Yesterday, you got to hear my initial thoughts about Jody Lusk’s sins from a preacher’s perspective and from a fellow sinner’s perspective. Today, in my Springboard for Your Family, let me share my thoughts from a father’s perspective.
I just can’t help but notice that Jody was my age and that the victim was my daughter’s age. Okay, he’s a year younger than me, and she was a year older than my daughter. But it is just too close for comfort. We just couldn’t get that out of our heads. On Sunday, Marita and I sat down with our little girl (whose not so little anymore) and had a good long talk with her. It grossed her out and she can’t imagine anything like that happening, but at least she now knows she can talk to us if she needs to.
Here is the problem. Most of the time, we try to protect our kids from this sort of attack by screening their friends. We have to know their friends’ parents. We have to meet their teachers. We want to be sure who they are with all the time. But let’s face it, who thinks they need to screen their preacher? And while I’m all for screening friends and friends’ families, I’m pretty convinced that is not going to protect our children as much as we would like. We just aren’t as good at judging character as we might like to think.
The best defense is a good offense. That is, prepare your children for the potential possibility. Here are some keys you need to pass on to your children.
- Of utmost importance, talk to them about sex. Let them get comfortable talking to you about it. You want to be the one they come to when they have questions.
- Teach your children that it is natural to be curious about sexual things. There is nothing wrong with them being curious. Let them know you will answer any questions you can at age appropriate levels as they grow up. Tell them, however, that the appropriate place for really pursuing this curiosity is in marriage. Let them know what a joy it is and what a blessing it is to be able to reserve that curiosity for marriage. If you didn’t do that yourself, let your children know what damage was caused by your own inappropriately pursued curiosity.
- Let them know appropriate touching boundaries. A great boundary I learned and have passed on is touching in soft places is out of bounds, while touching in hard places (like shoulders, top of the head) is probably okay.
- Let them know that they are allowed to make a boundary about anything that makes them uncomfortable. They are allowed to tell people when they have made the child uncomfortable. And they are allowed to let you know if anyone has made them feel uncomfortable.
- Let them know that if an adult exposes his or her private parts, that is not appropriate. If an adult asks the child to expose his or her private parts, that is not appropriate. Also let them know that it is not appropriate for anyone to show them, text them, or e-mail them pictures or videos in which adults or children are exposing their private parts. (Yes, you probably need to state the exception of doctors, but a parent needs to be present when the doctor is examining the child.)
- Let them know that certain kinds of touching are just plain inappropriate and no matter what an adult says to coax them into it, they need to simply scream and run.
- Let them know that if a stranger tries to grab them, no matter what the stranger says, they need to scream as loud as they can and run if they can. Even if the stranger says he will hurt them unless they stay quiet. We have explained to our children that if a stranger is taking them, he is going to hurt them anyway. Their chances of being safe are much better if they scream there in public than after they get put in a car or taken to a house. As a side note, you might even give them some advice about how to get away. For instance, if shoved into a car, the child doesn’t have to stay there, they can immediately crawl through to other side and get out there.
- Let them know that an adult should be asking other adults for help, not kids. Adults don’t need the help of children to find their missing dog or to get directions to some street or address. If an adult asks for help, teach the child to back away and say, “I’ll get my parents. They’ll help you.”
- Since you’ve talked to them about sex, remind them that it will be a wonderful thing for them when they get married, but it is not appropriate for anyone, especially an adult, to talk to them about or perform with them. Even explain to them some of the ways an adult might try to convince them to do something sexual. On Sunday, I told Tessa about a friend of mine in high school who was 16 or perhaps 17. A twenty-something co-worker pulled an awfully manipulative ploy with her. He knew she was afraid that if she was a virgin when she married, she might not know how to have sex. He offered to teach her. Notice, he didn’t offer to marry her. We explained to Tessa that she didn’t need to have fears about knowing how when she got married. Part of the joy of marriage is learning how with her husband. That was the part of the discussion that really grossed her out. To be honest, I was glad it did.
- Let your children know that love doesn’t equal sex. Explain that if an adult really loved them, they would be protecting the child’s sexuality not exploring it or exploiting it. If an adult tells them this is what people who love each other do, let your child know that adult is lying. Let your children know that sex is not what everyone does who loves them. Even use yourselves as examples. That is, let the child know, “Do I love you? Do you love me? But it is inappropriate for us to do sexual things. That is just for mommy and daddy.”
- Let your children know that it doesn’t matter who it is that does any of these things, older sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, father, mother, preacher, teacher, older neighborhood kid, friend, friend’s family member, they can tell you about it and you will still love them. We, that is Marita and I, even tell our children while in each other’s presence that if the offender is one of us, they have our permission to talk to the other parent or even tell some other adult who has authority in their lives like the police or one of the elders in our church.
- Let your children know how serious it is to lie about these issues, but that you will trust them if they tell you anything about what someone has done to them. Then do that.
- Let your children know that if someone else has violated any of these boundaries or does violate any of these boundaries, it is not their fault. You will not hold it against them. They have done nothing wrong. They can tell you and all you will do is love them and help them deal with whatever has happened.
When you have this discussion, ask your children if anyone has ever done any of these things. Make it safe for them to be honest. If they need to, let them cry, let them rage, let them vent. If they tell you about something, please, do not think you have to handle this alone. Share your need with your elders in the church and get some professional help from a counselor with a Christian background.
Following these steps does not mean your children will never be violated. However, it is a great defense to inoculate them and prepare them. And it is of utmost importance that you let them get comfortable talking with you about all aspects of sexuality. As I said, you want them to come to you when they have questions.
Finally, if something like this has happened to your children or ever does, please don’t blame yourself. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know that kids with poor home lives are far more susceptible to this kind of attack. Certainly, if you’ve been sinning in raising your kids in any way, you need to repent. However, let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all make mistakes. But our mistakes do not justify the sins of a sexual predator. The fault for sexual attack lies with the predator, not with the victim or the victims parents.
By the way, if you need help talking to your kids about sex, check out this associate link for a great book that will give you guidance on what to say to your children at all ages.
P.S. If you are the perpetrator of any of these sins and crimes, I know this is not something that you want to do in your moments of sanity. I know you are filled with guilt and shame. I am certain you want to stop. Let me encourage you right now to do something about it. Don’t think you are now strong enough to never do it again. Get help immediately. Turn yourself in for treatment. Report yourself to the authorities. Find a counselor. Do something. I know you will likely lose your job. I know your friends and family may ostracize you if you admit to it. I know you may even have to spend time in jail. But that is far better than hurting another child again. And in your heart of hearts you know that is true as well.