August 21st, 2011


Things adults need to remember about kids.

Originally posted by kengr at On kids
On the kingdom mailing list, there have been a number of comments about kids and making them safe (triggered by some unclear rule changes about what sort of supervision kids need at events).

I decided that my responses to a couple of them need sharing. Please note that I'm talking mostly as someone who remembers all too well what it was like as a kid.

First response:
I think, rather than arming ourselves to the teeth, and getting all bristly, now is a good opportunity to start discussing "Stranger Danger" with our kids.

I recently had a conversation about strangers, with my then-5 year old nephew. He told me you shouldn't talk to strangers. I asked him, "What's a stranger?" He said, "A bad man who wants to hurt me."

Not "the nice man who needs help finding his puppy" or "the nice man giving candies to the kids at the park", or, heavens-forfend, a woman.

I had to sit him down and explain that a stranger is simply anyone you don't know. And most strangers are perfectly nice people, who have no intention of hurting you. But the point is, YOU DON'T KNOW.

This is a symptom of a larger problem when talking to kids (and sometimes, when talking to adults). We automatically *assume* that they know what the words we are using mean *to us*. Or that they have background knowledge we have.

With kids, it's *far* too often the case that they *don't*. And the assumptions can really derail communication.

Also be aware that kids will both over-generalize (ie assume a rule about X also applies to Y & Z) over-focus (eg, you use a car as an example, and they'll assume you mean that color, or that model or that type, rather than cars in general. In some cases, usually with really young kids, they may think it applies to *only* that particular car).

This leads to "interesting" problems. And in spite of what some parents think, it's usually *not* the kid trying to weasel out of things. They are just being logical. But with incorrect premises or missing bits of the rules because how it was explained to them *wasn't* what the adult actually meant.

That's why you need to not just have the kid repeat back the rules, but have them give examples of the rule in their own words. And ask them things like "what is a stranger?". Because their understanding and yours may be very different.

I mention this because I seem to be one of those uncommon folks who actually remembers things from when I was fairly young, and I recall all too many instances where what I thought the rules were differed in important ways from what the adult *assumed* I "knew" them to be.

It really sucks getting punished because the *adult* assumed you knew things they hadn't told you. Not as much as it'd suck if you got hurt or worse because of it though.

We can't be everywhere. And, stastically, children are molested -much- more often by someone they know. So, talk to your kids about inappropriate touching, and pay attention when they tell you something's awry. But, also, be attentive to attention-seeking behaviour. Nothing gets a child more attention than a witch-hunt, on their behalf.

Yeah, that's more or less what happened in Salem. :-(

And yes, strangers are a *miniscule* fraction of the molestors. They just get all the news coverage. It's not the strangers, it's your family and friends. :-(

Even siblings....

But it's really, *really* uncomfortable to keep in mind that someone you (think!) you know could do something like that. But that's how it works. The creepy types get caught fast *because* they are creepy.

It's the ones who look and act normal that can do the damage.

Alas, there's a fine line to walk. There have been cases of kids *dying* because adults were too afraid of being thought a molestor to stop and ask them why they were wandering down the street. In one case, by the time the guy got to a phone (20 minutes) the kid had drowned in a pond.

So we have to balance between caution and paranoia. Alas, paranoia is driving far too many decisions.

Second response:
Most child assaults are done by people the child knows. Most children and parents are groomed for a period of time. Every child should know if someone touches them inappropriately or is hurting them they can come to trusted adult and tell them. We as adults/Parents need to listen to our children. We also need to be aware of the people around us and how they interact with the children.

Parents also need to realize that they need to *be* trustworthy. From a child's point of view, a parent who explodes in rage (or what appears to be rage) at small things or who can't see that from the *child's* point of view, the offense was not intended (or not known to be a violation of the rules) is a parent that the child will *not* tell things, because that child has every reason to believe that bad things will happen if they do tell.

Not because the would-be molestor told them so, but because the child knows *from experience* that bad/scary things happen when mom or dad gets told things they don't want to hear.

I speak as someone who *still* has PTSD from a well meaning mother who blew up that way. Certain tones of voice from parents yelling at their kids in public *still* make me cringe. And you know, most of the time, when I get over the cringing and play back the conversation, there really *wasn't* a reason for yelling other than the parent being frustrated.

I know that this doesn't apply to most of you, and that the ones who need to hear it probably quit listening several paragraphs back. But *please* don't be that sort of parent.

It's not just that it can damage your relationship with your kid. It's that it can result in the kid getting hurt because they are too afraid of your reaction to confide in you.

Crossposted from