a photo of a teen girl looking intently at her cell phone

Sadly, the statistics on sexual abuse of children and teenagers continue to grow.  It is every parent’s worst nightmare.  In light of this danger, are there steps you can take to keep your teen safe?  Absolutely.  And the time to do so is now.  Here are 5 tips to begin a dialogue with your child to discuss how to protect them from sexual predators.  Plan to set aside at least an hour of uninterrupted time with your teen to have an open conversation about the real danger of sexual predators and what practical steps you can both take to prevent an assault.  

•    Alert and Aware – Be observant at all times, but especially when alone outside.  When walking to or from school, in a parking lot, or even the mall, be alert to what is happening around you.  If at all possible, avoid walking alone after dark.  Have a coworker walk you to your car after work.  Go to the gym or park with a workout buddy.  Identify areas more prone to danger where your teen may find themselves alone and come up with a safer option.  A word of caution – It’s not just “stranger-danger” anymore.  The odds are extremely high that your child will already know a potential predator – a teacher, coach, neighbor, or family friend.  Never let your guard down.      

•    Use a Strong Voice – If you see something, say something.  Speak up for yourself or someone else you see in danger.  Using a firm, loud voice, tell a potential attacker or creepy stranger, “Get away from me! Don’t touch me!”  Draw the attention of passerby to scare the attacker away.  Speaking up tells the other person that you are not an easy target.  But, what if you know the person?  What if it is a family member or a boyfriend/girlfriend?  Again, speak up with clear, unwavering determination and then tell a parent or trusted adult what occurred.    

•    Online Dangers – You cannot overemphasize to your teen how important it is to keep their personal information out of the reach of predators surfing online.  Don’t simply tell them that they should not give out any identifying information – show them examples of what that would look like.  Do not allow them to have their phones or devices in the bedroom after lights out.  Using social media is a privilege, not a right, and your child needs to abide by your rules governing usage for their own protection.  

•    Actions Speak Louder Than Words – Explain what mixed messages are and how to avoid sending them.  Discuss why behaviors such as flirting, sexting, or posting pictures online can be misunderstood. Help your teen identify this kind of behavior and understand how to react properly. Make sure they know what improper reactions are, and how to handle them.

•    Daily Communication – Providing food, clothing, shelter, toys, activities, etc. are all part of being a good parent.  But, the most important thing to give them is your time.  Speak with your teen every day and do not stop the rapport when they push back or try to shut you down.  By doing so, you are effectively telling your precious teen that you are always available and ready to listen to whatever is of concern to them.  Having regular, open and comfortable conversations allows them to bring up any nagging worries or fears.  View your time spent in conversation each day as an investment in the well-being of your teen that will last long into adulthood.