Our family has been absent from our blog lately, as we are busy working on other home projects, but I wanted to pop on today to talk about a topic important enough to break the lull of activity.
I remember the first time I rode my bike by myself around the neighborhood. What freedom! The fresh air, the warm sun, the sights passing by. It was just me and my bike with pink handlebars, affectionately christened “Pippi” after one of the adventurers I so loved to watch movies of. I lived in the suburbia of the ’80s, and I hadn’t even heard of the word “predator.” I don’t even remember my parents sitting me down to talk about strangers, and I was probably already 7 or 8 by that time I ventured out on my own.
Our oldest is 6 years old now, and innocent times have changed. We’ve already talked about “stranger danger” and sexual predators multiple times, and we had our first real occasion today to make us revisit this essential preparation.
So what has changed since the “idyllic” time that I grew up? Certainly there were predators lurking around back then. I believe that one of the differences is the spread of the internet and the easier accessibility to pornography. Porn is no longer something that has to be sought out; rather, it comes to us without any work. It comes to us online, through internet searches, chat rooms, and email attachments. It comes to us through video game consoles. It comes to us through television pipelines.
The website, “Enough is Enough” has a great collection of statistics that shows how pornography has changed over the years. For example:
- More than 4 in 10 Americans now say pornography is morally acceptable, a seven-percentage-point increase from June 2018.
- Many sites now have free access, which leads to more daily hits. New York Magazine reported that 10 years ago less than 1 million unique adult visitors got on the internet. Now, free Mindgeek tube sites alone receive 100 million different visitors each day.
- And porn itself has changed – soft is out and hard is the new normal. In 2010, eight years ago, the journal Violence Against Women reported physical aggression in 88.2% of pornography scenes.
What’s the big deal about a few more innocent peeks? It’s that your exposure to porn puts individuals at increased risk for committing sexual offenses – the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force has found 46 published research studies showing this to be true.
Times have changed, and so I believe that if you are a parent, your parenting must change, too. Here’s what happened to us today, and here is my husband and I’s current approach to teaching about strangers and predators. Our experience just a few hours ago included some key things to look out for, so I wanted to share with you in hopes these warning signs will lodge in your brain even deeper.
“Something Didn’t Feel Quite Right”
Our two boys and I were out for a pre-lunch stroll on the country drive right by our home. A balance bike was the method of transportation for our oldest, and he was wheeling about 100 feet ahead of me. It was a beautiful day, though hot outside! We relished the moments of shade under the well-established trees at the roadside. We were almost home and had entered the canopy of coolness under a tree nearby our driveway, when our oldest called out, “Mom, watch out, there’s a car coming!” I turned around to look and indeed saw a car approaching, so I wheeled our jogging stroller with our youngest in it off to the edge of the road. It’s our habit to get off to the side to remain safe; we also like to be neighborly and give a friendly wave and mouth “thank you” to the people who slow down as they pass us on a road where many go way too fast. Usually I make quick eye-contact with the driver, a fast nod and smile, and we get back on the road again to continue our journey.
But this car was different. Instead of passing by on its way, it slowed down. No wonder I didn’t hear it coming . . . it was an eco-friendly hybrid car, its motor imperceptible. There was a man in the car (I’m leaving out the details out of exactly how he looked, but this is important to note!), and he looked out the open window as he paused by our driveway. “Hi boys!,” he said. “Are you having a good Summer? Are you getting any projects done?” Our oldest had a semi-puzzled, blank look on his face, and he mumbled an answer back. I smiled during the one-way conversation to be polite, quickly said, “Have a good day!” then started down the driveway. No response from the man at all – he just continued on his way and drove off.
Something just didn’t feel quite right. The bells and whistles started to go off in my head. This was a middle-aged man . . . shouldn’t he be at a job working right now during the middle of the day? And if he was on his lunch break, this certainly wasn’t an area where you could go find a Jack n’ the Box and a McDonalds on the corner. Another warning sign: he never talked to me at all. He looked mostly at the boys during the conversation. He started out the conversation by addressing the boys, not the adult. I had expected him, a totally stranger, to ask for directions when the car slowed down behind me, but this was casual, totally misplaced conversation for the situation. I had never seen him before in the neighborhood. My intuition just balked at all levels.
As we walked down the driveway, I purposefully looked at the car again as he drove off, just to make him feel nervous and like I suspected something, even if nothing was really amiss. I continued to mull over what had happened as we returned home and immediately texted my husband when we walked in the door to ask for prayer and to give details of the man’s appearance and everything else I noted. We both thought it might be a good idea to report the incident to the police, so I called the branch responsible for reporting predators. What a breath of fresh air the woman was on the other line! She validated my concern, took a detailed history, and told me that the police consider these types of phone calls important and give weight to them. I was so thankful after I got off the phone that we live in a country where people protect us and think that children are important to care for! And I was so thankful I was with the boys on our walk!
Did you notice the warning signs?
- The man was out at the wrong time of day.
- He was a stranger to begin with.
- And strangers should address an adult first if children are present; this man talked right through me.
- He didn’t look at me.
- He was driving a quiet car (this in itself is not a crime!, but it adds to the situation).
- He drove off without saying good-bye and without giving me light, easy-going small-talk.
So what did I learn from this incident? This type of thing has never happened to us before, even though we’ve prepared for it.
- We learned our preparation had payed off. It had been ages since we read our book about predators, yet our oldest was still a little taken aback by this stranger’s forthrightness.
- We learned things like this can happen at any time. I totally was not expecting this type of encounter on a harmless stroll down a harmless backcountry road. Nope. Any time. Anywhere.
- We learned to remember the details. In the heat of the moment it’s hard to remind yourself to look for details. I did a pretty good job remembering how the man looked and what kind of car he was driving, but I could have kicked myself for not getting his license plate as he drove off.
- We learned to fake it. Now, thinking over the incident, I should have pretended our driveway wasn’t in fact ours and just kept walking.
- We learned to call immediately. Call your neighborhood reporting line. Text a significant other. Call neighbors to let them know. Even if you’re “just over-reacting” it never hurts to be safe. The sooner you call, the sooner the police can follow-up.
Finally, what are some simple ways to prepare yourself and your kids for these type of incidents?
The best resource right now we have in our family’s arsenal are the “Yell and Tell” books by Debi Pearl.
Debi has written two books, one geared for young boys and one for young girls. We didn’t realize this so we have “Sara Sue” to teach the boys about predators :), but no matter! The message is exactly what we need. The books address stranger danger and assault in a way that isn’t scary or overly-descriptive but still talk about and reinforce the main topics of communicating incidents like this. We re-read the book again today at lunch time. I try to make it fun and lighthearted for the boys so they know to be cautious but not fearful.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Play act. Our oldest pretended to be a stranger, and I was him. When the stranger asked how he was doing, I said, “My daddy and mommy don’t allow me to talk to strangers. Bye.” Teach your kids rote answers. Go over them again and again. Help them know what to say in certain situations. No amount of preparation is ever too much.
- But assault usually comes from people that aren’t strangers in a child’s life. In this case, we teach that if someone asks our boys to go to a spot where no one else is, they are not to follow the person to a private place and instead come get Daddy or Mommy.
- Teach what parts of the body are private and that no one else should touch. Teach who is allowed to see these parts and when it is ok to see them, and give anatomically correct names to the parts (i.e. “Daddy can see and help you bathe your _____ when you are taking a bath with brother.”). You don’t need to explain terms like “sexual” or get into details, but it is helpful for little ones to know the correct terms for their bodies so that if abuse does happen they can accurately communicate it. We believe these parts are beautiful and essential to the body, given to us as gifts by God, so in our family, we try to name them for what they are without nicknames and without shame or laughter.
- Teach to “Yell and Tell.” I love this book because the words are so short, they rhyme, and they are easily remembered. Teach your kids to yell “STOP!” if anyone touches private areas and them immediately run and tell their parents or a trusted adult.
- Know your enemy. Know the statistics about sexual predators. Get inside a predator’s mind and know how they groom their victims and start to desensitize a child. Know the first signs so you can cut it right off! Here’s a great website: https://educateempowerkids.org/8-ways-predator-might-groom-child/.
What are some resources or tips you have?
Above all else, honor your intuition. I believe it’s a beautiful measure of protection God has given me. Our kids are precious, precious gifts worthy of all the boundaries we can set up, especially in these formative years.
Hope this helps you in your journey navigating through this world! Be blessed today! You are loved deeply by the One above!