Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Jewellery Component Designer's Parenting Concerns - Sexual Predators 1

When I am not sketching out sterling silver component designs, I read newspapers and parenting magazines. The news of Jaycee Dugard, who was abducted and kept in captivity for the last 19 years, is all over the news. As a mother of two young girls, I cannot help but to be deeply affected by this news. It is every parent's nightmare. And my immediate instinct is to think about how I can safeguard my own children from those exact circumstances, and then some.

It is often said that we cannot live our lives in fear, and that fear and panic can instil unhealthy insecurities in our children. I've been fighting fears of sexual predators, road safety, gang crimes, abductions for ransom or revenge (even though my husband and I have neither significant wealth nor enemies to think of - I design sterling silver components and my husband is a computer programming nerd) even before my children were born. After the birth of my first child, I noticed that I was constantly agitated and distracted. I was obsessively worried about hot stoves, suffocation and my daughter falling from heights. I found out that this condition was totally natural and a part of our evolutionary programming as parents to ensure the safeguard and survival of our children. Although this was comforting that I was not losing my mind, it did not diminish my compulsion to search for ways to maximize child safety at every turn. I try to keep panic from my voice when I speak to my husband about new plans and safeguards that I've just lost the previous night's sleep over. I certainly try to stay calm when explaining the new plans to my kids, editing my words very carefully.

Four of my friends were sexually molested at a young age, two by their teacher/instructor, one by a fellow student at a prestigious boarding school, and one by an older boy who lived in the neighbourhood. That is a significant percentage considering how small my circle of friends is, and it also goes to show you that it can happen anywhere. I don't want to send you into a panic, but outside the world of sterling silver components horrible things do happen. Thankfully, there are some things that we can do about it. I was lucky, and I want to ensure that my children have the same luck. I've heard there are books out there geared towards young readers as young as 5 years old about safety precautions and how to report any incidents of abusive to an adult. I have yet to get my hands on any of these books, but I've been in dialogue with my parenting coach about conversations I should have with my children and some things that I can do about it.

Parents should teach their children to be alert of dangers without robbing them of their childhood and happiness. Aside from letting my kids sketch alongside me when I am designing sterling silver components, I make an effort to engage them in conversations about being careful when I am not there with them.

Here is my parenting coach's advice:

Teach your children the difference between private parts and public parts. Teach your child which parts are not okay for others to touch and which are okay. You can use a doll to illustrate. I told my daughter that people, other than mom and dad, grandma and grandpa and her nanny, should not touch her private parts. And she should not touch other people's parts, either, even as a joke. And when our family members touch there, it is only when we are helping her bathe. And since she's now potty trained, we don't need to help her wipe there anymore. Later on, I gently reinforced it and told her that she should tell my husband and I, and her teacher, if anyone tried to touch her there. And we talked about respecting other people's privacy.

Help children develop their gut instinct for danger signs. Everyone is born with natural instincts. Over the years, my instincts for which sterling silver components will be popular have become sharpened. Children's instinct for danger need to be further developed and it helps to articulate the feelings for a small child. My parenting coach suggested that when my daughter and I are out shopping or watching a movie, we should bring up the topic. For example, if we were in a grocery store and there was a stranger standing uncomfortably close, or an unkempt person walking by, we should discuss it immediately afterwards. You could say something like "Ooh, that stranger made me feel uncomfortable (or weird). I didn't like it. It felt strange (or I was a little scared). Let's go away from here quickly. I don't like being here." By saying something like this, you are saying that it is okay to feel uncomfortable and not know what it was exactly, but that it was best to leave. As the child grows older, the language and description can be a bit more detailed and analysis more in depth.

Help children understand that not all adults are right or good. It is bad advice to say "you should always listen to adults" or "do as you're told" or "do what your teacher says" (mind you, I'd like to make clear now that I believe 99.9% of teachers are good and they chose their profession for noble reasons and I support teachers and appreciate their hard work). When I teach my children's friends how to make jewellery with sterling silver components, I often test them to with silly things that don't work, or pieces missing. And I show them that I'm sometimes wrong. Many parents, for good intentions, tell their children to do as adults tell them. But not all adults are good and it is difficult for a young child to take this advice and be able to avoid instances of abuse when they encounter the bad ones. You should tell your children "Not all adults are good. Most of them are, but sometimes there are ones that are not. They are not always right. We should listen to our inner voice and decide for ourselves if they are right or not. If we don't think they are, we should tell them. If they are strangers, you should leave right away and tell mom and dad." Being an artist has helped me in this department. I'm sometimes wrong about certain sterling silver components or bead colours. The world is subjective. I don't need to be perfect and my children are fairly quick to point out where some things don't work and I encourage them to go with their gut.

To read part two of A Jewellery Component Designer's Parenting Concerns Sexual Predators II click here.

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