The Sexual Predator Threat

Smart Ways to Talk About Safety

  • Do speak calmly and openly. Don't scare your child into listening to you. Otherwise, he may be too frightened to absorb information and ask questions -- or come to you later if someone hurts him.
  • Discuss predators' ploys. Warn your child about the tricks criminals use to lure kids, like asking them to help find a lost pet or give directions. Explain that adults should only ask other adults for help.
  • Tell your child to say "no" and run away from anyone who makes him uncomfortable -- and that might include someone he knows, such as a family member, a coach, or a friend's sibling.
  • Rehearse scenarios that could occur. ("What if somebody you don't know comes to pick you up at school?")
  • Discuss inappropriate touching. Your child should know that his private parts are off-limits: No one should touch them or ask him to touch theirs.
  • Update your conversations as your children get older and the dangers change. Adults or teens may try to lure preteens by promising romance; boys can be vulnerable to adults who offer to share secrets about sex or show them pornography.

How You Can Stay Vigilant

Know your child's friends and their families. Avoid people who routinely let your kid get away with bad behavior and adults you don't know well who offer to babysit for free or spend a lot of time with your child.

Be suspicious of any adult who:

  • Seems to spend most of his time with children.
  • Asks kids about sexual subjects or comments on their bodies.
  • Tickles or wrestles with children who don't want to play.
  • Singles out your child from a group and offers extra attention or presents.

Take your child seriously if she says she doesn't want to go to a friend's house or participate in an activity, or if she becomes uncharacteristically depressed or distractible. These might be signs of sexual abuse.

Check the policies of your kid's sports leagues and other groups. Do they do background checks on staff and volunteers, and what sort? Know their stance on approved and nonapproved contact between adults and children. You'll know to be suspicious if, for example, an adult offers to host a sleepover in violation of an organization's policy.

Use public sex-offender registries to check on potential babysitters, caregivers, and any other adults who spend time with your child.

Show up often at your child's activities and get involved. You'll get a read on the behavior of staff and volunteers -- and it shows that you're watching.

Take pictures of your child in case of emergency. Police recommend that you always have a recent color photo of your kid that shows his head and shoulders. Take one every 6 months for kids under 6; do it annually for older kids.

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