Oprah’s show on Monday was about a teen who’s in jail because he killed his alleged molester. Then her Wednesday show was about Tyler Perry who shared his own stories of childhood abuse and molestation. (By the way, I don’t watch Oprah but I like to look at her website topics and show recaps).
I’ve always been disgusted and against child molestation (who isn’t?) but since having a son, the mother in me has gotten me thinking about the topic more than usual, particularly, about what we can do as parents to protect him from that kind of tragedy.
I can see myself as being strict. When I was in elementary school, there was a girl whose father was so strict and would never let her sleep over. At that time, she was the weird one, but in hindsight, I can see where he was coming from. After all, you’re letting your child sleep over, which is a vulnerable activity in itself, with people you probably don’t know that well or that long.
You can’t even rely on the advice of meeting the parents (or coaches, priests, counselors, etc) first and establishing a good relationship with them. Most molesters aren’t the taciturn figures cloaked in black ready to snatch your child from the street (although this does happen). Instead, sly molesters are the charming ones, the ones who spend a majority of time with kids, being the “fun” one, and wooing kids and parents alike. To make matters even more difficult, molesters can also be from within your own family.
Within his short lifespan of one year, the only people who have baby sat him are his grandmothers and his regular caregiver, his aunt. I don’t exclude anyone from babysitting him; it just so happens that these are the people we know can do a good job and who probably enjoy taking care of him. But perhaps it’s not coincidence that at this young age, we’ve narrowed down his caregivers to just these people. Maybe it’s a parental instinct?
Once he can speak to us and tell us about his day, I’ll be more lenient. I’ll also communicate with him regularly about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and encourage him to speak up and say No, even if he thinks he’s being rude, and even if it’s against someone we trust.
I even think about situations when we see someone—stranger or familiar—and we tell him, “Say ‘hi.'” I’m going to stop doing that. I think children are built in with a natural snobbishness for their survival. They’re supposed to not trust what’s not familiar. He will learn to be friendly by watching our social cues, not because we tell him to say hi to someone. If he doesn’t feel like saying hi or giving someone a kiss or hug, he absolutely shouldn’t have to. That’s his private space and his personal comfort level that he has to work with.
It breaks my heart to think that children are being abused, so much so that sadly I can’t even read or hear about it lest I tear up and cry. So to even imagine having him go through that is just beyond my mind’s capacity right now. All I hope is that we do everything we can to educate and protect him from those situations.