—Toy Matinee, There Was A Little Boy
The day before Easter I took our girls downtown to go grocery shopping and then to get a "treat" at our favorite local candy and ice shop called Marini's.
As we passed locals and Spring break tourists shopping, eating and taking in the sights, I was again reminded that Santa Cruz has always been a progressive city and a defender destination of those less fortunate -- runaways and homeless that include aggressive panhandlers, many of them either mentally ill, drug addicts or both.
This time I was extremely conscious not of the older homeless on Pacific Avenue, but those younger kids, the teenagers with hollow eyes and shallow smiles selling homemade jewelry and other various items, or simply asking for money with poorly handwritten signs.
As we passed the female teens, most likely runaways from broken homes due to abuse of some kind (upwards of 75% of runaways are female), my heart cried out for them. I held my girls hands tighter, thinking to myself that no matter what, this wasn't going to be them. That no matter how much the world shakes things up around us, the Mama and I would always be there to protect and guide our girls.
Amen. Much of what follows I wrote last year, but sadly this is an ongoing problem too many children and teens face every day, their hope of Springtime faded like pastel watercolors washed out in the rain.
Admittedly I've never been fond of Easter. It was always an emotionally conflicted holiday for me. The spirit of Spring renewal, and for those of us raised with Christianity and learning of Christ's ascension from the grave, always gave me elusive hope that I too could overcome anything life put in my path.
For decades I felt helpless, the healing from abusive relationship after relationship just as elusive, and then channeling my impotent rage into depression and unhealthy relationships as an young adult.
My mother and sister here the only support network back then, but they were just as damaged at the time, if not more so than me. Unfortunately too many other family and friends didn't want to know and/or acknowledge what was happening. And we didn't have the skills to ask for help either.
Decades later the Mama and I went from not wanting children at all to changing our minds happily and having two lovely little girls. We knew we were "all in" and would do everything we had to do to protect and empower them while ensuring and sustaining only a healthy network of relationships around us all.
Sadly, the statistics say otherwise for too many others. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds — 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18. And that's only what's reported. Statistically speaking, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.
This combined with having children of our own is why I've been a domestic violence and child abuse awareness advocate for years, and why the Mama is now a certified instructor for Kidpower headquartered here in Santa Cruz.
Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, known as Kidpower for short, is a global nonprofit leader in personal safety and violence prevention education. Instead of using fear to teach about violence prevention, the Kidpower Method makes it fun to learn to be safe, building habits that can increase the safety of young people and adults alike and that can last a lifetime.
Since April will again be Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wanted to again share four recommendations from Kidpower on how awareness, action, and skills can keep our precious children and teens safe from most abuse, most bullying, and most other violence, most of the time:
- Making SURE kids know you care. Discuss the Kidpower Protection Promise with every young person in your life who you are in a position to help. Tell them, “You are VERY important to me. If you have a safety problem, I want to know. Even if I seem too busy. Even if someone we care about will be upset. Even if you made a mistake. Please tell me and I will do everything in my power to help you.” Ask them occasionally, “Is there anything you have been wondering or worrying about that you have not told me.” Listen with compassion to their answers, avoiding the temptation to joke or lecture.
- Not letting discomfort get in the way of safety. Decide to make the Kidpower Put Safety First Commitment: “I WILL put the safety and well-being of young people ahead of anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.” The fear of upsetting or bothering someone can make it hard to speak up – and breaking the silence is at the foundation of stopping sexual abuse. Don’t automatically trust people or places because they are familiar to you, have a great reputation, do nice things for kids, are in positions of authority, or seem wonderful. Make sure that their behavior and values are consistently Worthy of Trust.
- Supporting young people in developing healthy boundaries and strong relationships. Teach kids positive communication skills. Uphold the Kidpower rule that touch, games, or play for fun or affection should be the choice of each person, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. Teach kids that touch should not be secret, games should not be secret, presents someone gives you should not be secret, videos and photos should not be secret, and problems should not be secret. Coach young people so they are successful in practicing skills – using examples that are relevant to their lives – so that they are prepared to stay aware, speak up, resist emotional coercion, move away from trouble, and be persistent in getting help from busy adults.
- Sharing information. Tell parents, educators, and administrators about Kidpower’s tools for teaching child abuse prevention strategies and skills for schools and other youth-serving organizations that help protect children and teenagers, including those with special needs, from most abuse, bullying, abduction, and other violence. Share the articles and videos on our Child Abuse Prevention Resource Page.