The recent revelations of alleged long-term sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct by Los Angeles Unified School District personnel involving students has shocked the city, state and nation.
But even more devastating, it has shocked parents and made many ask the question: “How can I keep my child safe at school?”
Veteran licensed clinical psychologist Steve Ambrose recommends that parents have a conversation with their child about how it went at school.
“Ask what they did at school with their friends, what they learned? How they get along with their teacher. Do this everyday, maybe over dinner,” says Ambrose, who works for the L.A.-based Children’s Institute Inc. and has worked with abused and neglected children for about 30 years.
“You need to be a good listener,” stresses Ambrose, who added that children who are less assertive or don’t have strong family support tend to more vulnerable to abuse. “If you see your child is expressing apprehension about going to school because of a teacher or another adult, be acutely sensitive to this.”
Ambrose says the apprehension can include disliking the way a teacher or adult looks at them, touches them, or stood next to them. The psychologist advises to look for changes in behavior–a quiet child turns aggressive, an active youth becomes quiet and withdrawn, a youngster has trouble sleeping at night or a child complains about discomfort in the genital area.
These may all be signs that something nefarious is happening.
Ambrose cautions that children use different words than adults would. So if they say a teacher is “yucky” or “gross,” get them to elaborate.
Also keep in mind, says Ambrose, that children very, very rarely lie about something as intrinsically embarrassing as sexual abuse.
If your child begins to react to all the news reports about the alleged abuse, Ambrose says use the time to give a safety lesson. Remind the youngster that no one, even another adult, is allowed to touch them in a way that causes discomfort. Ambrose says parents need to help their child understand they can always come to them, and they won’t get mad. Also remind them that most teachers care about and want the best for them. So they don’t have to fear every male teacher.