Fort Worth, Texas,
15:35 PM

Sexual predators in the classroom

Talking to your kids about improper relationships with their teacher

We see it on the news almost daily. A teacher or coach in some town, somewhere, arrested for having an inappropriate relationship with a student. Sometimes it’s in another state far away, but far too often it’s in our own communities, even in our children’s schools.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reported 188 cases of suspected teacher misconduct in 2015, causing state lawmakers to launch an investigation into what can be done to curb this alarming trend. An investigation by the TEA shows 19 of those teachers were cleared of wrongdoing. Still, the TEA says reports of student-teacher relations are up 53 percent over the past seven years. One website claims Texas leads the nation as far as sheer number of student-teacher relationship cases.

This has raised concern and placed a greater emphasis on the training of school employees. Another point of emphasis is the amount of teacher-student social media contact.

But what about at home? What do your kids think about this issue?

After all, TV shows like Pretty Little Liars, which features an affair between a student and teacher, seem to normalize the issue.

With so many mixed messages, how do you talk to your own children about this issue?

“I think the conversation begins with a general one about healthy relationships,” said Jamye Coffman, M.D., medical director of the Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment and CARE Team at Cook Children’s. “If a relationship is very unequal, such as a big difference in maturity such as a minor with an adult or one partner has a position of authority over the other, it’s not a healthy relationship. Also, there needs to be a discussion about the law. This is wrong and the adult, will be prosecuted (not persecuted) and most likely face jail time.”

As a parent herself, Dr. Coffman says parents should be concerned if a teacher or coach is paying excessive attention to a child, is spending time with the child outside of professional responsibilities or gives the child a gift.

Dr. Coffman also says it makes no difference if the perpetrator is male or female. She says there’s still the same emotional/maturity and power inequalities involved.

“It usually starts with flirtation and gradually progresses to sexual intercourse,” Dr. Coffman said. “It’s important to remember, even as teens, they are children. Their frontal lobes haven’t developed where they can think all this through so they may not really appreciate the consequences. Really, they are being taken advantage of by older people.”

So what can parents do? Follow these tips:

  1. Be your child’s advocate. A parent or coach shouldn’t want to spend time with your child. Decline any gifts. At no time, should a child have a slumber party with an adult.
  2. Establish your home as a no-secret house.
  3. Don’t tell a child he or she misinterpreted a behavior.
  4. Don’t question any further if you think something is wrong.
  5. Report any concerns to CPS or law enforcement.
  6. Do not confront the perpetrator. Let the authorities do this.

Photo from Pretty Little Liars Facebook page.

For more information

Child maltreatment, sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished - physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation. Read more at the child maltreatment prevention resource page. 

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