This is a letter we received from a mom that has heard us speak. She was moved to share an incident with us, and allowed us to share it with all of you:
How do I know that my son’s tennis coach is safe?
My 7 year old son has been going to private tennis lessons for about 6 months now. I was given the coach’s name from an acquaintance. (I didn’t get any other references nor check to see if he has an affiliation with a Tennis Association). As you will come to see this was my first mistake.
The lesson is held at the tennis courts of a city park in an upper, middle class neighborhood. For the last 2 months, I’ve had to drop my son off at the lesson and leave to take my daughter to speech therapy. It certainly wasn’t my first choice, but I felt pretty comfortable with the coach and my son really enjoys the lesson. As I was driving away from the park on Monday, I looked out my rear view mirror, and watched my son walk onto the court with the coach. I suddenly had this sinking feeling in my stomach and literally felt sick. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what I felt so anxious and worried about, but the feeling would not go away. (But I swallowed it and kept on driving.) That would be my next mistake.
My Mom always picks my son up from tennis and brings him home for me. When I got home, I decided I would ask him some questions about tennis. I remembered (from what I learned in your KidSafe Parent Seminar) that it was important to keep a “poker face” when questioning him. Here’s how our dialogue went:
Me: “Ben, did you stay on the court the whole time during your tennis lesson today?”
Ben: “No Mom, we went into Coach’s office too.”
Me: “What did you do in Coach’s office?”
Ben: “I can’t tell you, Coach said it’s a secret.”
At this point my heart is in my stomach but I am the picture of calm on the outside. As you explained in the seminar- for our kids to continue to talk and tell us what happened we can’t overreact or they will shut down. I explained to Ben that we don’t have secrets and told him that he won’t be in trouble with me or coach for reporting the secret. Ben told me the coach had given him candy and told him not to tell, that it was their secret. (Keeping my poker face, although I thought I might pass out, I processed with him the importance of not keeping secrets.) I also reviewed with Ben, no one should ever ask you to keep a secret from us….and decided to also go over, “safe vs. unsafe touch” and that no one should ever touch or look at your private parts and you should not touch or look at anyone’s private parts!
Feeling relief that my son didn’t disclose any type of inappropriate touching, I still had this nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I felt guilty that I left him in an unsupervised situation, that I knew better, and possibly put him in a dangerous situation. All this being said, I am a very educated parent and have been to two KidSafe Family Events in which I learned that I should: “trust my instincts,” have talks with my children about not keeping secrets, talk to my children about their bodies… yet, even with all of the knowledge I have gained, I still didn’t make the safest and smartest choice for my child. So, what do I do next?
1) I have to get the coach’s full name and mailing address. I want to see if he is a registered sex offender.
2) I had to find out if he was even certified or had the appropriate credentials to be teaching tennis to children. (Something I should have done before signing my son up for lessons – instead of just relying on a referral).
3) With an assertive voice, let the coach know that I am teaching personal safety to my children and am working with Ben on his “safety rules”. Make the coach aware that I know that he gave my child candy without asking me first and that I don’t approve. That he should not be asking children to keep secrets and also let the coach know that there is no reason for Ben (or any child) to accompany him to his office. Tennis lesson time should be on the court in the open.
4) I will also contact the supervisor and let him know what happened.
5) And most importantly, Ben will never be left alone at an activity without appropriate adult supervision. And, I will always trust MY INSTINCTS!
This scenario may have turned out much differently if I hadn’t acknowledged my gut feeling and followed some fundamental personal safety rules. This man may be completely harmless or (as my gut is indicating) he’s more likely “grooming” my son so he can later take advantage of him in ways that my heart won’t even let me consider. A mother’s instinct is usually right and I’m glad I addressed this situation before it was too late.
I sent this “letter” to Sally & Cherie the Cofounders of an incredible 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation that provides prevention education to children, parent, and teachers. Sally and Cherie are all about what they call “teachable moments” – and love to share stories in which they can reach out and really make a difference in the way parents think and respond when it comes to their children’s safety.
I should have listened to my instincts and I am allowing them to share this information with you so that you won’t make the same mistakes I did. If and when you get that gut feeling you will turn around immediately and return to your child – no matter what else you need to do. PLEASE…listen to your instincts, be your children’s first line of defense in their own safety – they really need us to be. They are innocent, they are vulnerable, and I think we can all agree that nothing is more important than keeping our children safe.
My head is out of the sand. I hope after reading this yours is too. I am now going to promote KidSafe Foundation as much as I can….Every child deserves to learn the skills to keep themselves safe and every parent needs to go to one of their parent seminars so they can learn about the dangers and how they can keep their children safe. Thanks for listening to my story. If sharing it helps one child to be safe….well what more could I ask for. For more information about KidSafe Foundation www.kidsafefoundation.org.