A few weeks ago there was a local news story about a teenager youth camp counselor sexually assaulting children left in his care. The story was horrible. It was one of those, hug your kids tight kind of stories. And among the comments was one from a local mom who stated that this was why her children would never go to any kind of camp. Because she and I are in many of the same forums, I know that she is a homeschooling mother. I also have heard many times state that her children are not allowed to participate in sports unless she or her husband are the coaches, that they do not attend Sunday School or any church related functions unless she or her husband are with them, and that they are not allowed to play at other childrens’ homes and certainly never allowed to do sleep-overs. Although she will allow them to have sleep-overs at her house. She has mentioned several times in various forums that the deep-seated fear of sexual predators has made her and her husband choose homeschooling as it reduces their protection of their children.
I won’t say she’s making the wrong decision. I am wondering how she is taking the news of Josh Duggar’s abuse of his younger sisters in their own home. While it has not been confirmed that the victims were the Duggar girls or which ones they were, it has been made clear that the abuse occurred in the Duggar home.
Growing up, there were three incidences when my brothers and I were in the acquaintance of pedophiliac predators. One was a public school teacher, one was a coach and one was a priest. Years after our contact, we found out they were sexual predators. By the grace of God, none of us had become their victims. My brothers were altar boys, went on sports trips, and two out of four of us had that teacher for a year. My parents admit it gives them more than just pause to think of how we were exposed. My mother has gone through our dioceses background checks and training in order to work with youth at her parish.
And yet, despite my own personal close calls, I send my children to public schools. I have allowed them to play at neighbor’s houses without me present. They haven’t asked about sleep-overs yet, but I know we’ll face that someday, Moreover, I have a child who cannot speak and who I put on a school bus and spends seven hours out of my care five , days a week. I even send my son to faith formation for an hour once a week. At a Catholic church. I won’t say that I don’t worry about pedophiles. I won’t say my parenting is fearless. Like many. heck, most parents, I pray and discern and God has led me to trust in these decisions.
All of parenting is a risk. What one parent considers protective parenting, another feels as overkill. But the rub…we can never, despite all our protective measures, prevent the bad things from happening to our kids. The Duggar story is a harsh reminder that we can prevent outside pain, or attempt to, but sometimes it can happen on the inside too. Every person, even a child’s father or brother or mother or sister, could potentially cause harm whether it be sexual abuse or physical or anything else. The perfect solution isn’t to ban all outside contact…yes, abusers are people with access to children. Parents and siblings have the most access to all children be they homeschooled, public schooled or anything else. You cannot prevent anything with 100% certainty. And that has to be terrifying to people already terrified of the outside world.
But even more terrifying is the revelation that despite all these protections, a child can become a predator. You can do everything “right” and your child could go off the rails. Eliminating sleep-overs, sports or church activities doesn’t guarantee protecting children. Neither does it guarantee they will grow up on the straight and narrow and not make major indiscretions.