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Teachers, Trust and Taking Steps to Protect Your Child

Teacher helping students

​Authors: Laura Buddenberg ​and Kathy McGee - Boys Town Center for Adolescent and Family Spirituality

We've all read these kinds of headlines: "25-Year-Old Teacher Runs Away with Student."

Most of us think it could never happen to our kids and our families. But it does happen, all across America.

What can you do as a parent to keep your child safe at school?

First, we must all remember that our children's teachers really are acting as our "stand-ins" when they are with our kids at school. That means that although teachers don't have all the same rights and responsibilities as parents, they should interact with students within "parental-style" boundaries. A teacher's first priority must be the total health and safety of the students in his or her care. This includes ensuring children's physical health as well as their emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual well-being.

Teachers are not there to be students' friends. They are there to instruct, give grades and consequences, and ensure safety. The vast, vast majority of teachers are compassionate and dedicated professionals who would never harm a child. But there are teachers who have poor boundaries. They may care too much about being popular with students. They may fall into the trap of being a "friend" instead of just being "friendly."

Unfortunately, acting like a child's peer instead of like a child's teacher is one of the opening tactics of an abuser. Here are some warning signs that may indicate potential problems with a teacher:

  • Spending time alone (no other adults are present) with one student or a group of students.
  • Buying gifts for and paying exclusive attention to just one student or a special group of students.
  • Talking, dressing and acting like students.
  • Discussing his or her personal life with or in front of students.
  • Asking a student inappropriate personal or sexual questions.
  • Sending instant messages and texts to or calling students without notifying parents.
  • Appearing to have no friends among his or her peers.

None of these signs mean for sure that a predator is at work. In fact, these situations usually are the result of poor or immature judgment, and things do improve with some discussion and solid direction. However, if you do notice any of these red flags, here are the next steps you should take:

  • Write down your concerns, as well as specific descriptions of what you saw, heard or were told by your child. Include specific dates and times if possible.
  • Ask to talk with a school administrator. Stay calm, describe your concerns and ask the administrator to let you know of any action that is taken.
  • Talk to your child about what happened and how he or she felt about it. Did your child feel scared, worried, concerned, intimidated or confused? Share this information with the school administrator.

Remember, no one knows your child like you do and no one loves your child as much as you do. The best protection we can offer our children is our faithful involvement in their education and a solid awareness of the adults to whom we entrust them.