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How to Protect
Your Children From
Child Abuse:
A Parents Guide
Cómo Proteger a Sus Hijos del Abuso Infantil:
Una Guía Para los Padres
Disponible en español en su oficina
local de los Boy Scouts of America.
2 A Parent’s Guide
Message to Parents
Our children are often faced with choices affecting
their development and safety. As parents we do our
best to provide education and guidance to prepare our
children to make the best decisions. One way we do this
is to talk with our children. Some subjects are easy to
discuss with our children—sports, their grades in school,
and many other features of their daily lives. Other things
are much more difficult for us to discuss including child
abuse—especially child sexual abuse.
Although discussing child abuse with your children
may be difficult for you, it is very important. Research
shows that children whose parents talk to them about
preventing sexual abuse are more effective at fending off
assaults. Discussing such topics with children is perhaps
the most important step a parent can take to protect his
or her child.
Open communication between parents and children
about serious topics such as child sexual abuse offers
children reassurance that no matter how frightening
something may be, their parents will be there to help.
Unfortunately, a significant threat to the safety of
A Parent’s Guide 3
children is adults who sexually molest children. A key to
keeping children safe from these individuals is children’s
ability to seek help from trusted adults anytime they are
hurt or feel scared or uncomfortable. We feel that parents
are the preferred source of this help.
We do not expect that your son will become a victim
of child abuse. It is extremely important, however, that
if he ever faces an abusive situation, he knows that there
are adults in his life who will listen and respond in a
supportive manner. The purpose of this booklet is to
help you and your son develop communication skills and
improve his safety.
Using This Booklet
This booklet is divided into two sections. The first
section contains information for parents about child
abuse and some tips to help you talk with your Cub
Scout–age sons about child abuse. The second section
is for you to share with your son. It presents four simple
rules that can help keep him safer. These are followed by
a few exercises for you and him to complete together as
part of his requirements for the Bobcat badge. The second
section also contains some optional activities for him.
We strongly suggest that you read the entire booklet
before you and your son do any of the exercises together.
Once you are comfortable with the topics in this booklet,
you will be able to present the information in ways he can
understand. Feel free to reword an exercise to help your
child gain a better understanding.
4 A Parent’s Guide
Basic Information About Child Abuse
An abused or neglected child is a child who is harmed
or threatened with physical or mental harm by the acts
or lack of action by a person responsible for the child’s
care. Each state has its own laws concerning child abuse
and neglect. There are several forms of abuse: physical
abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Child neglect
is a form of abuse that occurs when a person responsible
for the care of a child is able but fails to provide necessary
food, clothing, shelter, or care. A brief discussion of each
form of abuse follows.
Neglect
A child is neglected when the persons he depends
on do not provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care,
education, and supervision. When these basic needs
are deliberately withheld, not because the parents or
caregivers are poor, it is considered neglect. Often
the parents or caregivers of neglected children are
so overwhelmed by their own needs that they cannot
recognize the needs of their children.
A Parent’s Guide 5
Physical Abuse
Physical abuse is the deliberate injury of a child by a
person responsible for the child’s care. Physical abuse
is often the result of unreasonable punishment, or
punishment that is too harsh for the child. Sometimes,
physical abuse is caused when caregivers react to
stress. Drinking and drug abuse by caregivers are often
contributing factors to physical abuse.
Physical abuse injuries can include bruises, broken
bones, burns, and abrasions. Children experience minor
injuries as a normal part of childhood, usually in places
such as the shins, knees, and elbows. When the injuries
are found in the soft-tissue areas on the abdomen or
back, or don’t seem to be typical childhood injuries, it is
possible that the child has been abused.
Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is harder to recognize but is just as
harmful to the child as other forms of abuse. Emotional
abuse damages the child’s self-esteem and, in extreme
cases, can cause developmental problems and speech
disorders. A child suffers from emotional abuse when
constantly ridiculed, rejected, blamed, or compared
unfavorably with brothers, sisters, or other children.
Unrealistic expectations in academic or athletic
achievement are a common cause of emotional abuse by
parents or other adults. When a child can’t meet these
expectations, he feels that he is never quite good enough.
Emotional abuse is almost always present when other
forms of abuse are identified.
Sexual Abuse
When an adult or older child uses his or her authority
to involve the child in sexual activity, it is child sexual
abuse, and that person is a child molester. The molester
might use tricks, bribes, pressure, threats, or force to
persuade the child to join in sexual activity. Sexual abuse
includes any activity performed for the sexual satisfaction
of the molester.
6 A Parent’s Guide
A common misconception about sexual abuse is that
children are most likely to be molested by strangers when
the fact is that a child molester is usually someone that
the child knows and trusts. Child molesters are most
often male, but females perform about one-fifth of the
sexual abuse of boys under the age of 14.
Molestation by Peers
Approximately one-third of sexual molestations are
committed by other children. If your child tells you about
club initiations in which sexual activity is included, or
if your child tells you about inappropriate or tricked,
pressured, or forced sexual activity by other children,
this is a form of sexual abuse and you need to take steps
to stop the activity. This kind of sexual activity is serious
and should not be ignored.
Children who molest other children need professional
help. They are much more likely to respond to treatment
when young than are adults who began molesting
children in adolescence and received no treatment,
continuing to molest into adulthood.
Parents and others who work with children need to
distinguish between normal sexual behavior of children
and abusive behavior.
All children are curious
about sexual behavior
as a part of growing up.
When sexual behavior
is forced, when the
person who initiates the
behavior has more power,
or when the sexual
behavior lacks consent, it
is abusive. When parents
are concerned about their
son’s sexual behavior,
they should try to talk
with him and discuss
their specific concerns.
A Parent’s Guide 7
How can I tell if my child has been abused?
The best indicator of abuse is a disclosure by your
child that someone hurt him, scared him, or made him
feel uncomfortable. Children frequently do not tell of
their abuse, but there may be physical signs or behavioral
changes that give parents and other caregivers clues that
abuse may have occurred.
Abused children may show few, and sometimes no,
outward signs of having been abused. Most abused
and neglected children experience and demonstrate
some signs of stress. For many children, stress causes
unexplained behavioral changes such as unhappiness,
bed-wetting, clinging behavior, acting out or aggressive
behavior, crying for no apparent reason, inability to
concentrate, changes in school performance, self-inflicted
harm, and symptoms of illnesses.
It is important to note that there are many other
events in a child’s life that can also create stress, such as
family turmoil, drug abuse by a parent, divorce, death of
a close relative or a pet, and moving. As a parent, you may
be able to identify and help your child cope with such
unfortunate occurrences.
Other signs of abuse may include:
Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken
bones, or black eyes
Injuries to or around the genitals
Bruises or other marks in various stages of
healing indicative of repeated beatings or
physical assaults
Refusing to go to a friend’s or relative’s home
for no apparent reason, for example, “I just
don’t like him anymore.”
Acting out adult sexual behavior or sexually
explicit language a young child is unlikely
to know
8 A Parent’s Guide
What should I do if I suspect that
my child has been abused?
It is very important that parents remain as calm as
possible. Explosive displays of emotion in front of your
child may cause him to feel guilty—either responsible for
the abuse or responsible for upsetting you. In either case,
it will not be helpful to your child.
You should show real concern, but NOT alarm or anger,
when questioning your child about possible child abuse.
If your suspicion of abuse is caused by something you
observed—a change in behavior, unexplained injury, or
avoidance of a particular person—ask your child about it.
Use your unique knowledge of your child to select words
that will encourage openness.
The first consideration should be the safety and well-
being of your child. If there is an indicator of injury, your
child should be seen by your family’s doctor. You should
also contact your local child protective services agency
and report your suspicions.
What should I do if my child tells me
he has been sexually abused?
Don’t panic or overreact to the information disclosed
by your child.
Don’t criticize your child or claim that your child
misunderstood what happened.
Do respect your child’s privacy and take your child
to a place where the two of you can talk without
interruptions or distractions.
Do reassure your child that he is not to blame for
what happened. Tell the child that you appreciate
being told about the incident and will help make sure
it won’t happen again.
Do encourage your child to tell the proper authorities
what happened, but try to avoid repeated interviews
that can be stressful to the child.
A Parent’s Guide 9
Do consult your pediatrician or other child abuse
authority about the need for medical care or
counseling for your child.
If your child has been sexually abused, do not blame
yourself or your child. People who victimize children are
not easy to identify. They come from all walks of life and
all socioeconomic levels. Often they have positions of
status—they go to church, hold regular jobs, and are active
in the community. Child molesters are sometimes very
skilled at controlling and using children, often by giving
them excessive attention, gifts, and money. They use their
skills on parents and other adults, disguising their abusive
behavior behind friendship and care for the child.
How can I tell if someone is a child molester?
Child molesters look and act quite normal except
for their interest in children. They often establish
relationships with children through organizations and
then use those relationships to gain access to children
outside the protective environment offered by the
organization. You should be concerned about any adult
or older youth who wants to spend an unusual amount
time alone with your child.
10 A Parent’s Guide
How can I talk with my Cub
Scout about sexual abuse?
Many parents find it difficult to talk with their
children about child sexual abuse. The following points
may help you and your child talk about sexual abuse
prevention.
If you are uncomfortable discussing sexual abuse with
your child, let him know. When parents who are
uncomfortable discussing sexual abuse with their
children try to hide their uneasiness, the children may
misinterpret the anxiety and be less likely to come
to you when they need help. You can use a simple
statement like, “I wish we didn’t have to talk about
this. I’m uncomfortable because I don’t like to think
this could happen to you. I want you to know that
it’s important and you can come to me whenever you
have a question or if anybody ever tries to abuse you.”
Select words your child understands. One of the primary
concerns of parents is finding words to explain
sexual abuse. If you are uncomfortable using the
names of body parts, use whatever terms your child
understands.
Provide an opportunity for your child to practice youth
protection skills. Learning is more effective when children
have a chance to practice the skills they are taught.
Many parents feel that teaching children about sexual
abuse will take away the innocence of childhood. Many
children are at risk of sexual abuse because they do not
have the maturity to understand why a child molester
would want to look at, touch, or otherwise violate them.
This, in part, explains why children who are sexually
abused at a young age do not realize they were abused
until they are older. It also explains a child’s confusion
if parents or other adults respond emotionally when he
discloses sexual abuse.
A Parent’s Guide 11
The following section has information for children.
It states four simple rules that are the keys to your child’s
personal safety. It also has some “What if . . .” exercises
showing how the rules may be applied to common situations.
We ask that you review the rules and complete the exercises
with your son as he begins his Cub Scout experience.
Information for Children
Personal Safety Rules for Children
Cub Scout–age children benefit from having concrete
safety rules. It is important, however, to stress that
traditional cautions about “strangers” are not sufficient
to protect our children. It may be hard for a child to
differentiate between a stranger and someone who is
known but not considered a trusted adult. In addition,
individuals who harm children are usually known to the
child. Cub Scout–age children need to rely upon adult
guidance to improve their safety.
Discuss the following safety rules with your child
and then help your child apply them in the What if . . .
exercises in the next section.
Check first with a parent or other trusted adult before
you change plans, go anywhere, or accept anything
from anyone. Children need to understand that their
safety is greater when parents or the adult responsible
for caring for them knows
where they are and what
they are doing.
Go with a friend in order to
be safer and to have more
fun. For Cub Scouts, the
friend should be a parent,
other trusted adult, or
older child.
It is your body and you have
the right to say no to anyone
who tries to touch you in places
12 A Parent’s Guide
covered by your swimming suit or to do things that you
think are wrong. Children need to be empowered to
set personal limits and to resist anyone who fails to
respect those limits.
Tell a trusted adult anytime you are hurt, scared, or
made to feel uncomfortable. Cub Scouts need help
in recognizing whom they should trust. Parents are
in the best position to help children identify the
adults in their lives deserving this trust. You can
also reassure your child that he or she will not be
in trouble when they come to you for help. It’s very
important that children understand they are not at
fault when an adult or older child harms them.
Personal Safety Rules for Online Users
Most Cub Scout–age children are learning to use the
Internet for schoolwork and for the many fun things
available for children on the Internet. Children need to
learn that in addition to many acceptable uses, using the
Internet can place them in danger if they don’t follow the
rules. The NetSmartz Studio, a subsidiary of the National
Center for Missing & Exploited Children, suggests that
Cub Scout–age children make the following pledge:
1. I will talk with my parents or guardian so we can
set up rules for going online. The rules will include
the time of day I may be online, the length of time I
may be online, whom I may communicate with while
online, and appropriate areas for me to visit while
online. I will not break these rules or access other
areas without their permission.
2. I will tell a trusted adult if I come across anything that
makes me feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
I will not download anything from anyone without
permission from my parents or guardian.
A Parent’s Guide 13
3. I will never share personal information such as
my address, my telephone number, my parents’ or
guardian’s work address/telephone number, or the
name and location of my school without my parents’
or guardian’s permission.
4. I will never respond to any messages that are mean or
in any way make me feel uncomfortable. If I do get a
message like that, I will tell a trusted adult right away
so he or she can contact the online service. And I will
not send those kinds of messages.
5. I will never meet in person with anyone I have first
“met” online without checking with my parents or
guardian. If my parents or guardian agrees to the
meeting, it will be in a public place and my parents or
guardian must come along.
14 A Parent’s Guide
Bobcat Requirements
Helping your son learn to apply these personal safety
rules can be approached in the same non-frightening
way you teach him not to play with fire or to look both
ways when he crosses the street. Discussing the following
situations with
your son offers an
opportunity for you
to help your child
learn how to apply the
rules and to complete
a requirement for his
Bobcat award—the
first step in his Cub
Scout advancement.
“What if . . .” Situations and Applicable Safety Rules
What if you are playing in your yard and your
neighbor asks you to help carry groceries into his house?
What should you do?
Check first with a parent or other trusted adult before you
change plans, go anywhere, or accept anything from anyone.
What if you are camping with a relative and he
suggests that you allow him to take your picture when
you are not wearing clothes? What do you do?
Tell your relative that you do not want to have your
picture taken. (It is your body and you have the right to say
no to anyone who tries to touch you in places covered by your
swimming suit or to do things that you think are wrong.)
Tell your parents when you return home what
happened. (Tell a trusted adult anytime you are hurt,
scared, or made to feel uncomfortable.)
What if you are playing at a friend’s house and his
older brother and some of his friends invite you to join a
club? To join the club you are expected to take off all your
clothes and wrestle with them. Your friend wants to join.
Fulfilling these requirements
completes requirement 8 on
the Bobcat trail.
A Parent’s Guide 15
What do you do?
Tell your friend it’s time for you to go home; leave
immediately. (It’s your body and you have the right to say no
to anyone who wants to touch you in places covered by your
swimming suit or to do things that you think are wrong.)
When you get home, explain to your parents what
happened. (Tell a trusted adult anytime you are hurt,
scared, or made to feel uncomfortable.)
What if a neighbor comes to you and says your mother
is sick and you must go with him? This neighbor is not a
person you have been told it’s OK to go with. What would
you do?
Check first with a parent or other trusted adult before you
change plans, go anywhere, or accept anything from anyone.
—If at school, go to the principal or your teacher for
help and verification.
—If at home or somewhere else, call the emergency
number—parents’ employers, close relative—for help
and verification.
—Don’t go anywhere without checking with someone
in authority whom you have been told to contact in
this kind of situation.
What if you are in a public restroom and someone
tries to touch your private parts? What do you do?
Yell “STOP THAT” as loudly as you can and run out
of the room as quickly as possible. (It’s your body and
you have the right to say no to anyone who tries to touch
you in places covered by your swimming suit or to do
things that you think are wrong.)
Tell your parent, a police officer, a security guard, or
other adult (such as your teacher) what happened.
(Tell a trusted adult anytime you are hurt, scared, or
made to feel uncomfortable.)
16 A Parent’s Guide
What if you are walking to school in the rain and a car
stops and the driver asks if you want a ride? What do you do?
Stay away from the car; you do not need to go close to
the car to answer.
Unless you have your parent’s permission to ride with
the person, say “No, thank you.” If the driver persists,
say “No!” (Check first with a parent or other trusted
adult before you change plans, go anywhere, or accept
anything from anyone.)
Tell your teacher when you get to school, and tell
your parent when you get home. (Tell a trusted
adult anytime you are hurt, scared, or made to feel
uncomfortable.)
What if you are playing on the playground and an
adult comes up to you and asks you to help find his or her
lost puppy? What do you do?
A Parent’s Guide 17
Adults should ask other adults for help. Tell the
person you have to ask for permission. (Check first
with a parent or other trusted adult before you change
plans, go anywhere, or accept anything from anyone.)
Tell your parent what happened. (Tell a trusted adult
anytime you are hurt, scared, or made to feel uncomfortable.)
What if your babysitter asks you to sit on her lap while she
reads a story and shows you pictures of naked people?
Tell her no. (You have the right to say no to anyone who
wants you to do things that you think are wrong.)
Tell your parent what happened. (Tell a trusted adult
anytime you are hurt, scared, or made to feel uncomfortable.)
What if you’re using the Internet and a pop-up asks you
to fill out a form with your name, address, birth date, and
telephone number to win a prize?
Do not give out personal information on the Internet.
You never can tell how it will be used or even who will
get it. (Check first with a parent or other trusted adult
before you change plans, go anywhere, or accept anything
from anyone.)
18 A Parent’s Guide
Other Youth Protection Activities
(Not Part of the Bobcat Requirements)
My Safety Notebook
This project offers your son an opportunity to
reinforce his understanding of personal safety strategies
by creating his own personal safety notebook. It may be
a loose-leaf notebook or just a number of pages stapled
together. He can decorate the cover with his own artwork
and designs. In the notebook, he can list the personal
safety rules and emergency contact information he
should use, such as parents’ telephone numbers (work
and cellular) and neighbors or friends who have been
approved by his parents as emergency contacts when a
parent cannot be contacted. He may also list emergency
police and fire department numbers (in most areas,
911). Some of
these activities may
partially meet Cub
Scout advancement
requirements for
achievements or
electives.
Your son may
want to include
other safety
guidelines in his
notebook, such as
for bicycle, fire, and
pedestrian safety.
These too may be
used to satisfy some
of his advancement
requirements.
A Parent’s Guide 19
Plays and Skits
Children learn youth protection strategies and are able
to apply them better when they have an opportunity to
practice these skills. Participating in plays and skits in
which they demonstrate safety skills offers a fun way to
practice these skills and demonstrate their understanding
of them.
As a parent, you can guide the creation of the script so
the situations reflect an understanding of the rules and
offer an appropriate opportunity for practicing the skills.
This kind of experience helps children develop confidence
in their ability to be safer.
Family Meeting
A child must feel
comfortable telling
his parents about any
sensitive problems or
experiences in which
someone approached him
in an improper manner,
or in a way that made
him feel uncomfortable.
Studies have shown that
more than half of all
child abuse incidents are
never reported because
the victims are too afraid
or too confused to report
their experiences.
Your children need
to be allowed to talk freely about their likes and dislikes,
their friends, and their true feelings. You can create open
communication through family meetings where safety
issues can be talked about by the entire family. Such
meetings can satisfy requirements of the Webelos Scout
Family Member activity badge.
20 A Parent’s Guide
Additional Resources
BSA Youth Protection Materials
Along with this booklet, the Boy Scouts of America has
an educational video for use by Cub Scout packs or dens.
This award-winning production provides age-appropriate
information about sexual
abuse of boys.
It Happened to Me is a
video for Cub Scout–age
boys that portrays
common situations
in which sexual abuse
can occur. The video
discusses how child
molesters often resort
to tricks for gaining
access to their victims. It
emphasizes that if a boy
is sexually abused, he
should talk to his parents
or other trusted adults. The video also stresses that it is
not the child’s fault if he is sexually abused; it is the child
molester who is responsible.
This video is available from your local BSA council.
The BSA encourages it to be viewed by each Cub Scout
pack or den annually. A meeting guide supporting the
video’s use is found in the Cub Scout Leader Book and
online at www.scouting.org/pubs/av/46-182 in both
English and Spanish.
The Boy Scouts of America also has a series of comic
books that address relevant youth protection issues such
as bullies and Internet safety. The Power Pack Pals comics
are available through your local council service center.
For Scouting’s leaders and parents, the BSA has a
video training session, Youth Protection Guidelines: Training
for Volunteer Leaders and Parents. This is available from
your local BSA council, with regular training sessions
scheduled in most districts.
It Happened to Me
should be shown to
boys 6 to 10 years of
age only when a parent
or responsible adult is
present with the child.
A Parent’s Guide 21
Youth Protection Guidelines: Training for
Volunteer Leaders and Parents
22 A Parent’s Guide
In addition to the video-based training, Youth
Protection training is available on the Internet through
your local council’s Web site. The training addresses
many questions Scout volunteers and parents have
regarding child sexual abuse.
In addition to these video and online materials, the BSA
provides youth protection information to its members and
families through Boys’ Life and Scouting magazines.
Boys’ Life and Scouting magazines
Power Pack Pals
A Parent’s Guide 23
Other Sources of Child Abuse
Prevention Information
National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse
and Neglect Information
330 C St., SW
Washington, DC 20447
Phone: 800-394-3366 or 703-385-7565;
fax: 703-385-3206
E-mail: nccanch@caliber.com
http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov
Prevent Child Abuse America
200 South Michigan Ave., 17th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604-2404
312-663-3520; fax: 312-939-8962
www.preventchildabuse.org
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
699 Prince St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-3175
800-843-5678
www.missingkids.com
www.netsmartz.org
46-014A 2005 Printing
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA
1325 West Walnut Hill Lane
P.O. Box 152079
Irving, Texas 75015 -2079
www.scouting.org