How can I teach my naïve 14 year old the signs of a sexual predator?

Dear Stop It Now!,
My son just turned 14 last month. He wants to play a game called Magic the Gathering at a local gaming store.  I took him and his little sister to the shop and realized it was much more! They hold games in this place as well as sell tons of related items.  I noticed there were NO children his age present (Saturday afternoon) rather, older men! My guess is that the age range is from early 20's up to 60 or so. I explained to my son that we probably won't be going there again and he is definitely NOT going alone. 

However, he talked his father into taking him to this place last evening, who would have left him there if I hadn't unexpectedly phoned my son and found out where they were.  His father lacks the desire or knowledge to explain to our son what to watch out for with pedophile signs.  To add to this, I have just recently discovered my son may have Asperger’s although he’s high functioning.  I would appreciate some help. 

Dear Concerned Mom,
It is, of course, key for parents to speak to their kids and teens about potentially dangerous situations they might face, with the goal of them one day being able to recognize and avoid such dangers on their own. However, as a parent, you need to decide if your son currently has the level of maturity needed to know when a danger could be present, and what to do to protect himself.

If you don’t feel that he has reached this level of maturity at this time (and that is not unusual with young adolescents), it’s best to set down certain rules. While it may be fine for him to go by himself to activities that are specifically for his own age group, you may decide that he is not allowed to participate by himself in activities where there are mostly adults or older youth.

Another step you could take (and may already be doing) is to scout out any environments where your son may want to spend time. Sometimes talking to shopkeepers, store managers, etc., may be a way to “personalize” the environment and make it just a bit safer for your son, especially if you feel there is some question that your son might have a developmental disability. You could even ask these people who work in stores where youth frequently visit if they have thought about safety for children and open a conversation with them about safety considerations and planning.

Talking about safety issues can often become more complex when a child is an adolescent. Their world is larger. They have more independence, and less adult supervision. It is important to speak clearly and honestly about the dangers young teens could face, including the dangers of sexual abuse, and to talk over solutions and strategies a young person might use if they found themselves in a risky situation.  At the end of this letter, I’ve included some resources that will help you with ideas about what to say to your son. In Stop It Now!’s Keys to Preventing Sexual Abuse of Children, you’ll find several articles that will help you these conversations, including:

  • Talking to Kids about Preventing Sexual Abuse
  • Ten Things to Remember When you Talk to Kids about Sexuality

Although you are not certain if your son may or may not have some degree of Asperger’s, the fact that you write about this possibility suggests to me that you are not completely confident in his ability to “read” other people, especially strangers.  Because of this, I would suggest that you make sure to be very concrete and specific in speaking to your son. Be sure to use examples and role plays. Describe specific scenarios and ask him what he would do in such situations. You may also be interested in these books dealing with Asperger's and healthy sexuality development:

I hope you will share these resources and articles with your husband. They may help him to feel more confident about talking to your son and setting down rules and boundaries. And of course, when children know that  rules are kept consistent, it helps them know what to expect and in the long run, it will help them better respond to possible at-risk situations by having seen consistent limits and communications practiced in their home.

It’s always good to hear from parents who are asking such important questions and reaching out for answers. I hope this information is helpful.

Take care,
Stop It Now!
 

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Last edited on: June 18th, 2012