Youth sports have really taken a beating the last few days in light of the sexual abuse accusations occurring at Penn State. The more details that are released, the more nauseating it all becomes, but as parents, we can't stick our heads in the sand and just hope nothing happens to our own children.
By the time student athletes are in college, and really even high school, they often spend more time with their coaches than they do with you. So at that point you need to have some type of trust, but there are plenty of things you can do prior to getting to that stage.
Talk: With Paterno and Sandusky being all over the news lately, it's caused me to have some very candid discussions with my kids. It's led to some interesting questions. I can only hope that keeping an open line of communication will allow them to feel safe in coming to me at the first sign of something fishy. We do "what if" scenarios all the time. I hope the worse never occurs, but I can't be everywhere, so I'm hoping to prepare them for any uncomfortable situation.
All Molesters Don't Look Creepy: I think most people believe they can spot a sexual predator a mile away. The reason it's most prevalent in family and friends is because they've built the trust in the parents and are allowed the luxury of alone time with the child. Of course we don't want to live feeling paranoid all the time, but parents really need to live consciously.
Question Authority Respectively: What a fine line it is for parents. We tell our kids to listen to our coaches and not to be disobedient at practice, games, etc. Yet at the same time, we want them to know it's okay to say no. The way I get around that is I always tell my children that if they ever feel uncomfortable doing something at the request of their coach, that it's fine to question it, as long as they are respectful. And if the request is completely out of line, leave the situation and tell the coach they can deal with me.
Be There! We all have busy lives. We all have 1,001 errands to run. But when your child is getting trained or coached by someone - stay there and watch. I have someone that has been giving my children private swim lessons for the past four years. He's amazing and absolutely wonderful with the kids. He's even been to our house for Christmas. However, he'll never be alone with my kids. I do trust him. But he still won't be alone with my kids.
Make the Hard Decisions: My daughter was accepted onto an elite soccer team. We were ready to sign, when we found out that the team travels together and my daughter couldn't be with me when they flew to out of state tournaments, and the club picks who your child rooms with in the hotel. It was a great achievement to make that team. But the risk of putting my 12 year old in someone elses' hands was one I didn't feel comfortable with. We had to decline the offer. Maybe we blew her best chances of getting on the fast track to a successful soccer career, but I just couldn't do it.
Don't forget the Internet: Kids will often give their e-mail addresses out to coaches - remember that the older they get, the communication doesn't always go through you. Know those passwords!
It is hard to be there all the time, and to know everything that's going on. In fact it's impossible and at some point we have to trust someone. But this is like everything else in raising children. You can't protect them from everything and everyone, but there is a lot you can do to stack the odds in your favor. The Penn State scandal is a tragedy and I only hope that parents can use this as a teaching tool and prevent predators from getting anywhere near their children.