodged against a more respected or popular educator: James Darden, an eighth-grade English teacher who was honored with a school assembly last year after winning a prestigious teaching award. Yet this month, Darden was charged with aggravated sexual assault after a woman, now 21, told prosecutors that between the age of 13 to 15 she and Darden, who is now 36, had sex in his house, car, classroom and the men’s bathroom at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Teaneck, NJ. He has pleaded not guilty. Days earlier, two 28-year-old female teachers at a therapeutic school for emotionally disturbed and neglected boys in New Windsor, New York, were charged with having sexual relations with two 16-year-old students.

Is your child prepared to deal with one of society’s worst scourges—sexual abuse? Every year throughout the world several hundred children are sexually abused/assaulted by adults associated with their school experience. To adequately prepare your child for school you need to educate him/her about sexual abuse prevention.

If your child knows the rules of ‘stranger danger’ you have protected your child from a 1% chance of being sexually abused/assaulted. Thus, your child is vulnerable to the most likely sexual child abuse offender, family members or other trusted adults. 80% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members, 19% are abused by someone the child knows and trusts. The other little known statistic is the frequency of sexual child abuse. David Finkelhor and Dianna Russell’s research reveals 62% of girls and 31% of boys will be sexually abused by age 18. Unfortunately this statistic is considered low due to the difficulty in gathering data from surveys or reporting agencies.

How can children protect themselves?

  • Accept the fact that sex offenders are average and ordinary.
  • Accept the definition of sexual child abuse. “If the experience has sexual meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse. If it is unwanted or inappropriate for her age or the relationship, it is abuse. Incest [sexual abuse] can occur through words, sounds, or even exposure of the child to sights or acts that are sexual but do not involve her. If she is forced to see what she does not want to see, for instance, by an exhibitionist, it is abuse. If a child is forced into an experience that is sexual in content or overtone that is abuse. As long as the child is induced into sexual activity with someone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through the perpetrator’s age, size, status, or relationship, the act is abusive. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse, is a child who has been violated” (E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors).
  • Know the signs your child is being targeted. There is no foolproof sexual child abuse prevention, because, sex offenders are cunning predators, who have perfected their skills to get what they want. Therefore, heed and investigate any warning signals. Warning signals include:
    • An aversion to an adult–even an adult whom your child knows and is seemingly comfortable being with.
    • Sudden outbursts of anger and there is no apparent reason known for such anger.
    • Any unusual or unexplained behavior change.
    • Not wanting to go to school on a particular day of the week–the day gym or music class is held for instance.
    • Not wanting to ride the bus or be around a particular person.
    • The gym teacher says your child is athletically ‘gifted’ and he or she wants to develop your child’s athletic abilities if your child practiced one-on-one after school.
    • A teacher gives your child a gift. A gift is sometimes an overture to win your trust and groom your child for seduction.

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself on the most effective strategies for child self-protection.
  • Teach Good/Appropriate Touch with regard to anyone, including relatives.
  • Teach Appropriate Body Boundaries, including with family members.
  • Foster self-esteem and good body image.
  • Teach the “Tell Mommy and Daddy Everything-No Secrets” rule.
  • Allow your child to command respect regarding dislikes and touch with family members, friends or authority figures.
  • Talk with and listen to your child until you are satisfied the aversion is unrelated to improper behavior by the teacher or any adult.
  • Attend any one-on-one contact with your child frequently to become ‘known’ as an attentive parent.
  • Go to games and practices. If you can’t be there, ask someone to be there for your child. Tell the coach who is taking responsibility for your child.
  • Trust and honor your child’s intuitive reactions. If your child feels uncomfortable with someone, respect their intuitive sense.
  • Teach your child to avoid going into a teacher’s office alone–many children unwittingly go into a teacher’s office at the teacher’s request to help carry books or equipment–with the door closed and alone with the teacher, the child is abused.

Failure by any knowing adult to protect children from physical or sexual abuse is considered a crime. The world was shocked when David Steinberg killed his “adopted” daughter in 1987. What was more shocking to many, was the legal ramifications to his common-law wife, Hedda Nusbaum. For more, see Control and Co-Dependency in the Home.

References:

  1. Finklehor, David, Child Sexual Abuse: New Theory and Research (Free Press, New York, NY, 1984)
  2. Russell, Diana, The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Women and Girls (Basic Books: New York, NY. 1986)

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