Almost daily, newspaper articles remind us of what can happen when children are not protected. The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse is currently deep in investigations across the country. Much of the discussion around stopping abuse is focused around safeguarding technology. While safer technology protocols are an important component, another question needs to be asked: what makes a child vulnerable to such abuse in the first place?
And one of the key ways to find this out is to examine the relationship between you and your child.
As a therapist who has worked with way too many adults who have suffered through childhood abuse, the consistent theme I've noticed among these people is that as children they were 'at risk'. In hindsight, this is easy to detect, but at the time, most of the clients I’ve worked with were well fed, clothed and sheltered, and came from ‘respectable’ families. It was hard to see the 'risk’. So what, then, made them 'at risk'?
Children at risk are children who are emotionally disconnected, either temporarily or permanently from their parents.
How does a parent tell if they're 'connected' enough to their child? Here's a few questions to help get the ball rolling:
Do you know what interests your child has?
Do you know what they’re scared of? (Even teenage boys are scared of something!)
Do you spend downtime together that isn’t focused on schoolwork or chores?
Does your child feel safe enough with you to show you their true feelings?
Do you give them responsibilities in your home?
Do you know what career they’re thinking of pursuing?
Do you allow your child to see you process your own emotions in an adult way?
Have you ever apologised to your child, letting them know that all of us make mistakes occasionally?
These are just some of the indicators of a 'well-connected' parent or carer.
And disconnection? What does that look like?
Do you support, or deride your child’s interests and feelings?
Do you think emotional connection with your child is the responsibility of your spouse?
Do you mock your child about issues of importance to them?
Are you simply too pressed for time to spend time with your child?
Are they allowed to have feelings and opinions that differ to yours?
Do you call your child derogatory names?
Do you use alcohol or other drugs to manage your own emotions?
Parenting is not for faint hearted or the easily deterred! But connection with your child is happening around you right now. Each day there are opportunities to connect, or create distance. The greater the distance, the more vulnerable they are to opportunities in which they can seek love and attention from other adults. This is the risk.
Connection with your child is reflected and practiced through the simple things, like having a laugh together. Time is scarce now for everyone, including children, but time together talking, discussing, dreaming, playing, having fun, expressing feelings (happy and sad) are all positive ways to connect. In a million small ways, these moments will indicate to your child that you are a safe person to be with, to hear their concerns, address their needs and give them limits when needed.
By all means, monitor your child's use of technology, but remember, too, too pay attention to forming a stronger connection.
Having problems 'connecting' with your child? I also offer counselling sessions for parents. Book some time in to see me today.