I have teenage daughters, and it is always a bit of a balancing act figuring out how to prepare them for possible danger, and how not to make them cynical and suspicious about everything.
Yet there is one area where I think parents are far too lenient when it comes to teen girls, and it’s in the area of baby-sitting. We grill our kids up and down when it comes to going to someone’s house for a party, but we often will let them baby-sit without really knowing anything about the family.
I was sent a blog post by a reader a while back who is trying to share her story with others in the hope that it can help some, and reading it again made me all the more aware that I need to be much more careful about who my children baby-sit for. I’ve only ever let them baby-sit for friends, but honestly, how do I know these friends really are safe?
When I baby-sat as a teen I was exposed to way more than I should have been. One mom told me all the details of her husband’s affairs, down to specific sexual acts she knew that he had committed (sexual acts I knew nothing about at the time). She saw me more as a confidant. Another family had porn everywhere. You would never have known it to look at them; they were a short, chubby couple that was very prim and proper. And it wasn’t Playboy magazines, either; it was pretty hard stuff. I ran away from it as fast as I could, but I certainly saw it. It was under every surface in the house, including the baby’s change table.
Here’s how my blog reader describes what led up to her eventual sexual abuse at the hands of a man she was baby-sitting for:
It was a Friday night in August 1984. I had put the baby down for the night and around 10pm or so, the door opened and in the husband came to the house. I was surprised that he came home from his trip early and he began to share with me that he never had a trip…he had planned this whole event out and had just come home from a bar to spend the night with me. (I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that…I would soon find out) He asked me to make us something to drink so I went to the kitchen to get 2 cups and some ice. He came into the kitchen and told me that I never gave him anything for his birthday…he turned 29. I asked him what he wanted, he said a kiss would do…I am uncomfortable at this point and not knowing what I should do. I kissed him on the cheek and thought that would be it…it wasn’t.
Two things stand out at me from her story. First, she talks about how she knew something was wrong before he actually raped her, but she didn’t leave. She obeyed what he told her to do.
This is quite normal; she was a young teen, and he was an adult man. We have to teach our girls that when they feel uncomfortable, they should leave. Give them a cell phone so they can immediately call mom. Lie about a sudden headache if they have to. But if they feel uncomfortable, it’s for a reason. They do not have to comply with what an adult says–even a female adult–if it seems somehow wrong.
In this situation, if it had happened in the cell phone era, and she had just said to the adult man, “I’m just going to text my mom and tell her you’re home and you want to have a drink with me,” it’s unlikely anything else would have happened. He would have known that he’d be found out. He would have known he couldn’t intimidate her. Cell phones can be big safety nets.
And we can’t expect our children to handle these things alone, without us. The problem with young teens is that sometimes they feel something’s wrong but they can’t explain WHY it’s wrong. They’re too naive and too confused. So if they get into a conversation with the guy about it, they’ll lose. So tell them, “don’t talk about it. If you feel uncomfortable, phone to leave and we’ll pick you up.”
The second thing that struck me is that, after it was obviously dangerous, she still didn’t run. She felt so ashamed and so scared she didn’t get out of there. Our kids need to know that we will NEVER be angry at them if they take steps to protect themselves. And no matter where they are, they should always ask themselves, “where would I go if I had to get out in a hurry?” I do this naturally now whenever I enter a new store, home, or building. I always plan an escape route. It doesn’t scare me anymore; it just has become natural, and I always do it. Teach your girls to do it, too. If you feel uncomfortable, or if you’re in danger, know how you’re going to get out before it becomes an issue.
We can’t protect our kids all the time, and baby-sitting is a good job for teenagers on the whole. But let’s remember that we never really know what goes on inside a house. Arm your kids with protection, in the form of cell phones, great advice, and warnings. Let them know they’re allowed to say no. And then just pray hard! It’s a scary world out there, but we can help make it a little safer!
Did you ever get in hot water when you baby-sat?