Keeping kids safe by choosing the adults in your child’s life: Friends and family – Part 1

How to thoughtfully decide which friends and family members are safe to be around your child.

A mother holding her young daughter.

Most people have a hard time thinking and talking about child sexual abuse, especially by a family member, but if we are going to prevent it, education is key. According to Perpetrators of Sexual Violence: Statistics by RAINN, 93% of juvenile sexual abuse cases knew the perpetrator, and 34% were family members. It is vital to take the proper precautions and measures while choosing which adults are safe to be around and care for your child.

Telling a family member that you are not comfortable having them be around or care for your child can be very difficult; however, your child’s safety and well-being is your most important job as a parent. Thoughtfully identifying adults that should be around your child helps keep your child safe and helps you in choosing the role models in your child’s life.

Use the following tips from Michigan State University Extension to think thoughtfully about which family and friends are safe to interact with your child alone.

Educate yourself on child predators

It is a parent’s worst nightmare to have anything bad ever happen to their child, especially by a loved one. Unfortunately, even when all these preventive measures are taken to choose a safe adult, abuse still occurs. According to RAINN's Child Sexual Abuse website, “As many as 93% of children under the age of 18 know the abuser.” Thinking about your child being hurt in any way is extremely difficult; however, educating yourself on the warning signs of sexual abuse and how sexual predators groom children, families and communities helps protect your child’s present and future safety.

Identify safe adults

It is important to recognize the difference between a trusted adult and a person you care about or have a relationship with. You might have a great relationship with your sister, but if she is known to be a distracted driver, she would not be a safe adult to drive your child to school. A safe adult should model healthy behaviors and actions in order to set an example for the child.

Positive role models help children learn safe, appropriate behaviors through direct intervention and indirect observation. For example, if your father's values are all based on jealousy and greed, he might not be the best role model for your child. Having adults show examples of good morals and values promotes teaches your child’s social and emotional development.

Consider the context

Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your family members/friends and child to highlight what contexts they can safely supervise your child in. Consider the environment and the purpose of why this safe adult is supervising your child. For example, imagine your father has a bad hip and your child is prone to running away. He might be a perfect adult to help your child with their homework, but it might not be safe for him to walk your son to school as he cannot run after him.

You may also need to consider when an adult is safe to care for your child. For example, your sister might typically be a caring and attentive aunt to your daughter, but if she is currently swamped with a huge work project and is very stressed, now might not be the right time for her to care for your daughter.

Keeping Kids Safe series

To find out more about keeping kids safe, check out the Keeping Kids Safe series from MSU Extension. The fact sheets in this series are designed for parents and adults who work with kids from birth to age 17. They cover issues related to body ownership, boundaries and safety; consent; identifying and communicating about feelings; monitoring and limiting technology use; sharing about kids on social media; and recognizing and preventing grooming by child sexual predators. There are currently eight titles in the series:

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