A protective dad, or mom, sets clear boundaries to create a safe, wholesome environment. Learn how from John and Helen Burns, authors of What Dads Need to Know About Daughters/What Moms Need to Know About Sons.
1. Talk to her often about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. When your daughter is comfortable and secure in your presence, she will develop a healthy instinct for what isn’t “right.” I remember a time when I was twelve or thirteen years old, and I was baby-sitting for neighbors who were friends of our family. While I was there, I was approached in an inappropriate way by the man in that home. His advance made me feel very uncomfortable, and I knew immediately it was wrong. I went straight home and told my parents about the incident. They assured me they would take care of the situation and that I would never have to babysit for that family again.
2. Know where she is and who she’s with. While there will be many times when your daughter isn’t under your direct care — at school, for example — you can still protect her by being aware and confident about wherever she is. Check up on her and make sure she is where she is supposed to be, or where she said she would be. My dad did this with me; John did it with our girls; and I recommend you do it too. In addition to knowing where she is, know who she is with. Get to know her friends, and do everything you can to make your home a great place for them to hang out. Because John and I wanted our daughters and their friends to be around our home a lot, we made sure it was a fun place to be. We kept the atmosphere upbeat with lots of games, videos, music — and, of course, food! Our girls’ friends looked forward to coming over. They knew they were always welcome in our home.
3. Do what’s safe, not what’s popular. Yes, our home was fun. But sometimes John and I made decisions that were unpopular. For example, when our girls were growing up, we didn’t allow them to attend sleepover parties at friends’ homes. This didn’t help us win any popularity contests with our children, their friends, or sometimes their friends’ parents. But we were more concerned with the girls’ safety than our own popularity.
The statistics on the number of women who are sexually abused at some point in their lifetimes are staggering. About 90 percent of abuse is committed by people who are known to their victims; only 10 percent of abusive incidents involve strangers. And where are some of the most common places that young girls are sexually abused? In the homes of friends or relatives.
Don’t get me wrong. John and I didn’t live in fear and paranoia about our daughters being abused. But we did feel that the safest route was to find creative alternatives to sleepovers, so the girls wouldn’t feel they were missing out on fun and excitement. Yes, our girls were sometimes upset with us when a sleepover was planned and we said no. But John and I felt we could live with a little upset, if it meant the girls were safer as a result. The pain and consequences of even one abusive incident can last a lifetime.
4. Become Internet savvy. These days there is a new and potentially dangerous intruder in most of our homes: the Internet. To protect your daughter from Internet predators, pornography, and other hazards on the World Wide Web, learn as much as you can about computers, the Internet, and how they work. Always keep your computer in an open place in your home, where your whole family can see it and use it. Check regularly to see what sites your daughter has been visiting. Keep an eye on the kind of material she is viewing and have discussions about it.
Make sure you teach your daughter to never give out any personal information about herself, her family, or her friends. Sadly, many predators are out there in cyberspace, trying to pry this kind of information from unsuspecting young girls. Be very cautious about chat rooms in particular, and acquaint yourself with basic chat-message language — the informal, shorthand vocabulary that has evolved in the world of instant messaging. That way you can know whether or not your daughter is being safe and wise in her communications over the Internet.
Whatever you do, don’t hide your head in the sand and just hope for the best. Computers are here to stay. It’s up to you to stay involved and connected in your daughter’s world.
5. Be media-aware. As a dad, you really need to know what kind of music your daughter is listening to and what kinds of movies and television shows she is watching. Certainly, there are some good movies being made and some good music being produced. There are a few good TV programs to watch and a few good magazines to read. But there is much, much more that isn’t good. Most of today’s media messages create negative peer pressure, encouraging our children to embrace the relativistic and immoral value systems of the world. Your job is to keep your eyes and ears open, stay connected, and ask questions. Talk about the issues raised on the TV shows or movies your daughter watches — not in a condemning manner, but with genuine concern and interest. Help her to make wise choices about what she allows to come into her eyes, ears, and mind through the media.
6. Be willing to be the fall guy. Many times our daughters — like all children — felt the enormous pressure of wanting to fit in with the crowd. They wanted to do whatever all the other kids were doing. Being protective parents, however, John and I often said no to activities that other parents allowed. “It’s not fair,” the girls would cry. “All our friends get to do __________. Why can’t we? What will our friends think if we’re the only ones who don’t show up?”
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