- Get to know the people in your neighborhood – if there are other parents with children, consider organizing an abuse prevention seminar from a local professional. Contact your local rape/crisis center or police station for resources. Run a search of registered sex offenders online, which usually only lists the most dangerous offenders (level 3). If you would like to see a list of level 1 & 2 offenders, you can request this information at the police department.
- Set rules for your children about entering other people’s homes in your neighborhood and about children entering your home. You may find that some neighborhood children may just run into your yard/house without knowing if their parents have a clue as to where they are. Do you want your children to ask permission before going into someone’s home? Will you require other children to call their parents before playing in your house/yard? Consider the child – their personality/age, and their family when allowing your child to play with them. It may seem great that an older child may act as a pro bono babysitter for your child, but it is also important to consider why an older child would want to play with someone younger and that there is a risk of abuse.
- Before allowing your child to go to a friends house for a play date, make sure that you have had time to introduce yourself and chat with the parents first. Do you feel comfortable letting them be responsible for your child? Know who else lives in the home – the siblings, a babysitter, and their rules for TV/video games and if they allow their children to use a computer for play. Remind your child about their right to maintain their privacy/body autonomy and what is proper behavior. You may sound like a broken record to your child – but repetition is better than wishing you had talked about body safety more often.
- When it comes to sleepovers, you may be surprised that some people feel their children are ready to participate much earlier than you anticipate. Think about under what circumstances you would feel comfortable allowing your child to sleep over at someone’s house. You should feel confident that the other parents share the same values as you in regard to activities, manners, house rules, and if they keep any guns in the home and how/where they are stored. Are these people that have a structure in mind for bedtime/what movies they can watch etc – or are they more of the “leave the kids in the basement to do what they want” kind of people. How do you feel about any older siblings of your child’s friend or the spouse/partner?
- Consider arriving early for a pick up, perhaps as a chance to socialize with the other parent(s) or to drop off a forgotten toothbrush for a sleepover – and gain a sense of how your child is enjoying him/herself and the dynamic of the household – what the parents are doing, other siblings or family members etc.
- Let your child know that even if there is a set time for a play date/sleepover to end that they can call you to be picked up early if things are going badly, or if something is making them uncomfortable.
- When you pick your child up or he is dropped off – ask in a friendly/non assuming manner, open ended questions about how things went and what they did. Let your child talk and listen to gain a sense of how they felt. Even if this is the 100th time your child has played at a friends house – be aware.
- No matter the circumstance – whether it be your child playing in your neighborhood, a play date, or a sleepover – ultimately, you as the parent, have the right to say yes or no and listen to your instincts when considering where and with whom your child is allowed to be.
Sections on this page have been adapted from TheMamaBearEffect.