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Not Safe In My Own Backyard

Am I Safe in My Own Backyard? The need to teach children personal safety.

In one day I took referrals from three different frantic parents who had learned that their young child had been sexually assaulted by a classmate, a cousin and even an older sibling. The devastation that these and many families experience is often accentuated with, “I didn’t know!” These are often well-educated and healthy families who didn’t know to teach their child about the risk the child had in their own backyard. I decided that I could no longer stay in my office providing mental health services to children after they had been traumatized, when perhaps a call or an article might help parents learn about this risk to children and most importantly, prevent another child victim. As a psychologist who specializes in working with young children, the frustration that parents and children are not being educated about the risk that children pose to other children compelled me to write this article.

How often do we consider how safe our children are in their own homes, schools, and backyards? We install pool fences, use car seats, and cover electrical outlets. Parents and schools often teach children about stranger danger, drugs and alcohol, and even AIDS. In our schools we even teach children about bullying and give children strategies to get along with other children, but when do we teach children to protect themselves from people and children they know? When do we help children learn about their personal safety from other people and especially from other children? How do we give children skills to protect themselves?

The statistics support my concern that we are missing some of the greatest risks to our children. For example:

  • Statistically the likelihood of a child between the ages of birth to twelve years being harmed by someone they don’t know is less than 14%.

  • It is significantly more likely that a child will be molested by a family member or someone known to the child than by a stranger.

  • Except for victims under age 6, most sexual assault offenders were not family members but were otherwise known to the victim.

  • Sixty percent of all sexual assault offenders were classified by law enforcement as acquaintances of the victim. Just 14% of offenders were strangers to their victims. Strangers were a greater proportion of the offenders of adult victims (27%) than juvenile victims (7%).

  • The youngest juveniles were least likely to have an offender who was a stranger. Just 3% of the offenders in the sexual assaults of children under age 6 were strangers, compared with 5% of the offenders of youth ages 6 through 12, and 10% of offenders of juveniles ages 12 through 17. (pp 13) “That is, 40% of the offenders of victims under age 6 were themselves juveniles. A similar proportion (39%) of offenders of victims ages 6 through 11 were also juveniles. “ (pp. 8)

We don’t want children to become anxious or fearful all the time, but rather empowered to act if it ever becomes necessary. So what can you do as a parent or someone who cares about children? Most kids say to me, "I didn't know." Many children don't have the words or the conceptualization to tell about yucky feelings from other kids. But, how many parents or schools teach children how to protect themselves from other children? What can you as a parent do to teach your child how to be aware in order to protect themselves even from people with whom they feel safe?


  1. Talk to your child about personal safety. -BOOKS: Those Are My Private Parts by Diane Hansen. One of my favorite books that I think every child should read over and over. -LINKS:

  2. Take classes for you and your child. - radKids Personal Empowerment Safety Education. Have your child take classes on personal safety. This is an organization to teach personal safety.

  3. Make a plan with your child! AND, practice, practice, practice.

  4. Contact local authorities. Many incidents are not reported to local authorities so juvenile perpetrators go undetected. People don’t want to tell because of shame or fear of retribution from the juvenile perpetrator and/or his/her family. If you don’t notify the local authorities, this juvenile perpetrator will not get the help he/she needs and will continue to offend. These juvenile perpetrators need help and need to be prevented from hurting others. Treatment is our best option while also protecting any future victims.

These are just a few recommendations to help you get started in teaching your child personal safety. I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to give your child additional tools or that this will prevent every child from being hurt, but we do need to start somewhere. As a parent it is important to be cautious, but not overprotective.

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