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Sex Offender in my Neighborhood

Q: I have just learned that a sex offender is living in our neighborhood. What should I do to protect my children?

ANSWER: It must be frightening to learn that someone who is known to be dangerous is living near you. Your job is to protect and empower your children without terrifying them.

Irrational solutions that serve the sole purpose of helping you feel safer can make the situation more difficult. Telling children, "Never walk on that side of the street!" or, "Never sit on anyone's lap!" can cause them confusion and anxiety.

Simply telling children what you want them to do in any situation in your neighborhood --and giving them the chance to practice -- is far more effective. Make sure that people who are supervising your younger children stay with them at all times.

Tell children who are old enough to go out on their own, "Our safety rule is that you will check with me first before you change your plan about whom you are with, where you go, and what you are doing. Do not go into someone's house or yard until I agree that it is okay. I also want you to check with me first about when it is okay to open our door to someone."

Role-play so children can practice walking away and checking first in a variety of situations. Include the opportunity to practice walking away from a nice person trying to talk them into coming close to look at something interesting "for just a minute".

While feeling upset about what someone has done is normal, demonizing this individual will serve no purpose and will not help your children be safer. It is important to be realistic. Legally, this man has served his time and can live anywhere he wants. The truth is that most of the people who harm children are not registered on lists. This man is likely to be the first person suspected by authorities if a crime is committed.

At the same time, people who have harmed others sometimes repeat their behavior. This means that you want to make sure that your children are never alone with this person, do not go to his house or into his yard, and do not let him into your home.

If children living in the house where this man is staying are friends with yours, having them come over is fine, but you want to be aware of the possibility that they might have been abused. Children who have been abused who have not had help are most likely to harm themselves, but they might do something abusive to others.

The best way for your children to protect themselves from abuse is to be able to set boundaries and to get help if they need it. Supervise your children's play with all children, including these, until you are sure that they have these skills.

Both you and your children need to be able to say "No" to invitations that would break your safety rules without letting embarrassment or guilt stop you from setting clear boundaries.

Positive, practical personal safety workshops for adults and children, such as those offered by KIDPOWER, can be very helpful in reducing worry and increasing competence.
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Article by KidPower TeenPower FullPower International
http://www.kidpower.org, 831-426-4407, (USA 1-800-467-6997)