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Issue 193 - Safe and Secure
Protecting Our Children – Part Two
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Mishpacha Magazine

  Rated by 19 users   |   Viewed 26546 times since 1/23/08   |   20 Comments
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1/23/08

Sad as it may sound, the painful reality is that you cannot provide your children foolproof protection from what are, in my opinion, the greatest physical and spiritual dangers that they might face during their formative years; abuse and molestation. Why? Because it is simply impossible to follow them wherever they go, all the more so as they pass through their pre-teen and teenage years. Furthermore, it is impractical and harmful to their sense of security to raise them to be frightened or suspicious of every adult that they meet. Finally, it is important to understand that although most of the high-profile abuse cases are school based, they are only a tiny percentage of the instances of molestation. Abusers are far more likely to be extended or close family members, older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors and peers.

With that in mind, I suggest that you view things from a broader perspective and think of protecting your children from abuse/molestation in the following four domains:

1) Training your children about healthy and appropriate norms for behavior between adults and children;

2) Equipping your children with the knowledge of what abusive behaviors are;

3) Empowering your children with the self-confidence to assert themselves when their personal space is violated; and

4) Supporting your children if and when they report to you that they are feeling that things are out of order.

In the broadest sense, the time for fathers and mothers to begin protecting their beloved children from abuse/molestation is the moment they begin their married life together.

Think of it this way. Children who are raised in homes that are havens of safety, love, mutual respect and tolerance are far more likely to immediately notice when they are treated in an abusive manner. Emotionally healthy, self-confident children who appreciate their sacred right to privacy and personal space are far more likely to hear the warning bells blaring whenever that space is invaded. Children who grow up with the notion that they can be comfortable discussing anything with their parents will, in all likelihood, inform them the very moment that something is amiss.

Conversely, children who are bullied into submission by their own parents or those who regularly view one parent being cowed into silence by the other may think that abusive behavior is quite normal. Children who are denied their personal space or whose individuality is crushed or suppressed by their parents or the educational system of their parents’ choice may not think much is amiss when outsiders do the same to them. In fact, as I mentioned in the previous column, most predators have a ‘sixth sense’ of which children have grown up in these trying conditions – and zoom in on them like a moth drawn to light.

Therefore, the most effective thing that parents can do to keep their children safe is to model healthy interactions between adults (that’s you) and children, and to empower them to speak up if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips:

  • Encourage your children to share the events of their day with you when they arrive home each day. Spend time with them, make eye contact, and listen – really listen – to what they have to say.
  • Tell your children – early and often – that they can discuss anything with you, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable those things are. Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue.
  • One of the most effective methods of protection is to teach your children that no adult is ever permitted to tell them a secret that they cannot tell their parents. This is a huge ‘red flag’ for predatory behavior, since part and parcel of the depraved strategy of molesters is to keep things secret from parents. There is no acceptable set of circumstances where any adult should ever be telling a child to keep secrets from his/her parents. Teaching your children that this is wrong is a powerful tool in their protective arsenal. Likewise, parents who keep secrets from each other are also modeling poor values (the kids figure it out quite soon).
  • Encourage the notion of personal space in your child’s life. Tell your children to knock before entering a room if they think that someone there may be undressed (do the same yourself). Give your children a drawer to keep their private possessions, and ask their siblings to respect that privacy.
  • “Your body belongs to you,” (or, “Your body is on loan to you from Hashem”) is a theme that should be stressed with children. While bathing young children, for example, is often a good time to discuss privacy matters in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Tell them about ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. One way of expressing this concept is to explain to them that no one except for parents can touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit. Please do not alarm them. Frame the discussion as one of safety, and use the same tone that you would use when informing them not to take candy from strangers and not to cross the street without an adult.
  • Another supremely important thing to convey to children is that they should not ever be forced to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that if they are asked to do something that “doesn’t feel right,” they have the right to say no – even to an adult. (Many, many victims report that they felt they had no choice but to go along with the demands of the abuser.)

If you suspect that your child was molested, please seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional, preferably before you speak to your children.

As I noted earlier, foolproof protection is virtually impossible. But implementing these practical suggestions will dramatically increase the odds that your children will remain safe and secure.

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved



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1. Excellent Suggestions!     1/23/08 - 7:05 PM
Asher Lipner, Ph.D.

Yasher Koach to Rabbi Horowitz for once again doing his homework and providing great advice culled from the research of many experts in the field of child sexual abuse.

I would like to add on bit of important advice that may seem obvious, but bears repeating, because it is often overlooked for several reasons.

When hiring a baby sitter for your child, check them out. Get references from people who have used this sitter, and if it is someone new to the neighborhood, there are places to go on the internet to find out if the person has a criminal record. It takes only a few minutes. People are also investing in hidden videotapes nowadays as security and unfortunately finding child abuse in their own home. If it sounds crazy, well, in jewlery stores and other places where expensive, priceless possessions are kept, this is what technology offers for protection. Is anything more precious to you than your child?

As for camps and schools where your child spends most of his time and to whom you entrust your child's safety and protection: Ask, ask, ask. What kind of policies does the school have to protect your child? Does the school follow the guidance of mental health and law enforcement experts? If so, which ones? Some schools will answer that they don't need to because they don't have that problem there, meaning that it could not happen. This is a high-risk atmosphere for your child. Any school in this day and age that can look you in the eye and say "It can't happen here", is in such denial that it almost asks for it to happen. A school that is aware, open, acknowledges and learns about methods of protecting kids, is one where you have the best chance of your child being kept safe.

When enough parents will insist on schools being proactive and valuing the phsyical and emotional well being of their children, the schools will be forced to take note and give the consumers what they want, or other schools that do will steal their customers.

Asher Lipner, Ph.D. Psychologist


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2. a question     1/24/08 - 12:38 PM
Leah - NY, NY

Thank you, Rabbi Horowitz, for addressing this crucial topic. I have been following the discussion on the other post, though I have not added my own comments until now.

My question is this: So far, your advice has been centered around parents protecting their children from abusers--for instance, the "bathing suit rule". However, what can/should one do to protect children from a parent who is abusing them? (And yes, I deliberately used the gender-neutral term "parent", lest anyone think that it is only fathers who abuse their daughters.) Also, what should one do if one suspects abuse in one's own home--either from a parent, or another relative (sibling, uncle, cousin, etc.)?


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3. Thank you!     1/24/08 - 5:02 PM
Yardena - EY

Thank you, Rabbi Horowitz, the recommendations are excellent.

Just to back up what Dr. Lipner said: A non-Jewish friend once told me that her older brother was "seduced" when he was 11 by the 16-year-old (female) babysitter. As unlikely as it sounds, it can happen.


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4. To Leah     1/25/08 - 3:58 PM
Asher Lipner, Ph.D. - lipnera@gmail.com

First and foremost, as Rabbi Horowitz's first two suggestions advise, create an atmosphere of openness and safety for discussion. Abuse thrives where secrecy is the norm. That is one of the problems facing our community, too much secrecy. That is why Rabbi Horowitz's articles are doing so much good already, because if nothing else they confront the taboo on discussing these topics. Always keep in mind "We are only as sick as our secrets."

Secondly, as the Rabbi further suggests, teach your child that NOONE can touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, not even a relative, not even a parent, not even YOU! If somebody tries, to, they should ask them to stop and say that they are becoming uncomfortable. Then they should tell you about it. This should help in protecting them from many dangers and help you gain information about who is doing what to whom.

Now, what to do if you KNOW that someone is abusing your child? If you have a peaceful relationship with that person (they are not violent), you would want to tell them to immediately stop. Do not ask for explanations, excuses or interpretations. Just say, politely and firmly, cut it out, I do not want my child touched in any way that THEY feel is uncomfortable. (This could include touching as innoccuos as tickling too much, or too many kisses - it doesn't have to be "sexual molestation").

If you suspect the person has a psychological problem with pedophilia, you should warn them that it is dangerous, and encourage them that there is help out there. Then refer them to a professional.

If the person is a spouse or sibling or someone else who lives in the home, and you suspect that they are ill and cannot be safe alone with your child, you must insist that they get a psychological evaluation and proffessional safety recommendations. If your spouse refuses to be evaluated, then get proffessional guidance as to how best to keep your child safe. Every situation is different. There are some situations, where as a last resort, parents have needed to separate from their spouses or remove siblings temporarily from the home, in order to keep their children safe, until their spouses have agreed to get proffessional help.


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5. Unconditional Parenting ( not only love)     1/26/08 - 1:00 PM
AK

Hi, Thanks to both Dr Lipner and Rav Horowitz

R' H recommendsa open communication and says

'Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue.'

In reality parents are the last to know if their kid has been involved in some misdeeds or inappropriate behavior because parents usually react at best by expressing disappointment and at worst giving them a punishment (consequence). Rabbi Ephrahim Shapira asked his class of girls , if they would do something wrong would they feel safe to tell their parents. No one , except one kid put up their hand and the other kids said she never does anything wrong. R Shapiro then tells about a girl from Beis Ya'akov who went and told her father , that she had a boyfriend for the last 2 years. The father ' hit the ceiling' . R' Shapiro said to the father that his child came to her sad seeking help , to address a problem in a compassionate and safe way , and look what he did.?

The Chazon Ish said that kids need more the respect of their parents than their love. Instead of dealing with unmet expectations with consequences , try to work with the child , reflect on what has happened and try solve the problem.

Here are 2 quotes The method of punishments ,withdrawing privileges is essentially negative: I can't communicate with you, and so I'll hurt you if you don't mind me. The positive counterpoint is: We all make mistakes, and you can trust me to help you do better in the future. - Eli Newberger

If you believe it is possible to make mistakes, believe it is possible to fix them - Rabbi Nachman from Breslev

If children live in an atmosphere where it is acceptable to make mistakes and they can trust their parents to help them do better.

Rav H- mentions another point , the problem with controlling or bullying parents. Where control and compliance are important rather than supporting a kid's ability to think and express his own view , rather reach undersstandings , mutually satisfying solutions , a kid is unlikely to be able to say NO. As Alfie Kohn says - Don't say NO to Drugs , say NO to people. We have to teach our kids to say No.


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6. Did it     1/27/08 - 5:26 AM
Yardena - EY

Rabbi Horowitz,

I don't know whether you realize with all the back-and-forth that goes on in this site (me included) that people actually do listen to you and that you do make a difference. I hear people speaking about your articles in general and how they do try to implement your suggestions. Also, although I thought I'd been pretty good about helping my kids develop a sense of personal tzniyus and boundaries, I realized after reading this article that I'd been lax about a couple of points with one of my children. For example, I hadn't really emphasized how important it is for him not to keep a secret from us or how acceptable it really is for him to say no to an adult, even a rebbe. So thank you very much, and thank you to all here who posted with practical suggestions.


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7. Thank you     1/27/08 - 5:31 AM
R Geller - rngeller@gmail.com

A huge thank you to Rabbi Horowitz for bringing up this topic, and for providing this forum. Thank you for all the on-target help and advice. You have changed my life.

Thank you also to Dr Lipner, your suggestions are extremely helpful and direct.

Thank you especially to Tb and M for reinforcing how mothers (and fathers) should not send out young kids, and should see parenting as their sacred responsibility in life.

Thank you also to AK for believing and writing about unconditional parenting so well.

Thank you to Rabbi Twerski for weighing in with your valuable opinion.

Thank you to Yardena and Chaya for your excellent ideas and attitudes.

Thank you to all the helpful anonymi.

Thank you to Yoni, and B Horowitz, and E Pasik, and all the other men who believe in creating a better world.

Thank you to Sheree, and Leah, and TZager, and Orthonomics and to all the many women who have participated in these discussions, and bettered the world - and in particular my world.

I'm logging off now, Be'ezras Hashem. I have spent so much time on this site, and grown so much, but now I must choose to put my family first. Be'hatzlocho.


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8. If a parent is abusing a child     1/27/08 - 11:08 AM
Sherree

Dear Leah, It might be beneficial to speak "hypotehtically" to both your pediactrician and your attorney if you suspect that a spouse is molesting a child. I don't believe that your pediatrician is under any obligation to report any hypthetical disucssion. Ask what their obligations are in reporting the incident. Ask to describe the scenario from point "A" to point "Z". Ask the different if it is just suspected or if it is definite. Get the information from both sources of support and then you can make an informed decision as to how to continue with your suspicion. There are groups in every city called the "The abuse hotlines, mostly for battered women, however they might be able to put you in touch with someone over the phone who can give you info without asking you who you are. They find shelter for battered women and their children to get them away from abusive husbands."

Just a thought.


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9. Back to basics     1/28/08 - 3:21 PM
Yossi (Joe) Izrael - Monsey

Abuse and lousy parenting should come as no surprise to anyone who sees what's going on around himself.

When you live in a world where everything imaginable is at your fingertips - yes, even in the most "farfrumt" (or "restrictive") communities, YGWYPF (you get what you pay for). Yes, everything is kosher veyosher, living like a Rothchild on welfare, medicaid, sec8, foodstamps etc, nobody knows what being hungry means, all children wear European designer clothes - thrown away after 6 months (no hand-me-downs, chas vesholem, so the neighbor shouldn't think I'm the schnorrer I really am. We're "bessere mentschen!) all delicacies are constantly in everyone's mouths, driving nice new cars etc. Yet no one has a few minutes to spend with the kids.

That alone sets a festering fertile ground for anyone to do anything - especially if they can't get caught - and if they do, they know no one will speak - we all live for what the neighbors will say.

Please let's make sure to very clearly distinguish between strict parenting (rule #1 - be strict with your self, first and foremost) and "bullying your children into submission".


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10. Homework     1/28/08 - 5:07 PM
Zalman

As Dr Lipner commented, Rabbi Horowitz has apparently culled advice from the research of many experts in the field of child sexual abuse.

If Dr Lipner is correct, Rabbi Horowitz should explicitly acknowledge that he is working from the research of experts. Parents need to understand that abuse prevention can be addressed by parents but also requires expert advice. Expert advice can come from a rav -- but only if that Rav has done his homework


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11. Zalman re Experts     1/28/08 - 6:41 PM
Yakov Horowitz - Monsey NY

Zalman: As a matter of practice, before publishing columns that contain issues where professional input is in order, I always email them to several frum therapists who review them. Often, I note that fact. Here, I did not, and probably should have.

Also, if you look at the previous column (monster), I note there that experts ought to be consulted with when an issue such as this comes up. Thanks for commenting.

And, Yardena, thanks for your kind words. I write these columns in the pre-dawn hours, and the thought that people find them helpful is what motivates me to write them.


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12.     1/28/08 - 11:41 PM
Anonymous

If you are being abused in the home, your parents are not safe people to go to for help. If you need help call 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)

This is the national child abuse hot-line. They do their best to address cultural and religious needs of children of all faiths.

http://www.childhelp.org/get_help


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13. thank you, and clarification     1/29/08 - 10:05 AM
Leah - NY, NY

Thank you to Dr. Lipner and Sherree for taking the time to address my question. I just wanted to let you know that b"H that is not my own situation, but a hypothetical one that I felt wasn't being fully addressed and therefore wanted to ask about.


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14. Yashar Koach     1/29/08 - 11:16 AM
Orthonomics

It is great to see this column. Please continue to keep up this important work for the klal.


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15.     1/29/08 - 1:48 PM
Yehoshua

R. Horowitz: excellent, practical suggestions!


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16.     4/10/08 - 1:44 AM
A mother - Brooklyn

This is an excellent article. It should be required reading for every parent and educator in all frum communites! I have the highest regard for R' Horowitz for his courage in addressing this issue. Yasher koach I only have one addition. Tangentially, I wish R' Horowitz would write about the folly of parents not getting counselling for their abused children because it would be an "embarrassment" and "How will we get a shidduch if it gets out?" (If he already has, and I'm not aware of it, I apologize}


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17. Monster - Elior Chen     4/10/08 - 2:30 AM
Ak

Hi,

It seems that these monsters have missed the message that chinuch and helping kids needs to be an expression of love and compassion , reaching out to children , trying to understand what is getting in their way , nurturing our relationship with them instead of finding motivational tricks to get them to behave.

The structural conditions - economic hardships , divorce etc contribute a lot to a family being dysfunctional , but we need an intuitive feeling that advice we receive is consistent with darchei no'am

http://www.theawarenesscenter.org/Chen_Elior.html


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18. don't know     12/23/10 - 5:08 PM
Anonymous

Sad as it may sound, the painful reality is that you cannot provide your children foolproof protection from what are, in my opinion, the greatest physical and spiritual dangers that they might face during their formative years; abuse and molestation. Why? Because it is simply impossible to follow them wherever they go, all the more so as they pass through their pre-teen and teenage years. Furthermore, it is impractical and harmful to their sense of security to raise them to be frightened or suspicious of every adult that they meet. Finally, it is important to understand that although most of the high-profile abuse cases are school based, they are only a tiny percentage of the instances of molestation. Abusers are far more likely to be extended or close family members, older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors and peers.

With that in mind, I suggest that you view things from a broader perspective and think of protecting your children from abuse/molestation in the following four domains:

1) Training your children about healthy and appropriate norms for behavior between adults and children;

2) Equipping your children with the knowledge of what abusive behaviors are;

3) Empowering your children with the self-confidence to assert themselves when their personal space is violated; and

4) Supporting your children if and when they report to you that they are feeling that things are out of order.

In the broadest sense, the time for fathers and mothers to begin protecting their beloved children from abuse/molestation is the moment they begin their married life together.

Think of it this way. Children who are raised in homes that are havens of safety, love, mutual respect and tolerance are far more likely to immediately notice when they are treated in an abusive manner. Emotionally healthy, self-confident children who appreciate their sacred right to privacy and personal space are far more likely to hear the warning bells blaring whenever that space is invaded. Children who grow up with the notion that they can be comfortable discussing anything with their parents will, in all likelihood, inform them the very moment that something is amiss.

Conversely, children who are bullied into submission by their own parents or those who regularly view one parent being cowed into silence by the other may think that abusive behavior is quite normal. Children who are denied their personal space or whose individuality is crushed or suppressed by their parents or the educational system of their parents’ choice may not think much is amiss when outsiders do the same to them. In fact, as I mentioned in the previous column, most predators have a ‘sixth sense’ of which children have grown up in these trying conditions – and zoom in on them like a moth drawn to light.

Therefore, the most effective thing that parents can do to keep their children safe is to model healthy interactions between adults (that’s you) and children, and to empower them to speak up if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips:

* Encourage your children to share the events of their day with you when they arrive home each day. Spend time with them, make eye contact, and listen – really listen – to what they have to say. * Tell your children – early and often – that they can discuss anything with you, no matter how disturbing or uncomfortable those things are. Be aware that this means that you must develop true tolerance for their misdeeds if you want this to continue. * One of the most effective methods of protection is to teach your children that no adult is ever permitted to tell them a secret that they cannot tell their parents. This is a huge ‘red flag’ for predatory behavior, since part and parcel of the depraved strategy of molesters is to keep things secret from parents. There is no acceptable set of circumstances where any adult should ever be telling a child to keep secrets from his/her parents. Teaching your children that this is wrong is a powerful tool in their protective arsenal. Likewise, parents who keep secrets from each other are also modeling poor values (the kids figure it out quite soon).

* Encourage the notion of personal space in your child’s life. Tell your children to knock before entering a room if they think that someone there may be undressed (do the same yourself). Give your children a drawer to keep their private possessions, and ask their siblings to respect that privacy. * “Your body belongs to you,” (or, “Your body is on loan to you from Hashem”) is a theme that should be stressed with children. While bathing young children, for example, is often a good time to discuss privacy matters in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. Tell them about ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’. One way of expressing this concept is to explain to them that no one except for parents can touch them in a spot covered by a bathing suit. Please do not alarm them. Frame the discussion as one of safety, and use the same tone that you would use when informing them not to take candy from strangers and not to cross the street without an adult. * Another supremely important thing to convey to children is that they should not ever be forced to do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Tell them that if they are asked to do something that “doesn’t feel right,” they have the right to say no – even to an adult. (Many, many victims report that they felt they had no choice but to go along with the demands of the abuser.)

If you suspect that your child was molested, please seek the counsel of a trained mental health professional, preferably before you speak to your children.

As I noted earlier, foolproof protection is virtually impossible. But implementing these practical suggestions will dramatically increase the odds that your children will remain safe and secure.


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19. Great Article!     1/9/11 - 2:53 AM
Shulim

I would like to comment on Anonymous #18's post. Very well-written! I would even go so far as to say that YOU should be writing articles on this website. I agree with everything you said, 100%, and I am sure Rabbi Horowitz would second that notion.

On a more serious note, I would like to thank Rabbi Horowitz for encapsulating all of the main points in one article. Every parent should read this article, but even more - they should print it out and read it once a month, at least!

Especially important is the part about your home determining the way your children treat themselves, and their ability to say "No" when someone treats them wrongly.

After all, if a kid's parents force him to do things which make him uncomfortable, how should he learn to say no to strangers who do the same? Who taught him that he even has the right to say no?

Please don't teach your kids to be good shefelach and tzaddikim. You don't need tzaddikim; you need healthy, normal kids. Learn how to take a "No" from your child; you'll be teaching him that saying "No" does not make you evil.

I can go on and on, but I need to get some sleep. Just read that article again; it's all in there.


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20. Tools for empowering our children.     1/19/12 - 2:56 PM
Yocheved - Israel

Thank you for this very clear and important article!

I would love to hear more about empowering our children. I have a child that is very shy and does not speak out much in unfamiliar circumstances. How do we teach our children to speak out to protect themselves. To build up that courage, that they may need to muster (G-d forbid) even against a grown up or threatening personality.

I have thought about offering to bring a therapist in to role play with my son's class. I figure we can role play at home, but it is really an emotionally safe environment. In school (although we hope that is also a safe environment) it is a little more removed.

Any comment on this idea or other ideas would be appreciated.

Again, great article, great website, thank you!

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