When Community Institutions Fail: Safeguards Parents can Implement Today

There’s a philosophy an author relies on when they write fiction for their readers: suspended disbelief. It represents a contract between the writer and reader, one that implies that although a story may be fake, the premise and actions will be grounded in reality.

Given what has taken place across a wide range of institutions, it’s time for parents to be honest with themselves for the betterment and safety of our children. It’s time to unsuspend our disbelief.

If you need further proof of what I’m addressing, read The New York Times piece that ran over the weekend about sexual misconduct within the Catholic clergy. This post is not about demonizing gay people nor am I implying all Catholic priests are worthy of suspicion and scorn. This is about the reality on the ground and what parents can do today to ensure their children are not the victims of criminal activity.

The rule of law is clear – pedophilia is a crime, but despite the fact whistleblowers made us aware this was happening ten years ago it continues to this day. It is not just happening in the Catholic church. The authorities have not stamped out the problem and arrested all the perpetrators.

For the sake of our children, we have to assume our kids may be exposed to this kind of activity over the course of their adolescence.  Let’s stop assuming these kinds of crimes happen ‘elsewhere.’

What do responsible parents do? They get involved. Here are four suggestions parents can implement today to ensure their child’s safety:

Get involved: Be on site when kids participate in community programs. If your child has a sports camp on Mondays, art class on Wednesdays and Boy Scout troop meetings on Thursday evenings, one parent should be there for each activity. Many times, this may sound impossible, which leads to solution number two.

The number of activities: Perhaps one parent can’t be there for everything, what about a relative? Is there a grandparent that lives close by? If not, dial back the activities to fit your schedule. If that results in junior participating in two out of three programs, so be it. It’s unfortunate but what’s the alternative, blind faith?

Participate as a volunteer: There are institutions, like the Boy Scouts, that always welcome neighborhood fathers to get involved. I spoke this past Spring to a scout leader who recently managed the troop I was a member of as a child. He was astounded how many dads dropped their kids off, for evening and weekend camping trips, but they never involved themselves. I refer to this as the ‘drive-by drop off’ and in this day and age, responsible fathers participate.

Education: Is there any harm in teaching your kids about the kind of conduct that is allowed – and what is not? Here’s what to tell them: if an adult touches you anywhere between your shoulders and knees, tell him or her to stop and find another adult. Then, junior has to tell you what happened. Tell your kids this is highly unlikely, the adults involved in their lives are fine people – but no one ever has permission to your body in an inappropriate place.

These suggestions may be unnerving, it may uproot your plans or your kids may simply love all the activities he/she’s exposed to. We do not live in a perfect world and we love our children. If we always try to do what’s right for them, what’s the harm in doing everything we can to make sure they are safe?

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