Mixed Messages

As I contemplated writing this, I struggled with how it would be perceived by some. Please understand that our aim is NEVER to offend anyone, but we have accepted the responsibility to provide content that will help you protect your children from the dangers that predators pose to children everywhere. So here it goes…….

Last night I saw the cutest little girl walking by.  As she got close, we had a friendly exchange about her impeccable sense of style.  As we conversed, a man she knew approached her and they shared a quick verbal exchange. He then pulled out a dollar and handed it to her.  As she began to walk away, he asked her if he could have a hug since he had given her the dollar.  She quickly turned to him and complied because they obviously had a relationship, and she felt very comfortable with him. HOWEVER….I immediately cringed on the inside because I saw this as a frequently used grooming tactic of a predator!

Don’t get me wrong, this particular man did not pose a threat to the child, but there is an inherent danger in teaching children that gifts (solicited or unsolicited) come with a price that they should feel obligated to pay.  In her innocence, the little girl gave her trusted family friend a hug in exchange for the dollar because he presented it as what she “owed him” or what she “was supposed to do”.  But…..what happens when someone a child knows and trusts offers them something like candy or money, or a toy and then touches them in an inappropriate way and suggests that the child owed it to him/her as payment for their gift?

The grooming process begins early and typically involve seemingly innocent interactions in the presence of parents and caregivers. A piece of candy here, a dollar there, an unsolicited hug from time to time. Each interaction however, builds more and more trust and suggests to the child that this person is accepted by mom and/or dad. When inappropriate behavior begins, the predator will often reference those previous interactions that occurred in the parents’ presence to reassure the child that the parent gave them permission the carry out their molestation and/or convince them that if they attempted to tell, they wouldn’t be believed because the parents trusts him/her.  Now as adults, we know if our child came to us and said this man or that woman touched them in a way that they didn’t like, we would  believe them.  But, a child does not have the same mature reasoning skills as an adult to decipher between the lies the predator tells and the reality of their parents’ protective nature.  Thus, they often fall prey to the predator because he/she is able to mentally outwit them….AND their parents for that matter.

So the next time a friend, family member, or even a stranger offers your child a gift and requires physical contact in exchange, be it a hug, kiss, or even a hand shake, remind them that gifts shouldn’t come with demands. Let your child know that they do not have to allow anyone into their personal space and they, nor you, need to make any apologies for their decision. Moreover, teach them that it is better to return the gift if the giver isn’t satisfied with a “thank you,” and is requiring that they be allowed to cross your child’s personal boundaries as a way for your child to show his/her gratitude.  These critical lessons of requiring others to respect their personal boundaries today, can prevent them from falling prey to the grooming strategies of sexual predator in their midst Tomorrow!

**Thankfully, the mom in this particular incident took a mental note of the exchange between the man and her daughter so when I mentioned it to her a few moments later, she assured me that she was already preparing to revisit “the conversation” regarding boundaries with her daughter on their way home.**

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