Does This Childhood Rite Of Passage Worry You? Here’s What You Need To Know

As our kids grow, there are several rites of passage they will experience – the first day of school, the first time they drive on their own, and their first sleepover at a friend’s house.

Many of these experiences are ones that will occur without our presence or direct supervision.  This can be frightening for the child, but it is likely more difficult for us as parents as we watch our children gain independence and slowly step out on their own to learn their place in the world.

The world, however, can be a scary place in which to raise a child these days.  We are surrounded by horrific stories in the news of predators looking to target children for harm.  We teach them to be wary of strangers and how to stay safe online, but the fact is, we will not always be there.

But what if our fears of letting our kids out of our sight causes them to miss out on experiences that we safely enjoyed when we were kids – things like their first sleepover? What was once a carefree part of childhood may now raise a sense of alarm with parents.  With reported incidents of the sexual molestation of children on the rise, we are right to be concerned about sending them to another family’s house for the night.

In order to allow our kids to mature and gain independence by taking part in new experiences, there are several things parents can – and must – do, both to alleviate our sense of worry and to provide our children with the knowledge to keep them safe.

Romper.com reported on what you can do to keep your kids safe when you are not with them while allowing them to take part in traditional childhood experiences like sleeping over at a friend’s house:

Experts debate the appropriate age for children to attend a sleepover, but the short answer is: not until you’ve educated them.

In more than 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the child was victimized by someone they know, as reported by the Child Abuse Prevention Center. “We do know most crimes against children are [committed] by someone they know or trust, so it’s not about creating fear but instead empowering children with the language to use as well as prepare who they would talk to if something did happen,” Harrell explains to Romper.

If you think concern over sleepovers is only for conservative parents, think again.  There are no party lines when it comes to the safety of our children.  A Democratic Congressman and expert on sexual crimes warns parents to start the dialogue early with our kids so they have the skills to protect themselves.  Romper reported:

Representative Paul Heroux (D-Massachusetts), who has written extensively on crime policy, mental health, and sex offenders, believes sleepovers are fine for kids, as long as kids are equipped with the skills required to prevent and avoid sexual abuse. For those conversations, he tells Romper, it’s the earlier the better.

“Even if we were to say no more sleepovers, you would still have other situations where kids would still be with a trusted caregiver and still be vulnerable,” he says. The best line of defense, he explains, is educating children on appropriate and inappropriate touch, and reassuring your child that you will always believe them if they report that something inappropriate occurred. Your kids need to know that you will support them, and that they will not be in trouble if they speak of being victimized.

Statistics show that children who are targeted by predators are often those without an open line of communication with their parents.  Kids who feel their parents will listen to them and believe what they tell them are much more likely to disclose an inappropriate encounter.

Even in normal day-to-day conversation, parents should always ask questions about their child’s day, beginning at a young age.  When a child is used to their parents being involved and interested, they are less likely to keep secrets or their concerns to themselves.

And we must also be prepared to have these conversations with other parents.  It may feel awkward to do so, but it is our right – and our duty – as parents to make sure we know everything we can about who our children are with when they are away from home.

Above all, experts agree that when it comes to your child sleeping over at a friend’s house, if you don’t know the family well or otherwise feel unsure in any way, don’t allow your child to go.

Romper.com continued:

Awareness is a powerful deterrent.  “The other thing that we know [about] people who victimize children is they are looking for the ones whose parents don’t ask questions or don’t check in or preplan,” Harrell says. Predators typically choose vulnerable victims.

These conversations might be awkward, but, she says, “If the parent doesn’t know enough about any of the adults in the house, that may be a good indication that you don’t allow your child to be there.”

When it’s time to have these uncomfortable — but important — conversations with other parents, role-playing with another parent may be the first step. Rosenzweig recommends talking in “I” statements and to make it about you and your feelings, not about any judgment that you may have about another family.

Whether it is going to a sleepover, on a school trip, or even to a friend’s house for the afternoon, KidSmartz recommends teaching and practicing the “Four Rules of Personal Safety” with children so they know what to do if they feel uncomfortable when you are not with them:

  • I will always check first with my guardian, or trusted adult before going anywhere, accepting anything, helping anyone or getting into a car;

  • I will take a friend with me when going places or going outside to play;

  • I will tell people “no” if they try to touch me or hurt me, and

  • I will tell my trusted adults if anything makes me feel sad, scared or confused.

Has your child had their first sleepover at a friend’s house?  Did you have a talk with them beforehand to make sure they knew how to stay safe away from home?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

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