Safe Environment Program
1011 First Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Phone: 212-371-1000 x 2810
Adults have a responsibility to maintain clear and appropriate boundaries in their relationship with minors. Here are some specific behaviors that may indicate that an adult is failing to maintain proper boundaries:
If you become aware of any of these behaviors, you should talk to your child to find out if there is anything else inappropriate going on. You should assure your child that this is not their fault, but that this behavior by the adult is not right. Encourage your child to let you know if anything else inappropriate takes place. You should also monitor very closely any further contact your child has with this adult, or exclude them entirely from any contact with your child. If the adult works with your child in an Archdiocesan program or institution, you should contact the adult's supervisor immediately.
The material in the "Younger Kids" and "Older Kids" links that follow is age appropriate for your children. We urge you, however, to review these items with your child as s/he reads them, or soon after reading them.
Better yet, we urge you to role-play situations that might suggest themselves to you by the material that follows.
FOR YOUNGER KIDS, role-playing a common situation like what to do if an aunt or uncle hugs or kisses them too hard is a good way to clarify for them what is bad or simply uncomfortable, and the best way to deal with those situations.
FOR OLDER KIDS, let them read the material themselves and then ask them what they thought about it. Since pre-teens and teenagers are beginning to move in reference groups other than family, the most vital thing is to be aware of their activities - at school, after school, and on the Internet - and with their friends. Rather than ask if they ever engage in certain behaviors, ask if they know of anyone who does. That might make it less threatening for your child and get him or her to open up more.
Above all, LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS, PATIENTLY AND NON-JUDGMENTALLY. Don't convey in any way that they are at fault. ("How could you be so stupid?" "Why would you go there?" "Haven't I told you to be more careful?") Questions like that, along with the tone of voice or sense of anger that usually accompanies them, will simply drive your child away and s/he will be much less inclined to go to you when there is a real problem. Remember, sexual predators consciously choose their victims. They look for kids who don't seem to have a curfew, who don't have to stay in touch with their parents, and whose parents or caregivers are never home. If your kids are in frequent touch with you, or if they need your permission to be even a few minutes late, most predators will move on to another child.
WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR US PARENTS TO LISTEN PATIENTLY AND NON-JUDGMENTALLY? The first reason is because we're grownups. We probably made some of the same mistakes we're now about to discuss with our kids. We already know where the story is going, so why wait for the end? Let's just "cut to the chase," as we often say, or "get to the bottom line"? In our fully formed parental state, it's always hard to experience something like a kid again. Remember, it took you a good while to develop the moral courage to resist peer pressure. What seems easy and matter-of-fact to us can be unimaginable to them.
SOME THINGS TO DO TO PROMOTE PATIENT AND NON-JUDGMENTAL LISTENING
POSITION & POSTURE:
Never discuss a difficult situation with your child while standing up. And even if you sit, try not to sit on the edge of your chair, as though you're ready to pounce on the first thing you hear. Sit back in the chair, cross your legs, and drop you arms to the side or put them on the chair armrests - as though you're watching a long movie. If you are in a relaxed position, it will be easier for you to listen patiently without interrupting and before responding. And a child who thinks s/he is being listened to will reveal more than if s/he thinks otherwise.
Bear in mind, however, that your child, particularly a teen-age child, will prefer to stand, especially in a doorway - probably to make a quick getaway for a dramatic exit followed by a door slam. (If you have stairs in your house or your child's room is at the end of a long hallway, look out for this strategy!)
To meet this strategy, you should choose to sit in a comfortable chair at the farthest end of the room. That will draw your child into the room. Eventually s/he may sit down, especially if the discussion gets long (and especially if you look all nice and comfortable while s/he is standing!).
That's better than demanding that your child sit down. If they think an ill wind is blowing on the parental poop deck, that's the last thing they will want to do. And then the discussion ends before it even begins.
Always remember: the longer the discussion goes on, the more you will learn. If you act in a way that cuts off the discussion too early, that doesn't benefit you.
REMEMBER HOW KIDS COMMUNICATE
Kids aren't adults or business people. They will not "bullet point" a presentation to you. If they're trying to justify themselves they are going to present lots of details that at the time may not seem relevant to you.
Let all of that pour over you. You may hear something interesting that you can follow up on later, when you start to speak. You may even hear something that makes your child less at fault. If you acknowledge that, your child will be much more likely to repeat the process with you in the future.
DON'T CLOSE THE SALE RIGHT AWAY! Take your time. Don't feel as though you have to listen to the story, review its problematical elements, and mete out punishment all in one night! Taking some time to "process" what your child said accomplishes a couple of important things. It allows you to consider things enough so that you will be fair in whatever you decide to do. It allows your child to realize what he or she could have done better in the situation. Finally, it allows for a further conversation the next day, keeping the lines of communication open.
Remember, the last thing a sexual predator wants is a child who regularly talks with his or her parents!