Engaged parents make all the difference in the life of a child. The nature of contemporary society has made engaged parenting all the more challenging, as the increasing demands on our time and attention distract us from focusing on our children, and as the ubiquitous connectivity to various media distract our children from paying much attention to us. There is much lost when parents are not there to provide their children with the security and safety of a listening ear and of healthy and loving guidance.
As parents we should make an important part of our mission the following: I wish to craft the relationship with my children such that that they will instinctively and comfortably turn to me when they have an issue of concern.
In this vein, every year around this time I share a message with the members of my congregation encouraging them to engage thoughtfully and proactively in keeping their children safe. The message is timed to coincide with the onset of the summer season, before children go off to camp.
Over the past few years, there has been much discussion about the issue of child sexual abuse. As parents, we have the ability to help our children protect themselves significantly from this scourge. I encourage each of you to take the following two steps.
1. Make sure your children understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This does not require — and should not entail — complex or frightening discussions. Simply find an opportunity to remind your child that their private parts are just that, and that nobody — friend, relative or any authority figure other than their doctor — should be allowed to touch them there. Opportunities for sharing this can be bath times for young children, dressing or clothes shopping for older children or at the time of a doctor’s
2. Make sure your children feel safe to confide in you. It is essential in this and in every other area that children feel that they can safely share their concerns with a trusted parent, who will take them seriously and act in their best int-erests. Check in with them consistently — as casually and as naturally as you can — to make sure that they are “OK,” that they are not experiencing any kind of harassment or bullying and that that they feel generally secure. Make sure they understand that if they are experiencing some difficulty, you would want to know about it and help them through it. And if they do share concerns with you, react promptly and responsibly, without allowing your own sense of shame or guilt to hold you back.
It should go without saying that in the area of child sexual abuse, all relevant mandated reporting laws must be followed. In addition to contacting the authorities, please make sure to share any specific safety concerns with individuals who are in a position to address them responsibly and effectively. And know that even non-reportable events may be emotionally harmful and may require your intervention and support.
I pray that God grant us the privilege to see all of our children thrive in every way and that we as parents and as a community provide them with the support and security that they deserve.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is the spiritual leader of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation.