Dear Therapist:

Thank you so much for your informative column. Once again, the importance of being diligent regarding the emotional and physical safety of our children has been hammered home. I was hoping that based on your years of experience as clinicians you could offer some guidance and advice as to what we as parents and members of a community should do to best protect our children?



It is indeed unfortunate—in fact tragic—that discussions of this nature need be had. The fact that such discussions have become commonplace is due to numerous factors, some positive and others decidedly negative. Our community, and indeed the world community, has accepted the fact that human predators exist, and that it is our sacred duty to put safeguards in place for our children’s safety. Just as we teach our children not to touch a hot stove or run into the street, we should teach them of the dangers of predatory behavior. Discussions that have been taboo in past generations have been recognized as necessary.

Of course, each individual child and situation is different, and specific advice should be tailored to each. Generally, any child can become a victim of various types of abuse. Without specific instructions, it can be very difficult for a child to clearly discern the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. This is especially so when the behavior is performed by an adult, and even more so when that adult is in a position of authority.

It is incumbent upon us as parents to educate our children as to which behaviors are inappropriate, and to immediately report inappropriate behaviors to a proper authority figure and to their parents. Children often feel guilty despite the fact that actions were perpetrated by an adult. It is therefore extremely important to convey the message that the blame lies solely with the adult. This makes it easier for them to discuss shameful actions with the proper parties.

As a community, we have come a long way in vilifying perpetrators—as opposed to blaming the victim. We have also become more knowledgeable about the steps that should be taken in the event of a problematic situation. The message is being given to both potential perpetrators, as well as to potential victims, that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

There can always be improvement in our processes, and we should always strive to do better. We need to remember that our children are vulnerable and should be our primary focus and concern. Although we may feel for others involved (like the family of a perpetrator), this should be no concern at all until we have assured the safety of our children.

It must be made clear that as parents and as a community we will not tolerate any type of inappropriate touching or other types of intimacies. Making it unambiguously clear that as a community we will act immediately and vociferously to punish evildoers can help to achieve two major goals. It can help to deter potential victimizers, and it helps send the message to our children that the onus for any inappropriate behavior lies with the perpetrator. 

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200