How to Protect Your Kids From Pedophiles
the action plan you need
At present, I am writing an essay about the societal push to normalize pedophilia: what’s happening, why, why it matters, and why we must stop it. It will go into depth and detail, including of my own childhood experience as the victim of a pedophile. The friends who are helping me as beta readers have repeatedly told me that it needs "a trigger warning for people who don't need trigger warnings." This essay is meant to serve as that, in part. A taste of what is to come.
Its primary purpose is to give people who either can't handle, or shouldn't try to handle, reading that essay an answer to the question that it will spark: how do I protect the kids I love from becoming prey to these predators?
Edited: that essay is done and you can read it here.
How Can I Protect My Kids from Pedophiles?
All of my close friends with kids have asked me this question.
Here’s what I tell them.
Pedophiles take advantage of emotional vulnerability in children. Fathers in particular can safeguard their kids by being emotionally and physically present and expressive. If your kid knows what it feels like to be hugged by powerfully strong arms and to hear “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” in a deep voice, there is a place inside them that will be whole. A facet of their developing identity will be solid and dependable, something other than an aching emptiness just waiting for a pervert to come by with a substitute for your presence. That is the first and most important protective step.
The second step is to teach your child, as soon as he or she is old enough to handle their own bathing and bathroom needs, that she or he is the sole owner of his or her body. Nobody else has the right to touch them if they don’t want to be touched. The good touch/bad touch paradigm can be helpful for some kids, especially if they’re going to hear it at school anyway, but I think modeling is more powerful.
At least sometimes, when your child is upset, ask them if you can hug them. Let them say no if they want to. Modeling offers many ways to communicate your child’s ownership of their own body.
“Would you like me to brush your hair?”
“I see you scraped your knee. Want me to help you clean it and put on a band-aid?”
This is controversial, but I don’t believe children should be forced to hug or kiss relatives. The majority of the time, it probably doesn’t lead to disaster, but a kid who has been taught that expressing affection is something you do to avoid punishment, or simply because an adult tells you to? That kid is at rather obvious risk of, well, falling prey to an adult telling them to express physical affection.
I also suggest being extraordinarily careful about a particular aspect of using corporal punishment. I will not bother to try to make the case against spanking here, as most of my readers are in the US and American parents who use it tend to have either religious motivations or a deep belief that opposition to spanking would be a betrayal of their own, loving parents.
I am not an anti-spanking extremist. In fact, I think it’s probably beneficial for some kids, of particular temperaments, to have (very) rare experiences with corporal punishment—something that doesn’t leave them bruised or bloody, but gives a visceral reason to conclude: “OK, wow. Dad is extremely serious about not letting me EVER do that again.” Even when the argument that corporal punishment should be nonexistent or very rare in a child’s life comes from a non-extremist like myself, parents who spank are almost never persuadable. Some combination of loyalty to their own parents and belief that they are the rare parent who can use this tool beneficially, plus the book of Proverbs, solidifies their position.
So I’m only going to mention this: James Dobson of Focus on the Family popularized a particular type of parenting ritual among American Christians wherein spanking, always severe enough to “cause real tears,” as he puts it, is followed by physical comfort and affection.
Think very, very hard about this, especially you dads. If you are such a physically present and affectionate father that hugs which were not preceded by you inflicting pain outnumber post-spanking hugs by a significant amount, well, maybe you’re not setting your kid up for disaster.
But if being comforted after you spank them is the most consistent and predictable experience your kid has of physical closeness with you? You are painting a target on them. The paradigm for that experience is this: an adult doing something to an intimate part of their body that hurts and then following it up with physical comfort and affection, creating a kind of trauma-bond—a powerfully memorable experience that both centers the adult’s need to express something and casts that same adult as the source of emotional and physical relief.
Friends, that is the pedophile’s paradigm. You do not want your kids to be so familiar with that paradigm that it feels normal. Think about it.
As to a specific protective strategy, I offer this.
Secrets vs Surprises
Make sure your kid knows the difference between a secret and a surprise. Surprises have a time limit. A surprise will be over on Christmas, or Mommy’s birthday, or Father’s Day, or when Grandma comes to visit. Once the surprise ends, you can tell anyone and everyone.
Secrets are different. A secret is something you must never tell.
Surprises can be okay, sometimes. Your kid should know that they might share a plan for a surprise in one of many circumstances—with you, for their other parent’s birthday; with a friend, to plan something fun for their classroom teacher; or with a grandparent, for what present to get their sibling for Christmas. Surprises can be fun, and are usually between two people for the benefit of a third.
Secrets are never ok.
If any adult or any big kid (defining big as “noticeably bigger than your kid”) wants them to keep a secret, they should tell you immediately. This is especially true of other adults. There is never a good reason for an adult to want a little kid to keep a secret. Never. Make sure they know that kids and adults are different, and there is no reason for an adult to ever, ever, ever ask for a kid to keep a secret.
If your kid can tell you anything; gets their needs, including the need for physical affection, met at home; feels a sense of ownership over their own body; and is very clear on proper boundaries around secrets, especially that there is never a good reason for an adult to want them to keep a secret from you—then you have probably done all you can do to safeguard your kid against pedophiles.
My essay on the normalization of pedophilia will be out later this month. Thank you to the tweeps (a slang term for twitter-only friends) who continue to encourage me to work on that piece. Your encouragment is valuable and appreciated.