November 17th, 2011
11:24 AM ET
The Empowered Patient is a regular feature from CNN Senior Medical News Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen that helps put you in the driver's seat when it comes to health care.
As disturbing allegations of child sexual abuse by Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky continue to dominate the headlines, many parents have to be wondering about their own children and how to keep them safe when Mom and Dad are not present.
Here are 10 steps from experts.
1. Recognize that sexual abuse could happen to your child. It’s estimated that one out of every four girls and one out of six boys will experience sexual abuse, according to the American Psychological Association.
2. Recognize that the predator will most likely be someone you know.
Don’t let your guard down just because someone is charming or nice. In fact, those are reasons to put your guard up. Predators "are very good at ingratiating themselves with children,” said Dr. Judith Cohen, medical director for the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
3. Be suspicious of adults who try to spend time alone with your child.
Of course, your child will spend time with adult friends, teachers and coaches. But beware of the ones who make an effort to be alone with your child, who shower your child with gifts or who speak of having a “special relationship” with your child.
4. Avoid situations where your child could be molested.
“If your child wants to go on a sleepover, you should know those parents, especially if your child is young,” said Dr. Paula Bloom, a psychologist in private practice in Atlanta. “If you don’t know the parents, don’t let them sleep over, even if it would be convenient for you.”
If your child is going on an overnight trip, for example with a Scouts group or an athletic team, Bloom says to ask about the sleeping arrangements and “who will have access to whom.”
5. Don’t insist that your child hug someone
Too often, parents tell a child to hug or kiss a relative or friend, as in, “Aunt Susie’s here from Florida. Go give her a hug.” This is a mistake, Bloom says. It’s not that Aunt Susie is necessarily a threat to your child, it’s that children should hug only people they want to hug.
“We worry about how we’re perceived as parents, and that’s why we insist that they hug people. We don’t want people to think we’re rude,” Bloom said. “But really it’s a terrible lesson for our kids.”
6. Teach your children about good touch, bad touch.
Teach your child that she has control over her body and should say “no” to touches that make her uncomfortable.
The University of Missouri has more information teaching your kids about “good touch, bad touch.”
7. Teach your child NO – GO – TELL
Teach your child what to do if someone tries to molest him or her. Cohen suggests saying: “No, go, tell.” No means saying no to sexual advances. Go means to get away as quickly as possible. Tell means to tell someone immediately about what’s happening.
The Sanford, Florida, police department has more information (PDF) on “No, go, tell.”
8. Make it easy for your child to tell you he’s been molested.
“If you scream at your child for spilling milk, a culture will develop in your family where your child will think, ‘I can’t talk to my parents about anything big. They’re going to freak out,’ ” Bloom said. “Let your child know it’s safe to talk to you about anything.”
9. Know the warning signs that your child has been sexually molested.
If your child has nightmares and there’s no other explanation, or if she has mood swings or develops a new or unusual fear of certain people or places, those could be signs she’s been molested, according to the group Stop It Now!
10. Trust your instincts – and your child’s, too
This is probably the single most important piece of advice. If someone makes you uncomfortable, that’s reason enough to keep your child away from that person.
“So often, we try to talk ourselves out of what our instincts are telling us because we don’t want to be mean or judge other people,” Bloom said. “But our instincts are usually right.”
Your child’s instincts are usually right, too.
“If your kid tells you they’re uncomfortable, that in and of itself is important,” Bloom said. “They don’t have to be able to tell you why they’re uncomfortable. It’s just enough to know that they are.”
Several groups have information about keeping your child safe from sexual predators, including Stop It Now!, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Childhelp, and the National Library of Medicine.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.