Parents Perspective

The Conversation All Parents of Young Athletes Need to Have

For those of you who don't know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For those of you who want to stop reading now—it is a tough subject—I remind you that it's because of this sensitivity that we need to talk about it. According to the CDC, one in four girls and one in six boys will have experienced some form of sexual abuse by age 18. We can all agree that even one person is too many.

Participation in sports can be an invaluable experience for kids. Not only does it keep them active and physically fit, youth sports is where many learn teamwork, sportsmanship, determination, and perseverance. As a kid playing basketball and tennis, I learned how to work with my peers towards a common goal—and have fun while doing it. Yet, sports can also be a high-risk environment for physical and sexual abuse. We've seen this in national news stories like the Sayreville High School Football team, but, unfortunately, this is a risk for kids of all ages. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent these harmful situations so that children reap only the benefits of organized sports.

USA Swimming is one organization that has been working to actively increase awareness to reduce the risk of abuse in the sport through the Safe Sport Program. By following a five-point program, USA Swimming aims to create a safe and healthy environment for kids.

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One of the most important things parents can do is to talk to your kids. Teach your children about their bodies and about appropriate boundaries. Darkness to Light, an organization committed to stopping child sexual abuse, offers some great tips about how to speak to your kids about this difficult subject. Teach your child what parts of his body no one should touch. You don't want to scare your child, but you also want to keep him safe. Talk to the instructors. Make sure you feel comfortable with them. The relationship between coaches and participants is one based on trust. The more dialogue we can get going, the closer we will be to ending abuse and focusing on what really matters: kids having fun.

Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she's practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is our resident theater aficionado and can be found constantly running around New York City to find the best new show, the most awesome dance party, or the hottest Bikram yoga studio. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.