Babysitter Alert

What do you think is the cause for the incidence of sexual abuse by male teenage babysitters?

As parents of these teens and/or the wee ones, what can we do to prevent the abuse?

In a society that doesn’t want to be sexist, and wants to ensure that men as well as women develop training and experience in looking after children, we still have to face the facts that the largest number of child sexual abuse perpetrators are male, and that pedophilia (sexual attraction to children) usually first shows up in adolescence.

Teen Sexuality : Some male sitters who abuse children they look after are not real pedophiles, but are adolescents with the usual raging hormones, who have inadequate sex education. When they see a little girl unclothed, they are surprised and sometimes horrified to find they are sexually aroused by the sight of her genitals. They don’t know what to do, are too embarrassed to tell anyone, and may proceed to touch her sexually or engage in other inappropriate sexual behaviors. These boys need help in learning appropriate sexual boundaries, how to deal with their own urges, and how to develop social skills with girls of their own age. If they receive this help they will not go on to become perpetrators. If your son is going to babysit, make sure he is educated in all these matters.

Other Abusers : Another kind of adolescent sexual abuser is the boy who has himself been sexually abused, and is acting out what happened to him, often in an altered state of consciousness. Some of these boys go on to become adult pedophiles. Some women victims also sexually abuse children, particularly babies. Boys are probably sexually abused as much as girls. In organized pedophile groups, particularly cult-related ones, young girls are actively taught to sexually abuse children they babysit, and to make those children accessible to other perpetrators. Cults also operate daycares and preschools. Sexual abuse is not the only thing that can harm a child when he or she is being looked after. As a child I had a babysitter who used to hit my brother, lock him in the bedroom, and keep me downstairs to observe her and her boyfriend making out on the couch. My brother had a sitter who left one of his children in her crib crying all day. Other sitters drink, bring in inappropriate friends, neglect the children, watch pornographic movies, have sex in their presence, or steal your property. Many are verbally abusive to children.

Now that I’ve scared you into never hiring a babysitter again, let me remind you that the vast majority of teenage babysitters are responsible young people who would never harm a child. They may, however, have inadequate parenting skills, and may need instruction in how you want your children treated, and how to handle misbehaviors. If you never hire a babysitter, you may develop poor parenting skills yourself, because you never get a break! So what can you do to make sure your child is never sexually abused by a sitter?

Screening Sitters : Get your sitters from a reputable source, if possible. In terms of actual child-minding skills, sitters who have taken babysitting courses are the most reliable. But this won’t screen out potential sexual abusers. Know what your sitter’s family is like; choose a sitter from a healthy family background, someone with no evident emotional problems. If anything seems “weird” about a sitter, don’t use her. If it’s a boy, make sure his parents have given him sufficient sex education, and if he has to put your child to bed, make sure she is already dressed in non-revealing pyjamas before he comes over. The choice of sitter is particularly important if your children are too young to tell you what goes on.

Educating Your Child : Give your child (over about 3) adequate instruction about privacy of body parts, and appropriate and inappropriate touching. Let her know that a few peculiar adults want to touch kids in bad ways, and that if they do they might promise rewards of make threats about what will happen if he tells. Say that these adults tell lies, and that she should always tell if anyone does anything like this to him. Do not connect this instruction with babysitting specifically; you don’t want her to be afraid of every sitter without cause. Along with your sex education include assertiveness training; make sure your child is able to stand up to adults who want her to do anything she feels is not good. Your parenting must focus on teaching your child to do the right thing rather than teaching her to obey adults unquestioningly. Pedophiles choose children who are lonely, lack self-esteem, can’t talk to their parents, and can’t stand up for themselves; children who might tolerate abuse for attention or apparent love. I have talked to both victims and offenders about this. Assertive kids are much less likely to be abused.

Monitoring Your Sitter : Do not tell your child to obey a babysitter as he or she would obey you. Rather, tell your child to obey the sitter only as long as what he asks is the same as what you would expect. Make these instructions apply to daycare or preschool as well as to sitters in the home. Train and expect your child to always report to you what happened when she was looked after by anyone else. Listen carefully to whatever your child says, and ask about anything which seems strange. For example, a young boy who was being sexually abused told his mom “Herman always wants to play house with me.” Years later, when the abuse was disclosed, he was furious at his mom for not knowing what he was telling her. Make sure that when your child tells you about anything, you listen actively and approvingly, without reprimanding your child for her behavior; if you criticize your child, you may be closing the door to disclosures about any sitter. If your child is at all uncomfortable with a sitter, make sure you know why. If it’s inappropriate discipline, you may be able to correct it by educating the sitter; if it’s anything worse, you may have to fire the sitter. If you don’t think it’s anything serious, but you’re not absolutely sure, surprise the sitter by unexpectedly arriving early.