Helpful Strategies for Parents and Educators to prevent RED FLAGS at your school, locker room or on your sports team.
By Kimberly King
An end to “locker room” excuses.
I can’t stand the justification of inappropriate sexually abusive behavior to be justified by “It’s just locker room banter” or by anything else. It’s a terrible excuse and provides justification for bad or illegal behavior. This type of statement creates more questions for me and I hope you as well. Do you ever wonder what really happens in the locker room at your child’s school? I do! I got a call a few years ago about one of my boys snapping a towel at another boy at school. The incident was reported because the horsing around went too far. A detention and a consequences at home stopped that behavior and taught a lesson. It seemed a little easier to deal with these behavior issues, back then, even just five years ago.
“The topic of sexual harassment, sexual abuse scandals and talk of locker room banter have created additional confusion and danger for our children.”
Recent events have brought the focus back to the locker room and have created a very negative connotation for some of our young students. The topic of sexual harassment, sexual abuse scandals and talk of locker room banter have created additional confusion and danger for our children. The line of what is acceptable language and behavior seem to be moving all around. One of the more recent disturbing cases happened at Lake Zurich High School in northern Illinois in February of this year, where a lawsuit has been filed against the school system alleging “acts of hazing, sexual abuse and bullying to occur within the team locker room.” The details of this case are terrifying and hard to believe. How do we keep our kids safe and model appropriate behavior with social norms and social media sending mixed messages to our children?
It made me wonder … how can this type of thing be prevented? How can we raise our children to behave in a more appropriate and respectable way, in and out of the locker room? What responsibilities do parents and schools have to keep kids safe in and out of the locker room, on the field, and at sporting events?
Preventative actions and policies
It’s really important to get the pulse on the climate of your school and school programs before a problem occurs. Many schools don’t notice changes in the sexual climate and behavior of children until a problem occurs. Or, maybe there is a culture already in place that “boys will be boys”, or there are unspoken rituals that imply some type of “right of passage.” According to Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of safelyeverafter.com and a recognized sexual abuse prevention speaker and school curriculum developer, “most parents either feel uncomfortable about asking the questions of administrators or coaches about the sexual abuse prevention policies. Or, just assume that their school and sporting programs already have a sexual abuse prevention policy in place. It is worth noting that many public schools have mandated sexual abuse prevention training as part of their hiring process and training courses required for teacher certification, but it is often outdated or simply focuses on reporting the most egregious cases.”
“An unhealthy school environment can develop quietly and subtly over years.“
As parents we may not really understand that this type of atmosphere can occur at schools. For students, these gradual changes in a school environment may be harder to detect or understand and social norms and culture provide added confusion. An unhealthy school environment can develop quietly and subtly over years.
Laying a foundation for a healthy climate needs to start during the elementary school years in a partnership with parents and educators. Learning safe body boundaries and helping children identify their feelings is a good place to start. This awareness and work towards prevention will become exceptionally valuable when the hormones kick in for middle school. In regards to youth sports, Pattie Fitzgerald recommends “that all schools, including those with sports with teams need to have a sexual abuse prevention policy in place. The policy should include a mandatory meeting for all parents, coaches and children to explain in detail what is acceptable behavior in the locker room and on the field. The policy for reporting should be clear for students. Safety precautions must be in place from the start by following the “rule of two”. The rule of two is simple, two adults supervising children at all times. This rule protects children. However, this is also a very common sense rule to protect teachers and coaches, in the rare event of a false report or misunderstanding.”
What does a healthy sexual abuse prevention climate look like?
Teachers/Coaches who have been trained in sexual abuse prevention.
Schools that have a sexual abuse prevention policy and curriculum.
Teachers and staff who understand normal psycho-sexual development.
A culture of respect for all genders and sexual orientations.
A school staff that responds to any and all incidents and reports that occurs online or at school.
A school willing to set rules and teach boundaries to children across all areas.
A school building that is physically safe from closed doors, blind spots and has an open door policy for parents.
Overall school safety policies that require ID checks and accounting for who should be in the building.
A school that closely monitors all children with supervision.
A school where security is tight and the mixing of different age groups in the locker room is prevented.
According to a middle school physical education coach from Norfolk, Virginia “the middle school locker room is the perfect place to reinforce sexual abuse prevention guidelines, rules, and respect. Our students need positive role models and clear guidelines.”
She warns that parents and teachers need to be proactive on this topic. “Children are already actively copying or re-enacting things they have seen on TV or online. Children may copy a behavior that has been posted on social media when they don’t actually understand the implications of the behavior.”
Just because a news clip, snap, tweet, or instagram post has hundreds of likes or hearts, does not mean the behavior is acceptable at home or at school. Sadly, some children may be seeking social media positive peer reinforcement as they repeat behaviors that they may not yet understand.
Coach explained that, “locker room procedures are modeled correctly and taught to the children. Change, chat, prepare, get in, get out, get to your practice.” All children are encouraged to report any incidents directly to the coach or any of the staff members. Reporting incidents can be done anonymously without any fear of retaliation. Schools that collaborate with parents, and actively implement curriculum to keep children safe are playing a key role in prevention.
Reinforcing ideas for proactive parents
Review and discuss the rules of the locker room. Change, chat, prepare for your class or sport, get in, and get out.
Explain to your child up front that if anything makes them feel uncomfortable or causes them unease in anyway… they should report all events or issues immediately to staff and parents.
Children should understand that when they report any incident they can help make it stop and can report with anonymity and without fear of retaliation. (Receiver of report to protect child’s identity, anonymous phone call, or note system can be implemented by school.)
Limit and monitor your child’s exposure to the news or social media. Children tend to search, copy and reproduce events and clip’s that they see on social media that have gone viral or have many likes.
Reinforce school rules on cell phones.(Do not allow cell phones in locker rooms.) Children should know that posting pics or videos of children changing, half naked, naked, or suggestive is illegal.
Get involved at school to form a home/school partnership that creates a safe environment for your children and implements a sexual abuse prevention policy that includes rules and consequences.
Review with children appropriate behavior and safe body boundaries in a clear way that is easy for kids to understand.
Explain to your child why it is always okay to tell. This can be a good place to introduce bystander apathy.
Have an open door policy with your children where they feel comfortable to discuss human sexual development and ask questions.
Take an abuse prevention training course for parents and teachers at www.d2l.org
Sexual abuse can be prevented and children can learn ways to stay safe!
Kimberly King, the author of “I Said No!”, is a mom, kindergarten teacher and a facilitator for Darkness to Light.
Learn more about Kimberly’s books and activities on her proactive parenting blog.