Well, it’s been much too long since my last post! As the summer is winding down for us, and most kids are heading back to school here in Florida, it is a good time to set a reminder to parents about child safety.
The vast majority of teachers are incredible – dedicated, passionate, and oh-so patient with our children. I am forever grateful for my son’s kind and effective teachers he has had through the years. Unfortunately, there is a harsh reality that we also have to accept – there are teachers in many school systems who do not have our kids’ best interest and safety in the forefront of their minds.
Statistics show that nearly one in ten children will experience some form of sexual misconduct by a school employee by the time he or she is a senior in high school. With the dreadful practice of “passing the trash”, where administrations are allowing abusive teachers to quietly resign and move on to other school districts without notifying the new hiring administration of the criminal behavior, parents need a heightened sense of awareness of warning signs.
1. Time alone – Yes, teachers can assist students who need extra help. But the abusive teachers quite often spend a good deal of effort “grooming” their victims, and they build up the students’ trust slowly. Minimizing one-on-one time outside of the classroom can help prevent the boundaries blurring and further lines being crossed. If the teacher is working with a student, leaving the classroom door open and notifying administration of the one-on-one time is best. Parents can inform the teacher as well as the administration that they prefer a group setting for their child rather than one-on-one.
2. Gift-giving – A hallmark of the grooming process is gift-giving. Predatory teachers continue gaining the victims’ trust by giving students special gifts or tokens of their affection. These gifts can be incredibly confusing for a student. S/he can often feel indebted to the teacher for this special treatment, further solidifying the teacher’s confidence that the student will not disclose the abuse. In addition, an air of conditional expectation can accompany this gift. It is not appropriate for teachers to single out students and bestow a gift upon them. If the teacher feels the student is in need of something in particular, s/he can contact an appropriate agency that donates items to needy students.
3. Isolation – In order to successfully lure a student into a world of abuse, a teacher needs to have a tight rein on a student. If the student has strong connections with peers or family, the likelihood of a disclosure of the abuse is higher than if a student is mainly dependent on that teacher for companionship, advice, and a general sense of belonging. Predatory teachers can isolate students from their families and friends in various ways. If a student’s relationships begin to deteriorate, and s/he becomes more withdrawn from normal interests and activities, a red flag should be raised. Signs of increased isolation do not automatically flag an abusive situation; a myriad of reasons could be at the root of it. However, if you see patterns of increased isolation and increased dependence on a teacher – it’s time for action.
4. Technology – The increase in, and accessibility of, technology such as smart phones and social media have become a troublesome contribution to educator sexual misconduct. Accessibility to students has never been so simple or direct as it is today. It is not appropriate for your kids’ teachers to communicate with them individually through Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, or general texts, phone calls, or emails. Be clear with your child that communication of this sort is not acceptable, and be involved in your child’s online habits and activities.
These are just a few warning signs that parents and educators can consider as the school year approaches. Please communicate with your children – about everything. Find age-appropriate ways to discuss important topics such as safety and personal boundaries. Our children deserve to be safe!