You know when the same conversation comes up over and over again, and it feels like something that might be important? This is one of those times.
So, I humbly present an open letter to any parent/guardian with kids living under their roof. For those who are scared, those who are confident, or those who feel like they have missed their opportunity, this is my encouragement.
If you really want to protect your kids from sex-trafficking, do not be intimidated into walling your children into a tower for the rest of their lives. There are practical, intuitive things we can do that have less to do with sleepovers and social media than we might think.
1. War for the hearts of your children.
Whatever you do, tend your relationship with your child. Foster an open-door policy where no topic of discussion is off limits and your child knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have your unconditional love and acceptance. No matter what. Create healthy emotional boundaries with your kids. Make sure your kids know you are taking responsibility for your own emotional health and nothing they say will devastate you. Sensitive kids will hide things to spare their parents’ feelings.
When enforcing your family’s values and guidelines, remember that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. There is a point where remorse can turn to resentment if grace is not wisely applied. This is not permissive parenting, it is parenting with the wisdom and mercy we ourselves want to be shown. Children in rebellion are those at great risk. Kids will harden their hearts and make inner vows as self-protective measures against pain. Take your children’s feelings seriously, because their feelings are very serious to them.
Practice humanity with your children. Regularly seek forgiveness. At age appropriate levels, talk about your own uncertainties and the things you are learning. Shame is a powerful tool used to build walls in relationships. The more your kids see your humanity, the less ashamed of their own mistakes they will be.
2. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.
There is a difference between “being polite” and allowing others to overrun our boundaries. Your kids need to know it’s ok to say “no thank you” to physical affection. When wrestling, tickling, and playfully teasing your child, let them know that their “no” or “stop” will and should be respected. Modeling this for our kids allows red flags to fly up in their minds when their boundaries are not respected. Predators “groom” their victims through gradual, measured encroachments on boundaries. Our kids need to know it’s ok to speak up against boundary violations.
Emotional boundaries are just as important as physical boundaries. Many times, a child/teenager will say “yes” to spare another person’s feelings, even if they are uncomfortable. They will stay in relationships far longer than feels healthy, because they don’t want to be “mean.” Our children can learn what it looks like to operate in love while still respecting their personal convictions. It is OK to say “no” to an invitation without manufacturing an excuse. Equip them.
Sometimes, in an effort to teach selfless behavior, we forget to reinforce the importance of listening to wisdom in self-care and self-preservation. Kids are incredibly intuitive. If they do not want to do something or go somewhere, help them discern whether the motive is selfish or self-preserving. If a child is avoidant of a certain place or person, there is probably a good reason.
3. Investigate the “why.”
There is always a “why” behind the “what.” Instead of getting hung up on our kids’ behaviors, find out what is motivating those behaviors. As kids hit their pre-teen/teenage years, watch for risk-taking and self-medicating behaviors, and ask your kids about the “why.” If you have been warring for your child’s heart all along, they will be more likely to answer those questions. They might not understand their own “why,” so ask strategic questions and keep the conversation open-ended. Children don’t typically turn to drugs/alcohol/cutting/disordered eating out of sheer curiosity or a bent toward self-destruction. Focusing on behavior modification without getting to the heart of the issue will push them away from you, not draw them in.
The “why” could range from generational tendencies to mistreatment and abuse to simply choosing the wrong friends. Recognize when the need is beyond our expertise as parents and when to seek professional help. Do not shy away from what you discover. If, God forbid, something has happened to your child, the earlier the intervention the better. Always take accusations seriously. Even a misdirected accusation is a symptom of an underlying issue. You cannot go wrong in fighting for your kids’ emotional health. Emotionally healthy kids are highly unlikely to be targeted by predators.
Sometimes, the “why” is simple insecurity. The world is at war with our kids’ sense of value. There are bombarded with constant messages undermining their worth as human beings. We, as parents, have the strongest voice in our children’s lives when it comes to communicating value and worth – even into their teen years. Remember that actions speak louder than words. Attentiveness, humility, affection, and investment on our parts as parents shown consistently over the years will go a long way to combat the assault staged against them.
Remember, relationship is key. Understanding our kids’ motivations will keep us attuned to their hearts and keep them seeking our advice when it comes to making big decisions like moving in with someone or taking a job cross-country.
Most parents I know are doing their absolute best with what’s been entrusted to them. Personally, parenting is the single most difficult task I have ever faced. But as a survivor and parent myself, I can tell you that the real threat to our kids is not the pedophile in the white unmarked van driving slowly by the park. The real threat is the vulnerability of broken relationships, the sense of feeling alone in this world, and the desperation for approval.
And those are things the family was designed to combat.
So take heart. 🙂