Drawing a Line: How to Protect Young Girls from Adult “Friends of the Family”

[By Mamudou Jallow]

We live in a changing world, and as such our outlook regarding the times we live in must reflect the current realities and not just be influenced by perceptions from our own upbringings. When we were kids, life was a bit simpler and the world was a little bit safer especially for children. Layovers at friends’ houses, spending long hours at your neighbors, and accepting invitations to eat charity meals were nothing strange. Back then parents didn’t fear much for their kids.

Over the years, our society has witnessed rapid changes and now the makeup of communities is far different from what they used to be. Whereas you practically knew everyone who lived on your block three decades ago, today it is difficult to tell who live next door.

Naturally, parents have adapted to the changing dynamics and they teach their children to stay away from strangers. We teach our children to play close to our homes, not eat out and the layovers have for the most part being curtailed all in a bit to safeguard our precious little ones. We teach kids not to talk to strangers, and not to even give directions to strangers. It looks like we’ve done a very good job in looking out for our kids. However, there is one security threat to our kids that we’ve left wide open, the threat from so called “friends of the family”.

Socially, the Gambian is one of the nicest on the face of the planet. However some of our niceties are plain old naiveties. We often develop friendships with others in our communities, places of worship, workplaces and social gatherings to the extent that those friendships allow the individuals to visit our homes frequently. In the end such acquaintances are introduced to our children as ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’, and as such we expect our children to treat our ‘friends’ as if they are the very extensions of ourselves.

Some parents are so naïve that they reprimand their children harshly for any behavior they deem disrespectful towards their guest “friends”. Parents will go out on a limb to protect their children outside the home, but they will turn right around and label their children as rude for avoiding their ‘friendly’ visitors without stopping to think twice about it. It is time to change those attitudes.

The same protection we accord to our kids outside the home must be extended to them within the home. We must start to ensure that our kids have the most minimalist contact with our “friends” that visit us at home. When it comes to the interactions between our friends and our kids, the following simple rules will come in very handy:

  • Don’t force your children to always greet your visitors, the less your kids are fond of your friends, the better
  • Don’t leave your kids alone with your ‘friends’ for long periods of time. If you have to leave for some reason, ask your guest fiend to come another time, but don’t leave them alone with your kids
  • Don’t allow your male guests to sit your children (especially the female children) on their laps, your friends are there to visit you not to babysit for you
  • Don’t give every bit of information about your children to your friends, they may use such knowledge to entice your kids some day, you may never know

We must recognize that parenting is a 24 hour job that cannot be outsourced to anyone. Protecting your kids against dangers starts at the home, from the very people that are around you. Don’t let your children become victims.