With school out, the period of the year designated for formal education has come to a close. Nevertheless, for many children, summer presents different types of education, many of them negative or dangerous. While parents find relief in not having to supervise studying, prepare for tests or make lunches, in some ways more supervision is necessary this time of year than any other.
As we head into the summer, I want to share with you some reminders of precautions we must take and conversations we need to have:
The lack of homework often translates into much more time available to watch TV and surf the web. There are a great deal of damaging images, themes and content for adults, let alone children, easily accessible today. Do your children’s devices have filters and do you monitor both the amount time they spend and how they use their technology? Are there guidelines and limitations on what they can watch and access?
When children wander and roam the neighborhood with no particularly destination in mind, they can find trouble. Are you comfortable with how they are presenting themselves as they leave your house? Have you reviewed stranger danger? Do you know where your children are headed, who else will be there, that they got there, and what they did there? Are you comfortable with who is driving if it is a friend or peer?
Summer generally signifies a break, but our religious identity and responsibilities are never on hold. Do you encourage your children to daven each day, find time to learn, and engage in positive and growth-oriented activities, like chesed and volunteer opportunities, even when off from school?
Experimentation with, and abuse of, substances among young people, is a growing epidemic. Be aware of signs you should look for and changes in behavior that might indicate a problem. Do you monitor your liquor cabinet and do you monitor how you consume liquor, particularly in front of your children? Do you model moderation and appropriateness and set a good example?
Is your home physically safe? Is your pool fence sturdy and closed? Are you careful to make sure children don’t swim unsupervised or alone? Are all of your smoke detectors & carbon monoxide detectors in appropriate locations and working? (If anyone cannot afford them, please contact me). Do you have a routine to ensure you locked the doors to your car and home?
Lastly, while the world is generally a safe place and the people our children are exposed to are almost always appropriate and safe, sadly the threat of abuse is real. Research has consistently shown that the most important and effective tool to protect our children is education. As loving and trusted parents, we have the capacity to safeguard our children, but it means having a difficult and uncomfortable conversation.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, an experienced and respected voice on the topic of child safety education, identifies four points to communicate to our children in order to empower them to protect themselves and to transform them into difficult targets for predators:
No secrets from parents – In a non-anxious, calm conversation we must remind our children that we love them beyond words and that they can feel confident confiding in us about absolutely anything. We must make them recognize that we take them seriously, we will honor their concerns and fears, and we will always do everything in our power to serve their best interests.
Your body belongs to you – It is crucial for children to understand the concept of personal space and that our bodies belong to us, and us alone. Our private parts are ours and absolutely nobody—not a friend, family member, or person in any position of authority—can have access to them.
Good touch/bad touch – Not every touch is bad and qualifies as abuse. However, there is touch that is categorically wrong and should set off an alarm for our children. They must understand the difference so that they can be aware and respond appropriately.
No one should make you feel uncomfortable – Lastly, we must communicate to our children that no one should make them feel uncomfortable. If they do, they have a right to walk away and tell someone they trust.
Too many parents are avoiding this talk because they think they will introduce their children to a topic that will make them fear adults and worry excessively. The experts explain, however, that rather than fear adults, children will feel safer knowing they can trust their parents and will feel empowered to protect themselves going forward. While it is never comfortable to broach this subject, good opportunities for bringing it up can be bath times for young children, clothes shopping for older children, or at the time of a doctor’s appointment.
Should God forbid an issue arise, the best way to respond to our children is to tell them that we believe them and that we will react swiftly and appropriately. Halacha (Jewish law) is clear that safety concerns must be reported to the appropriate authorities and all mandated reporting laws must be observed. Remaining silent, covering up, or excusing inexcusable behavior leaves other children vulnerable to abuse and trauma that will haunt them their entire lives and inflict what can be irreparable damage.
May our children remain safe and may Hashem grant us the courage and strength to be vigilant in protecting them.