How I keep my daughter safe(r) both on and offline.
I want to first make something REALLY clear. I am not a trained harmful sexual behaviour expert. I am not a trained clinical psychologist. I welcome feedback, advise, corrections from people who know more than me.
Knowledge is Power.
I worked in an Adolescant Harmful Sexual Behaviour unit for 3 and a half years. I ran the classroom there- with boys between the ages of 12 and 17- who, for various reasons, needed some time out from their communities to receive intensive therapy for harmful sexual behaviour.
They were great kids who had made bad choices. They had also experienced some of the most horrific things I had ever heard of. Their resilience was incredible, as were the lessons they taught me. About life. Humanity. Gratefulness. Second Chances.
In my time there, I did a lot of research about harmful sexual behaviour. I listened. I pondered. I sought advice from the experts.
To give you some context, I also ran my classroom right throughout my pregnancy. Worked up until 38 weeks. I was obviously banned from being in ‘code reds’ (where a boy is violently acting out) but otherwise it was business as usual. I never once was threatened or assaulted. The boys, who struggled to manage themselves, never once jeopardised this wee baby. I trusted them, and they trusted me. I got repremanded often, for not getting out of escalating situations quickly enough. And I get it, my workmates were worried. The boys asked good questions and I gave them honest replies. These kids, who are often cast out of society, were remarkable.
In all of this, however, I learned a lot about how to keep my daughter safe(r) in an online and connected world. I have also sought advice from specialists in this feild and I believe that I make educated choices about what and how I choose to share my daughter’s life. I choose to run an instagram account. I choose to put her picture online. But I also choose to try to be as mindful and as educated as possible about doing this in a safe and respectful way. The boogyman exists- but we can’t live our life in a bubble.
I want to share what I have learned with you, so that you can think about making choices that best suit you.
Knowledge is power.
Offline Safety Tips
1) Teach your child about ‘tricky adults’. We all know about ‘stranger danger’ but statistically, sadly, your child is more likely to come to harm from someone that you both know. Teach your child that they will never get in trouble for telling the truth. Even if they think that the truth could be hurtful. Praise honesty. Even when honesty implicates them in trouble. A tricky adult is a stranger that asks a child for special help. Adults ask adults for help. Teach your child to trust their gut instinct.
2) Consider your language around ‘secrets’. Teach them the difference between a ‘good secret’ and a ‘bad secret’. Secrets should NEVER hurt anyone, or have the potential to hurt anyone. Tricky adults ask children to keep secrets that are bad. Consider how helpful it is for Mummy and Daddy or Uncle or Grandad to keep secrets from each other. Do you want your child to think that keeping a secret from you is cute or funny? Birthday presents are secrets- but are ice creams a secret? Lollies? Trips to the park? Other foods/treats/’rewards’? I know this sounds extreme. But this is the stuff that matters.
3) Harmful sexual behaviour often starts with ‘grooming’. Special treatment. Special treats. Praise, attention and gifts. Once a predator has a connection with a child- the offending then starts. A child with feel conflicted, scared, unable to tell you that the offending is taking place. The offender might tell your child that they won’t be believed or that they will hurt their loved ones if they say anything. Predatory behaviour, statistically, is not some creep at the pool taking photos of them in their swimming togs- or obsessing over their instagram photos. It is someone that your child knew and respected. Be open to tough conversations.
4) Never force a child to hug/tough/kiss/make physical contact with another human being. This includes Grandma, Aunty, Uncle, Yourself. Children need to know- from day one, that their body is their own and that they never have to touch, hug, or kiss someone if they don’t want to. We know, as parents, that sometimes we have to touch them- to change their nappies, to put a jersey on. Tell them that. And explain to them why it’s important. Tell them that its ALWAYS ok to tell you if there was touching they didn’t like. From a doctor, a policeman, your Best Friend. Make ‘touching’ an open conversation point. Teach them to express themselves and tell people when they dont feel like a cuddle. Consent is everything. Nana might get offended- and that’s fine. Little people shouldn’t feel forced into touching.
Online Safety Tips
5) Think before you give away important details in your posts. Your address, surrounding streets, how far away the local park is from your house. Be careful of street signs in the background. Especially if you’re making it clear that you’re in your own neighbourhood. Observant people will wait. Watch. Study.
6) Think carefully about sharing school uniform photos. Because of the nature of social media, people can gather a whole lot of information they can then use to convince your child that they’re trustworthy. Your name, your pet’s name, their siblings name. It’s all available. Consider sharing information about athletics days or parent-teacher interview nights if they are only specific to your child’s schools. A quick fact-check across the local schools can easily be used to work out which one your child goes to. For emergencies, consider having a ‘safe person’ password that must be exchanged by both parties before your child will even consider getting in that car or going with that stranger. Have a ‘safe adult list’ that your child knows well- anyone else needs that password. Go through a safety plan with your child- so that your child knows what to do if a stranger tries to approach them.
7) Think before you upload videos of identifiable locations in real time. Consider downloading them and post them when you have moved on from that spot. Be vague about timeframes. It’s a long shot- but if anyone is obsessing over your family online- posting in real time gives them the opportunity to know where you are.
8) Consider the implications of giving online tours of your home. Think about the fact that you’re giving someone a floor plan of your house. Letting them know where everyone sleeps and how to get to their room. If you’re partner is away on holiday or on a work trip. Think about the information you’re giving away to people in terms of who, and who isn’t in the house.
9) Don’t include other children in your stories or your shots. You have no idea about the implications to that child if their location is a secret or they have protection orders in place. It is not always obvious who has safety concerns, foster care arrangements or a parenting order. And if your account has a big following, the wrong person may see the location of that child. You have made an education decision to share the image of your child online- but that doesn’t mean that every parent has. Similarly- you might be ok with your followers knowing that your child has ballet every Tuesday afternoon- with the name of the dance school in the background of your shots- but the child next to them might have a protection order in place to keep them safe. Does their caregiver feel comfortable sharing the same information?
10) Keep devices/playstations/computers in a common area of your house. Be vigilant about online chat groups/forums/sharing spaces. It does not take predators long to connect to children in these online forums- and they often pose as same age, same sex, ‘friends’. Know who your children are chatting to- ‘roblox’ is a popular game for young people- and they’re chatting to all sorts of people on there. Consider turning the WiFi off at night. As a teacher, I have heard about ALL sorts of trouble that starts with late night online web browsing. No one decent starts a conversation with your child at 3am. Know your kid’s passwords.
This blog isn’t meant to frighten you. Or tell you that sharing your lives online is bad. It’s not. 80% of offending is committed by people your child knows. Nor am I advocating for riots against sex offenders or community petitions to keep people out. These actions are not helpful nor are they a good use of time or energy. Statistically, your child is more likely to come to harm from someone that is unknown by ‘the system’ than some creep on a neighbourhood watch pamphlet. Trust me.
But- Knowledge is Power.
Here are some articles that I have found really helpful.
NZ Police- Keeping Ourselves Safe
The Huffington Post: 5 Tips to Keep Our Children Safe From Predators
NZ Herald- How to Keep Kids Safe Online