When we see the word ‘abuse’, most of us will think of horrible pictures of children or adults who have been beaten by some cruel, hateful, deranged person. The scenes are all too familiar. Abuse and neglect happen every day. Any abuse is too much.
Protecting children from abuse goes beyond just keeping them away from someone who may harm them physically, sexually, or emotionally. There is a different kind of abuse that happens in loving homes all across America and around the world. This abuse is disregarded, but serious.
Obviously, this is a matter of opinion, and many will disagree. The definition of abuse I refer to happens when we allow our children to watch programs or movies filled with violence, horror, sexuality, and other scenes not intended for young eyes and ears. When a child sees and hears things that are beyond their natural maturity, they are bombarded with images and sounds for which they lack the mental and emotional structure to understand.
Through the years, I have heard many young students talk about movies they have seen, describing scenes of terrible violence and gore. Others speak of horror movies that make the long-gone Friday night “Creature Features” look like an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. These films are doing exactly what they are designed to do, scare viewers almost out of their minds. Millions love them.
We can tell our kids it’s not real, and they may understand the difference between real life and a movie. However, the things they see do not go through a filter in their mind that places make-believe items in one pile and things that are real in another. The fear they feel when they watch horror movies is real. The impact on the brain and emotions from exposure to those kinds of scenes is real, and lasting. The images will remain a part of their memory. Why would we choose to expose our children’s minds, calling it entertainment, to things we would give our own lives to protect them from in real life?
Okay, enough about television and movies. How can you keep your child safe from abuse? Every parent must be aware and awake. With whom is your child spending time? Does your child have opportunities to be alone with an adult you do not know very well? Do you know all of the people your child is communicating with on the internet? Do you know the passwords to all of your child’s accounts on their iphone, ipad, computer, and smart TV? Do you know who they are friends with on Facebook, SnapChat, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and any other new apps that come out almost every day? Do you allow your child to have internet access in their bedroom?
During the years I had the privilege of being a middle school counselor, I often witnessed heart-broken and teary students betrayed by someone, maybe a former BFF, posting unflattering photos, or spreading rumors and lies about them. My response was always the same. “Close your accounts and don’t go back on social media.” They wouldn’t do it. The price of being excluded from the social media noise was greater than the heartbreak they felt. I often said, “If I had my way, no student sixteen or younger would have a cell phone or have access to social media.” I know it’s unrealistic, I understand this is the era we’re living in. But parents are not required, no matter how their own children may complain, to allow them the capacity to be exposed to things they may never be able to overcome. Social media access is not required for healthy emotional, psychological, and social development!
We’re living in a different world than we were just ten years ago. No parent can be too careful, too suspicious. Do you know the leaders of the community or church groups your child attends? Do you ask questions? Do the groups do background checks on all of their volunteers? Does this sound paranoid? Not today, not for a minute!
Protecting children is not just the parents’ responsibility, but it is the parents’ job to be sure those adults who are around their children will actually do everything they can to protect them.
If you are beginning to wonder if abuse is taking place. Talk to someone! Get help immediately! Don’t assume anything! Don’t allow your own trusting, non-suspicious, perhaps non-believing nature to blind you. Don’t doubt yourself! The cost is too high if your trust in others is misplaced! Over-reacting or being mistaken is far better than discovering too late you were right.