The Gift of Fear (courtesy of Gavin de Becker)
Covid-19 is frightening.
And because of Covid’s impact on our daily lives, the decisions parents must sometimes make regarding their kids may be also be harmful and, in the extreme, traumatic.
During the pandemic, parents must sometimes make quick decisions regarding child care. When that happens, it’s tempting and/or easy to ignore red flags that might be waving in front of us. We convince ourselves to do so by thinking, I only need coverage for a week; as long as he keeps the kids busy; I know his parents; they seem like a nice person; and the list goes on.
Here is just one example, a true story about Marisol* and her two young boys ages 8 and 10, for whom she needed childcare. Read what she did, then consider, What would your kids do? What would you do? (*Names changed to protect privacy.)
I am friendly with my doctor and his wife, who works as the receptionist in his practice. She doesn’t have a lot of boundaries and often makes me feel a bit uncomfortable as she seems not to recognize social cues. Red flag #1. He’s a fantastic doctor, though!
Over the years she often complained to me that her son (20 years old, college student) was lazy, didn’t make good choices, and didn’t fully apply himself. That said, when she suggested that I hire him as a babysitter for my 8 and 10 year old boys, I said I would speak with him. He seemed great on the phone and had lots of experience as an athlete, a coach, and a camp counselor. Still, because of all of the things she had told me before, I didn’t hire him.
Later in the summer, however, the person we did hire had to stop early, so I needed someone for two weeks. I interviewed him again, checked references (from people we knew), and met up with him in the park.
This was during the COVID-19 pandemic and during a particularly stressful time at work, so I felt like I didn’t have enough time to search for other options. We decided he was “good enough” for a short period of time and hired him.
On the first day the kids came back talking about the “freshmen 15,” and told us that Brett had told them about drinking beer and played them music with explicit lyrics. More red flags. I firmly explained to Brett that they cannot listen to music with explicit lyrics, but did not fully address that he should not be talking to them about grown up topics like drinking and gaining weight in college. I figured that he was trying to seem “cool” to them, and I told my kids that drinking underage was not “cool” and we also talked about healthy eating habits.
After a few more days of him watching the children, the boys came back having not eaten their lunches. I thought this was strange and asked them what had happened.
My 10-year old became very upset, and eventually started crying saying that “Brett is going to kill me. I can’t tell you. And this isn’t even the worst of it.” After many tears and begging and pleading not to fire Brett, eventually we learned that a number of things had happened:
1) That day, Brett had let the boys eat his unfinished lunch – including french fries, which was not safe during the pandemic.
2) Brett had continued to play explicit lyrics to them, and told them “not to tell their parents.” Brett actually told the 2 other boys that he was watching to “not tell their parents” and one of the children said, “I never tell my parents anything, but X and Y [my kids] will tell.” My kids had then promised not to tell either.
3) Brett had told the kids if they could jump up and give him a high five he would give them a dollar but they can’t tell their parents where the money came from. Not only that, he didn’t have them Purell their hands after giving him five. Very unsafe during the pandemic.
4) Lastly, he had continued to talk to them about drinking beer and whiskey.
We texted Brett:
“This evening the boys told us of a few instances that we feel very uncomfortable about. Telling children to keep secrets from their parents is extremely dangerous. And engaging in behavior with children that is not socially distanced during an international pandemic—and then telling them not to tell their parents—is even more dangerous. We are seeing your parents tomorrow for medical appointments and can pass along to them your pay for the two days this week, or we can make other arrangements. I will also pass along some children’s literature that addresses the concept of grooming and how asking children to keep secrets from trusted adults makes them susceptible to grooming. I’m sorry this didn’t work out, but I know that we can all learn a lot from this experience and be better for it moving forward.”
He then asked to talk. He felt “taken aback” by our text and wanted to explain about the dollar game. He had no awareness that he should have sanitized the kids hands and did not bring up the lyrics or the food, showing no awareness about that either. We explained that we didn’t think he meant to do any harm, but we needed to stick with our family rules about lying and support our kids.
The next morning, my husband and I had appts (Brett’s father, our doctor). I still can’t believe that we went, but we did. His parents confronted me and said that he told them that I accused him of being a “predator” (a word we had never used) and “do you think Brett is a predator?” They were indignant and said “our 20-year was crying last night.” I calmly explained that we didn’t think Brett meant any harm, but that we saw first hand that grooming works as the kids were so upset and worried about hurting Brett and that because Brett is an adult, we would follow up with him directly about anything else.
Thank you Marisol for sharing your story. When we are under pressure we tend to hope for the best, or settle on ‘good enough.’ There is so much to learn from Marisol’s experience.
Takeaway #1: Pay attention to your feelings of discomfort and concern (the gift of fear). Don’t ignore them out of expediency or a wish to not offend friends or family members. Trust your gut.
Takeaway #2: There is no such thing as “Good enough” when it comes to your child’s caregivers. Our kids are counting on us to be their first line of defense against abuse. They come first.
Takeaway #3: Our children are vulnerable. Children want to please adults which puts them at risk for being easy targets for the grooming process and potentially being sexually abused. Continue to teach them about personal safety, providing the family with a language of safety. This open communication is key in keeping children safe.
Takeaway #4: Know the signs. Adults who are educated about the grooming process, can recognize the signs and put a stop to the relationship. We do not know what Brett’s intent was, but the actions are classic grooming behaviors.
Thank you again for sharing your story.
KidSafe created the LearnSafe 30 minute training for parents to help with just these issues!
For more info click LearnSafe.