How to talk to your kids about potential abuse in school
Keeping kids safe seems to be something we can all agree on, no matter our differences, but instances like alleged abuse by football coaches up in Fairbanks, and sexual assault allegations about a year ago at Dimond High School -- challenge that that thought.
Keeping kids safe really means more than just preventing injuries, it really comes down to being honest with your kids, and making sure they know their rights. President & CEO of Alaska Children's Trust, Trevor Storrs, says just teaching kids about 'stranger danger' is not enough.
"Most incidences, like child sexual abuse, or other issues are occurring with people that we know and people that are in authority, so one of the things that we encourage parents to do is teach kids when it's okay to say no," said Storrs, "and as we do this at a younger age, then as kids get older, then they also have the strength to go, 'no. I'm not going to participate in that."'
Storrs says there's also the perception from many parents that "kids will be kids," and may brush off a child's concerns. He says it's extremely important to listen to, and believe children - because not doing so could set them up for a lifetime of emotional trauma.
"If children do not get the support that they need, as well as the family support that they need to address that, we know that it can greatly impact them," Storrs said. "It increases their risk experiencing many of the physical social and behavioral ills that are plaguing our communities, whether we're talking homelessness, heart disease, substance use. All of those things."
However, children don't always feel comfortable coming to their parents at first and Storrs says that's okay.
"So we've always encouraged people to have a designated friend. Have that individual who believes what you believe - someone that you trust, that your kids can go to and ask questions, and feel safe that it doesn't always come back to you - with parameters, said Storrs. "Let the children know, this person, whether it be an uncle, a best friend - whoever that may be, that they're encouraged to also utilize them."
Sometimes kids just don't want to talk at all, so what should you watch out for? Storrs says an explicit change in behavior could signal something is wrong.
"When a child knows inside something's not feeling right and they don't know how to communicate it, they will exhibit it in those behaviors," said Storrs. "That's when you want to start asking open-ended questions, and trying to create the environment for the child to be able to share."
Storrs says it all comes down to kids, whether younger or older, knowing they have rights.
"Kids are always told, 'oh, give them a hug, or give them a kiss,' we should never force children to ever interact in a way they don't feel comfortable, said Storrs. "That's why personally, when I've had great interaction with a child, I always give them the offer of, 'would you like a hug, a high five, or a fist bump?' We give them a choice, it teaches them about choice, it teaches them that they have a right, and most importantly, it respects their comfort level."
It also doesn't hurt to check up on your child's school and make sure they have certain policies in place, like asking if teachers and coaches are trained in recognizing behavior that signals abuse. Ask if they have policies in place for youth athletes and parents to report suspicious or inappropriate behavior, along with checking things like travel and student-teacher communication policies as well.