A Mom Molested as a Child Tells Parents: To Make Your Kids Safe from Sexual Predators STOP HOVERING

This oped in today’s New York Times is important:

The Wrong Way to Keep Kids Safe From Predators

By

My heart is racing as he kisses my cheek. “Bye, Mom,” he says. Then he grabs his backpack and walks away. I want to snatch him back. I’ll settle for puking instead.

It’s the summer of 2015, and my baby is going off to camp. It’s 3,000 miles away. It’s his first time flying on a plane by himself. When he gets to the other side, a stranger will pick him up and drive him to the Poconos. To a cabin I’ve never seen. To sleep in some foreign, far-off bed.

Although he’s only 9, my boy fears none of this. On the contrary, he’s excited about the adventure. My son is unusually independent, which doesn’t surprise me.

I raised him to be like that.

It hasn’t been easy taking this approach to parenting. When I was 8, a sadistic pedophile decided to make me his victim. He terrorized me for the next six years and left me a nervous wreck for the rest of my life.

Despite that terror — or actually, because of it — Michelle decided to raise her child with LESS hovering. While today’s societal belief is that any time children are unsupervised they are in danger, this mom recognized two big truths. First, that our obsession with stranger-danger points us in exactly the wrong direction:

My abuser convinced my mother — and many other mothers — that he was a nice, trustworthy guy. Believing this, my broke, single mom eagerly accepted his offer to provide free child care. She thought it was safer to have me stay with him than for me to walk home from school alone.

Now that I have a kid, I’ve noticed that most parents think like this. They believe children are safe only when they are in the care of adults, in part because kids have to be protected from would-be pedophiles and abductors. But as a psychologist with an expertise in child abuse, I can tell you this theory is hogwash. It’s exceedingly rare for a child to be taken by a stranger, and in around 90 percent of sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is someone the kid already knows.

The second truth she came to realize is this: Kids who are given the chance to walk to school, play unsupervised, and simply solve some problems ON THEIR OWN end up, naturally, more self-reliant. And that can make them safer, too:

Research on children’s play suggests that when we don’t allow our children to engage in so-called risky situations when they must face challenges and make decisions on their own, we rob them of the opportunity to develop self-confidence and risk management skills. In other words, we turn them into easy targets for the predators we are trying to protect them from.

That’s why I always encouraged my son to do things on his own…. [A]t 9, when he expressed a desire to walk around town on his own, I let him.

None of this was easy for me… But I also know that the best way I can protect my son from bad people is to let him practice using his own wits to survive. He can do that only if I’m not hovering.

Contrast her steely realism with the stories flying around the internet today — the idea that kidnappers are ready to pounce on kids the second we turn our heads away, even when we are right there next to them at the grocery, or Ikea. The take-away from those panics was, in the words of the Ikea mom:

Had I not been paying attention that day… or had I let my kids roam and play while I checked my phone… I may have lost one.

The nutty idea that glancing away from your child is all it takes to endanger them is the myth Michelle Stevens is out to explode. She is brave to do so, and it sounds like she’s raising a brave son. – L.

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My mom doesn’t want me to be molested, the way she was. That’s why she lets me play outside unsupervised and walk home alone!

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32 Responses to A Mom Molested as a Child Tells Parents: To Make Your Kids Safe from Sexual Predators STOP HOVERING

  1. M April 15, 2017 at 10:38 pm #

    Most common child predator:

    Family member
    Boyfriend
    Teacher
    Trusted family friend

    Most common location for assault: Home, school, friend’s house, or other “safe” place.

    What people are scared of:

    White vans
    Strangers
    Public places

    Makes no sense.

  2. James Pollock April 15, 2017 at 11:01 pm #

    “Makes no sense.”

    Irrational fears are just that… irrational.

    The fear of stranger abduction is valid. It’s a thing that can happen and is usually pretty serious when it does. But… in the list of things that can affect your children, placed in order of likelihood, it’s WAY down on the list Because the consequences are so horrible, though, we’re more afraid of it happening than, say, a snowboarding accident.

  3. donald April 16, 2017 at 3:16 am #

    Allowing your children to face adversity can be like vaccinating them against adversity. Ok, perhaps you don’t buy this line. However, think about the converse. Sheltering them from adversity (no matter how small) is a great way to make them emotionally frail against any adversity.

  4. A Reader April 16, 2017 at 5:57 am #

    I was raped by a classmate when I was 15. There is nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. Obviously by age 15 I was going off places by myself or with friends, as 15 year olds are supposed to do. And while I believe homeschooling is a valid educational choice, it would be silly to homeschool just to protect your kid from other kids.
    You know what would have helped though? Beimg educated about consent. Learning how to protect myself. Learning when something is serious enough to get an adult involved. I grew up in a certain community that at the time didn’t really talk about these things, with disastrous results. I am still part of the community, but things have gotten a lot better in this regard because people like me aren’t silent anymore and we demanded change.
    It is so important to educate and empower rather than pile on precautions. Sure, some precautions are necessary, but if you rely on prevention, there will always be that exception, that moment where the stars align in exactly the wrong way. You can never prevent 100%. But if we teach our kids to look out for themselves and insist on their boundaries being respected, they can either avoid sticky situations themselves, or handle them early on before things get out of control. And if God forbid something terrible happens, if they know what to do, they can help bring the perp to justice.
    Lastly, we need to stop acting like sexual abuse/assault is the worst and most damaging thing that can happen. Of course it’s horrible. I would not wish my experience on my worst enemy and pray every day my kids should never know from anything even close to what happened to me. But sometimes $hit happens, really awful $hit, and we have to keep on keeping on. Yes, I suffered from depression in the aftermath and to work through my issues. But I’m really mostly fine. I picled up the pieces and moved on. I went to college and got married young and had kids and live a normal life.generally free of fear. What happened didn’t break me and doesn’t usually interfere with my life. That doesn’t mean what happened was ok, it wasn’t and I wish it hadn’t happened. But it didn’t ruin me. Not any more than my parents divorcing or being in a scary car accident or having a special need child or nearly dying in childbirth or various other difficult things that have happened to me.

  5. Michael_oz April 16, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    I didn’t see a link to the article.

    To save looking it up, it’s:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/14/opinion/the-wrong-way-to-keep-kids-safe-from-predators.html

    It’s so refreshing to hear some logic coming from a parent now and then.

  6. Backroads April 16, 2017 at 9:19 am #

    I am friends with a former victim of childhood molestation. She has the exact same parenting views as here.

  7. Jessica April 16, 2017 at 9:46 am #

    This is another example of how “trust your gut” is not always a solid strategy. Because of her experience as a child, her gut is screaming “Don’t let him out of your sight!!” But she is self-aware enough to know that her gut isn’t trustworthy on this issue, so she is following her logic instead. She is to be commended– she’s doing right by her son, even though it’s really hard for her!

  8. jimc5499 April 16, 2017 at 9:54 am #

    Last week there was a report of an eight year old girl missing in Pittsburgh. The noon news was all over it. All of the usual crap. Stranger danger, pedophiles, they even brought up a girl that went missing over thirty years ago. It turned out that the girl wasn’t missing. Her grandmother had her.

    A few weeks ago we had a four old boy die in the small town where I live. He bled to death internally. His mother’s boyfriend killed him.

  9. Diana Auerhammer April 16, 2017 at 11:35 am #

    Yes! And excellent! I will print this and hand it out to my clients.

  10. Dienne April 16, 2017 at 12:14 pm #

    I agree to a point, but I hope no one thinks that there is actually a way to raise kids that will completely protect them from being abused/molested. That seems to be putting the blame on the victim and/or his/her parents. “Self-reliant” kids can be victimized too. A potential abuser can latch on to a “secure” kid wandering around town on their own or onto an “insecure” kid closer to home. So I think we need to be really careful lest we come across as saying that children get molested because their parents hover too much and such kids are not “self-reliant” enough to protect themselves. The only people who could really prevent child abuse are child abusers, by choosing not to abuse. (I’m reminded of the updated version of the Rules to Prevent Rape. For example, instead of “Don’t walk alone at night”, the rule becomes, “If you see a woman walking alone at night, don’t rape her.”)

    There’s also a matter that different kids have different needs for security vs. independence. One kid might be ready to be out and about on her own and might find the experience empowering and learn to defend herself and solve her own problems. Another kid might not be ready, and letting/forcing her out on her own too soon might make her feel scared and helpless, thereby making her more vulnerable to a “friendly” person who approaches to “help” her. (Incidentally, I intentionally used “her” because I think it’s a lot easier for people to imagine letting a young boy roam about on his own than a young girl. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but I think most people just naturally are more cautious with their daughters than their sons.) The people who are usually in the best position to know what any given child needs/is ready for are the parents, so I think we need to respect parent choice either direction.

  11. Jessica April 16, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    Dienne-
    That is a really good point. It is easy for it to sound like “Oh, helicopter parents? Setting their kids up for molestation!” But you’re right– the unfortunate reality is that children from all backgrounds can be abused.

  12. SanityAnyone? April 16, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    I applaud this Mom for her bravery and not letting her fear become generational. Last week in Delaware, there was an actual child abduction by a stranger. He snatched a four year old girl from a group of friends playing outside, took her away and sexually assaulted her, then left her in a park eight miles away where she walked to a main road and found help. The local Moms are all on high alert ready to lock up their kids of all ages for the summer. I believe the perpetrator is still at large. It is scary, rightfully. I wish someone could talk everyone down, though. It will help when he is caught

  13. JKP April 16, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

    Dienne – I don’t think anyone is suggesting that there is a way to 100% protect kids from anything, including molestation. It’s about lowering risk.

    Think about car accidents. We know that wearing seatbelts/car seats dramatically lowers injuries and fatalities in car accidents. And yet, many people die in car accidents despite these precautions.

    There are a small number of people who die in accidents BECAUSE they were wearing a seat belt/in a car seat. It’s rare, but it happens. Just like it’s rare for kids to be abducted by strangers, but it happens. So if a parent loses a child in a car accident BECAUSE they were in a car seat/wearing a seat belt (they couldn’t get out & escape in time or the angle of impact was bad for that kind of restraint), think how ridiculous it would be if they campaigned to get rid of seat belts/car seats altogether, or tried to pass a law making it illegal to use them. It would be obvious that the tradeoff is not worth it and to ban seat belts/car seats would make people LESS safe overall, even if it did prevent that rare occurrence where the safety restraint contributed to their injuries/death. But that’s exactly what helicopter parents are doing, the tradeoff is just not as obvious as the seat belts.

    Being free range is the metaphorical equivalent to being in a car seat/wearing a seat belt, where the child is safer on their their own without needing to rely on an adult to act as the seat belt by swinging their arm out and holding them in their seat (does anyone’s parent still instinctively do that at sharp stops – mine still whacks me in the chest as if I didn’t have a seat belt). It doesn’t mean the child is 100% safe (because there is no such thing), just that they are safer than if they were hovered over.

  14. David N. Brown April 16, 2017 at 3:25 pm #

    The anxieties about “organized” traffickers and kidnappers are getting it wrong from both directions. The kind of person who MIGHT nab a kid in the middle of a public place are disorganized psychotics. These guys can be summed up by Heath Ledger as the Joker: They’re the dog that chases cars; they wouldn’t know what to do if they caught one. If you want to be prepared for their like, then don’t worry about the kids. Just keep tabs on the guy arguing with voices in his head.

  15. elizabeth April 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    I applaud her for being able to get over her fears enough to allow her child some independence. So many victims of abuse grow up to either become abusers or or hover way too much. On the other hand, worrying about strangers is not the way to go, as she was victimized by someone her mother trusted, not a total stranger (i.e. some random person who decided “hey look a kid i wonder how much i can do before people realize shes missing”).

  16. Michael Blackwood April 16, 2017 at 4:00 pm #

    When I was growing up we would call her normal.

  17. Jana April 16, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

    A brave lady, who has been able to overcome her trauma and make best of it. A truly great example of good parenting, indeed… I am sure she is an excellent mom.

  18. Beth April 16, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

    I’m glad that, so far, none of the comments here are raking the mom over the coals about Cry It Out. I got pretty sick of those within the first 25 comments I read on the NYT article.

  19. Donna April 17, 2017 at 8:37 am #

    JKP –

    Based on my experience in dealing with many child sexual assault cases, it is not remotely true that kids are safer if we free range … or if we helicopter. For every “molested by the babysitter” story, I could provide at least one, probably more, “lonely child doesn’t want to be home alone so makes friends with a neighbor, coach, teacher who then molests him/her.” Even in this situation, yes, child going home alone would have stopped this person from molesting the writer, but so would simply having a different babysitter.

    There is no way to ensure that your child won’t be molested, however, the best way to protect against it is that both the child and the family to have a good support system and to make sure the child’s emotional needs are being met within that positive support system. How you parent once you achieve that goal is pretty much irrelevant. The vast majority of situations that I deal with involved people who are isolated or otherwise looking for a missing social connection. A single mother who doesn’t want to be alone so she moves in some guy she just started dating who then molests her children (most common scenario). A lonely latch-key kid who befriends a friendly neighbor while mom works. A kid with no positive male role model who is befriended by a male coach or teacher. A kid with no positive female role model who is befriended by a female coach or teacher. A kid with no positive adult roll models at all who latches onto someone, anyone. A kid who is being bullied or is without friends who is befriended by an adult.

  20. Silver Fang April 17, 2017 at 8:49 am #

    I like this mother’s way of thinking. I’m so glad I grew up in the 80s, when the hysteria was beginning, but hadn’t yet fully seized public consciousness.

  21. Steve April 17, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    Dienne, nobody is claiming that there’s a way to keep kids 100 percent safe. You’re making a classic straw man argument — putting forth a claim that nobody’s making just so you can knock it down.

    Plus: “The people who are usually in the best position to know what any given child needs/is ready for are the parents, so I think we need to respect parent choice either direction.” Be careful, it sounds like you’re on Mike Tang’s side of this argument.

  22. James Pollock April 17, 2017 at 11:43 am #

    “’The people who are usually in the best position to know what any given child needs/is ready for are the parents, so I think we need to respect parent choice either direction.’ Be careful, it sounds like you’re on Mike Tang’s side of this argument.”

    Thus, the incredible importance of the difference between “usually” and “always”. “Usually” allows for exceptions like Mr. T. But it also means that sometimes, when a parent has chosen to helicopter a child, it is because they know their child and believe that helicopter mode is the best way to parent that child… and they might even be right to do so (gasp).

  23. JKP April 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    Dienne – No one is saying that being free range will make children 100% safe and prevent 100% of molestation. Just that it makes kids saf*ER* because they are more confident and predators choose easier targets. I have a relative who was a confident, free-range child who at age 5 when a relative tried to sexually molest her, she kicked him in the balls and ran off to tell another adult. The family close to him didn’t believe her unfortunately, but her family did. 20 years later, he finally got caught in a way he couldn’t deny and the family that originally didn’t believe her apologized to her. I’m not saying that every free range kid is capable of doing what she did at that age. Just that they are more likely to be capable of it than a child that has never been allowed the freedom to practice being capable.

  24. James April 17, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    I don’t even think that the philosophy presented by this website is about making kids safer.

    “Safer” looks only at the actions (real or potential) “left of the boom”–ie, before bad things happen. It’s all about reducing the number of bad things. Which is good, but it’s only one part of the equation. It’s also futile in a way, because eventually something is GOING to go boom. A kid’s going to break a bone, or not have a ride home, or something. If all you do is focus on reducing the number of bad things, when something does go wrong you’re hosed, because you have no way to handle it.

    Self-reliance and strong family relationships, on the other hand, deal with before, during, and after bad things happen. This mentality reduces the number of bad things that could happen in some ways, but it also creates an environment where kids don’t fall apart whenever bad things do happen, one where kids gradually work their way up to handling more and more serious situations and thus gain experience handling them. This builds the mental toughness necessary to not fall apart whenever something bad happens. And that means being able to respond more appropriately to the bad thing.

    It also creates an environment where more resources are available for handling the aftermath of bad things–Mom and Dad aren’t frazzled by constantly running around and hovering over kids, so they have the mental, physical, fiscal, and other resources to mitigate the effects of bad things. Adults (and kids) won’t be worrying themselves sick planning for astronomically unlikely events, and thus won’t be wasting mental bandwidth, and will be able to handle situations better. The kids also will likely have a stronger peer support network (built via playing with other kids and working out their own issues without parental oversight), and the benefits of this are myriad.

    All of these are debatable, and there are certainly pros and cons to be weighed. However, while reducing the number of bad things–ie, making kids safer–is part of the goal, I think that portraying the style of parenting presented in this blog in just those terms is a mistake. There’s a lot more going on.

  25. Donna April 17, 2017 at 5:53 pm #

    “No one is saying that being free range will make children 100% safe and prevent 100% of molestation. Just that it makes kids saf*ER* ”

    I understood that. I am saying that it doesn’t make kids safER. The vast majority of my sexual abuse cases involve children that are free range, mostly by necessity. None of them were helicoptered because helicopter parenting doesn’t exist in the world that I work in at all. That is very much a middle/upper middle class thing. Working class and poor people can’t afford to helicopter.

  26. Jason April 17, 2017 at 6:20 pm #

    The question is not whether Michelle trusts her kid to be free-range or not as a lesson learned from her ordeal. The question is how does she feel about “nice, trustworthy guys” who take an interest in her and/or her son?

  27. Craig April 17, 2017 at 11:34 pm #

    There is a novel idea… To protect and allow strong and empowered children to arise.. ALLOW them to grow.

    This is one of the laws of the Universe that everybody is so programmed against seeing. Most of the time the solutions to a problem are the opposite of what you have been conditioned to believe. Ask yourself the question if doing the same things you have always chosen in the past have truly solved a problem or either temporarily patched it, letting it arise again, or didn’t solve it at all.

  28. Dingbat April 18, 2017 at 12:00 am #

    @Dienne

    “I’m reminded of the updated version of the Rules to Prevent Rape. For example, instead of “Don’t walk alone at night”, the rule becomes, “If you see a woman walking alone at night, don’t rape her.”

    I’m sorry but this is so utterly stupid to me, a victim of a violent and forcible rape exactly 20 years ago, by a guy I had known 5 years and dated for a month. He did not respond well when up with him, in person (I hated when people did it over the phone or in a letter), as kindly as I could. He just smiled, head butted me and carried on. No amount of someone telling him not to rape people would have stopped him. He had heard that message several times. People are given the message that rape is wrong, and talked to about boundaries and consent, most of their life. They have been for years. A person willing to rape you does not care about this.

    I am not a fan of the teach men not to rape “re education” campaigns at colleges. Number one they are born from a hysteria about a non existent campus rape epidemic that is caused by absurd rights and due process violating policies that have resulted in many male students being charged and expelled for non crimes painted as assault. In fact several long standing and well respected org’s that greatly help victims, as opposed to teenagers who have been taught by their radical feminist professors to think your boyfriend of 3 years kissing you in the morning without obtaining enthusiastic consent first = sexual assault (actual case, with a pending lawsuit), have spoken out against them. You should see the consent policies at several universities that declare a man saying he does not want to be in a sexless relationship, something he has every right to do, is sexual coercion (not even close under the law) which invalidates consent and opens him up to a rape charge if the female student consensually had sex with him afterward instead of telling him to piss off. It continues to demonize most men and kick a message down their throat they have already received, and agree with. I’m also not a fan because I worked very hard to not let my experience run or ruin my life. I worked hard to make sure I did not put what happened to me on most men. I have no urge to tell everyone I see to not rape people.

    Also, parents trying to raise their children with LES hysterical fear and more independence are being arrested, persecuted and prosecuted for letting their child play in their own yard because they could have been abducted and abused by sex perverts. I don’t think anything new needs to be careful about how they address the helicopters, to not paint them in a bad light, when simply stating facts. They don’t do the same for others.

  29. Dingbat April 18, 2017 at 12:04 am #

    That should be when I broke up with him and I don’t think anyone needs to be careful about painting helicopters in a bad light.

  30. Dingbat April 18, 2017 at 12:38 am #

    I will add this too. In the late 80s and early 90s radical feminists started a date rape hysteria on several campuses while implementing the same, vague, hostile environment rights violating policies that were written in 1989. Now, I’m clearly not saying date rape never happens or that rape never happens on campus, but in this case (like today) date rape was conflated with regret, hurt feelings and second guesses about your decisions the night before. Date rape was young women unprepared to deal with the land mine filled dating world opened up before them, with no guidance but misguidance. Most cases of campus date rape were indeed consensual but if he didn’t call you the next night and it made you feel bad, women’s studies students were taught to consider this rape. There are mass quotes from Radfems, who make up the majority of women’s studies professors, out there saying any sex that causes you to second guess/feel bad = rape. It’s highly insulting to those who were never given a chance to consent at all. It was nothing more than women refusing to accept fact about their decisions/mistakes, and their personality. Why would you do that when you could easily blame it on the eternal scapegoat known as the patriarchy? If you don’t handle one night stands well, do not have them anymore. This was something I knew about myself, and I can not imagine turning a learning experience into a crime but that is what several women’s studies students are encouraged to do. The victimology machine is strong and has done a great deal of damage, and spitting in faces, by watering down and conflating the definitions of serious crimes.

  31. Craig April 18, 2017 at 1:53 am #

    @Dingbat

    Fantastic posts! You’ve done a great job of illustrating a major contributor to the problem of victim culture. It’s an extremely big issue.

  32. Anne April 18, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

    “I understood that. I am saying that it doesn’t make kids safER. The vast majority of my sexual abuse cases involve children that are free range, mostly by necessity. None of them were helicoptered because helicopter parenting doesn’t exist in the world that I work in at all. That is very much a middle/upper middle class thing. Working class and poor people can’t afford to helicopter.”

    A lot of kids who are free range by necessity have the self-sufficiency that the middle/upper class helicoptered kids are lacking, but are vulnerable to abuse for other reasons — they haven’t been taught to value themselves and that they have the right to protect their bodies, they don’t have a supportive person to tell when they’re being groomed, they are alone in homes with men that their mothers’ trust. OTOH, you have helicoptered kids who lack confidence to stand up for themselves, especially against authority figures.

    No matter what, there’s no way to make sure that your kids are safe from predators. One thing that you can hopefully teach kids is to report predators, no matter who they are. And, along with that, teach adults to listen to kids and not fall into the trap of thinking that predators are only creepy strangers in vans.