When you walk into a doctor's office, you've got to have the same attitude you would about anything else. You've got to ask tough questions, and you've got to not be afraid to challenge their credentials.
When teaching children about good touch/bad touch, the example that is often used is the bathing suit example. The parts of the body that are covered by a bathing suit are parts that are considered to be private. We teach kids that these places are not to be touched by others nor are they permitted to touch others in these areas. Children are not to expose these body parts to others nor are others permitted to expose their own privates to children. But like all rules, there are exceptions. Kids are often taught that there are three exceptions to the “bathing suit rule”: the child’s mother, their father, and a doctor whilst in the company of their parent.
The motivation behind this article is the recent saga of Dr. Larry Nassar, the former US Gymnastics trainer and doctor, who pled guilty to charges of sexual abusing minors. There is plenty to discuss on this subject, but there is one specific point that I would like to focus on. This is the report that Dr. Nasser abused his patients even when their parents were in the room! Whilst such brazenness among abusers is far from the norm, the question remains, what safeguards do parents need to utilize to protect their children from a doctor who is willing to abuse, even in the presence of a parent?
A parent being with their child is not the same as a parent supervising their child. Parents are often one corner of the park doing their own thing, not paying attention to what their kids are doing in the other area of the park. Personally, I have even watched young children run out of the park into the busy street, all the while their parent is absorbed in their own conversation with their friends. The rule we teach our kids “a doctor whilst in the company of their parent” is only good advice if the parent is supervising. Just being present isn't sufficient, active supervision is required. In some of the cases with Dr. Nasser, it was reported that the parent in the room was busy with their phone. In other words, in these cases the parent was present but was not supervising.
Another important lesson to be taken from this is the need for parents to know what is, and what isn't acceptable in the medical field. What problems will require that my child be undressed for the doctor? What issues will give legitimate reason for the doctor to touch my child’s genitals? How is the doctor touching them? Is the doctor hurting my child when touching them? Should it be hurting them? Parents need to educate themselves in this area to better understand when a doctor is doing their job, and when they are overstepping their boundaries.
There is one final rule that I would like to share. When I was taking a course back in graduate school, the teacher taught us all the interventions we should use and when we should use them, but in the last class she gave us the following message: Always go with your gut. She then proceeded to tell us that it means even if our gut tells us differently than what we’ve been taught, we should go with our gut.
If you aren’t comfortable with the way the doctor (or the tutor, or the coach, or the babysitter etc.) is treating your child, even if you can’t explain why you are bothered, go with your gut.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages who are looking to improve their awareness and their social skills. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.
You can email Yisroel at YMPicker@gmail.com