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Recent events in the news reinforce the notion that any child can fall prey to sexual predators. Such a horrifying notion makes most of us cringe and quickly change the subject. But the responsible parent faces this possibility squarely and takes steps to keep children safe. It’s easy to imagine that a victimized child had inattentive parents or didn’t learn the lessons about Stranger Danger. We tell ourselves that our own children are somehow safe from this sort of thing. But we’d be wrong. Any child can be a victim and it’s important to notice how and why.

Far from being a stranger, most sexual predators are known to their victims. They certainly are not “strangers.” Most predators do not snatch children off street corners, but get to know their victims very well and build their trust. So if you only teach your children to distrust strangers, you’re leaving him vulnerable to familiar people who have bad intentions. Predators often are counted as family friends and are trusted members of the community. This is not an accident. Predators carefully craft their image so that adults admire and trust them. Pay attention if an adult friend seems too friendly and takes too much interest in your child.

Predators don’t act like evil people at all. In fact, many act like children, wanting to play with kids instead of hanging out with other grownups or teens. An older child or adult who wants to take your child out to the movies, have him over for the night, and take him to ball games – as if the two of them were best friends of the same age – is acting oddly.

Predators prey on your child’s innocence and inexperience. He or she (yes, predators can be women too!) look for polite, compliant kids who obey adults and don’t like drama. Many children in the preteen years try hard to fit in and go along with the system. They are success-oriented. These are the children predators look for, since they can be counted on to obey adults and ignore all the warning signals.

Predators look for vulnerable parents too. They look for families that are under stress and parents who might welcome a little help in raising a child. Predators may offer a child of financially-strapped parents goodies that mom and dad can’t afford. They offer to give a single parent an afternoon off, while they watch the children, and the grateful parent thinks she’s found a terrific friend. Watch out!

Short of keeping your children locked up at home, how can you protect your child from nefarious people who would do them harm? Here are some ways:

  1. Teach your children to distrust anyone who acts strangely. Grandpa Gene, the kid next door, the soccer coach, or her fourth-grade teacher. Anyone who makes an odd request or touches her when touching is unnecessary should be refused and reported.
  2. Your child should hang out with kids his own age, not with an adult or older teen. Parents of teens, pay attention to your own kid. If he seems to prefer hanging out with younger children, figure out why.
  3. Think twice before you agree to something that seems on the surface like a friendly gesture but might really be a set-up for a dangerous situation. No one, really, is all that eager to watch your kids for an evening. The more someone insists that this is a great idea, the more skeptical you should be.
  4. Make sure your child knows how to speak up and make a scene if he needs to. We want our kids to be polite with adults but there is a time when politeness doesn’t work. Help your child to know when those times are and support him when he stands up for himself. Talk about how to handle dangerous situations.
  5. Be aware of your child’s online connections. Make sure your child doesn’t use his real name as an online handle. Just doing this will help your child see that anyone can disguise his true identity online. Monitor your kid’s online life and know where he’s going and who he’s planning to see when he goes out, especially if he’s meeting someone from the online world.
  6. Finally, if you think something bad has happened between your child and an adult, tell the police. You owe it to your child and you owe it to every other child this person knows. Too many times situations continue even though parents have some suspicions. They don’t want to make trouble. They don’t want to make a mistake.

The real risk you run is the risk to your child. Teach your child to be assertive. Teach your child to tell you everything by accepting without question everything she tells you. And when the situation require you to speak up do it. Predators assume neither your child nor you will tell.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at