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Spiked sleepover smoothie case highlights new community danger: 5 steps to protect children

Spiked sleepover smoothie case highlights new community danger: 5 steps to protect children

Kids form memories and exercise their independence at sleepovers. But recent headlines about a dad allegedly drugging girls' smoothies at an overnight get-together highlight the heightened risk of child sex abuse.

Some parents say no to sleepovers entirely in a debate that has spilled onto TikTok and other social media. Mike Nugent, a retired sex crimes investigator, told Fox News Digital he often talks about writing a book called "1,000 reasons not to let your kid have a sleepover." 

One of those reasons made news in February, when Michael Meyden was indicted for allegedly drugging girls at his 12-year-old daughter's Oregon sleepover in August.

Two of the girls fell into a "thick, deep sleep" after drinking smoothies he made, according to an affidavit obtained by People, but one of the girls told police she sensed something was wrong and refused to drink the smoothie.

OREGON DAD ALLEGEDLY DRUGGED DAUGHTER'S 12-YEAR-OLD FRIENDS AT SLEEPOVER WITH LACED SMOOTHIES

The girl "pretended to be asleep" while Meyden allegedly began doing "tests" to make sure another one of the girls was still sleeping. She then texted her mother to pick her up, and the other girls' families did the same.

Meyden was arrested and faces nine charges, including causing another person to ingest a controlled substance, according to the Lake Oswego Police Department.

The girl's resourcefulness embodies how parents can prepare their kids — and themselves — for potential abuse at sleepovers, according to child sexual abuse prevention nonprofit Saprea.

PARENTS WARNED SOCIAL MEDIA IS BREEDING GROUND FOR SEX ABUSE AMONG MINORS: EXPERT

Chris Yadon, the group's director, said sleepovers can be developmentally healthy for kids as long as parents take the time to educate their children and properly vet their temporary guardians. 

Here are five sleepover safety tips from experts:

1. Make sure a sleepover is the right choice for your child

One of the best ways to prepare your children is to make sure they are able to "set, hold and respect boundaries," Yadon said. Not just with other children, but with other adults in positions of authority. 

"Any time we’re asking someone else to be an authority over our children, we’re giving that adult or older minor leverage to coerce or force a child into an abusive situation," Yadon said. 

"If you take a simple day-to-day environment, like a coach, and say, 'If your coach says jump, you say how high,’ that coach can leverage that relationship to abuse that child. You can see [this] in a faith community, with a teacher, with other parents or with older children."

It's also important for parents to broach age-appropriate conversations about body parts and sexuality. Saprea has an online guide for what topics to bring up at different ages. 

"When you talk to adult survivors of child sexual abuse, they didn’t even realize they were being abused," Yadon said. "They thought they were experiencing something normal. No one taught them what was normal."

OREGON DAD ACCUSED OF DRUGGING GIRLS' SMOOTHIES AT DAUGHTER'S SLEEPOVER GOT DIVORCED AFTER INCIDENT

2. Know the other parents, have a relationship with them and trust them

It's not just important to talk to your own kids before letting them attend a sleepover. It's important to work with the other parents as a "team," Yadon said. 

"Open that dialogue. Tell the other parents, 'Hey, I know that sleepovers can be a high-risk environment for kids to be abused. What can we do to reduce the risk?" Yadon suggested. "It’s not about making them the risk or the danger. It's about making yourselves a team." 

In doing so, you can ask relevant questions to gauge your child's risk level, including the amount of unsupervised internet time the children will have, whether older children will be in the house and what other adults will be present. 

3. Know who else will be at the house where they are staying

One sleepover in Rockford, Illinois, took a horrifying turn March 27 when a bloodied intruder broke into a home where three teen girls were watching a movie.

Christian Soto, 22, allegedly grabbed one girl's softball bat in an attack that injured two of the girls and killed 15-year-old Jenna Newcomb.

A stranger targeting a sleepover isn't commonplace. It's far more likely a visiting relative or an older child might victimize children, Yadon said. In conversations with other parents, make sure that you know everyone who will be in the home while your child is present. 

4. Make sure internet, media use at other houses follows standards you've set for your child

Yadon said sleepovers are a common means for kids and teens to see their first instance of sexually explicit material. According to a national survey by Common Sense Media, children see pornography for the first time at 12 years old on average, while nearly three quarters of children between 13 and 17 have seen pornography online. 

More than half of all kids between 10 and 12 have been exposed to inappropriate online content, including hate speech, vulgar language and violent and sexually explicit media, according to Forbes. 

When your child spends the night with other families, it's important to set clear expectations with other parents about your expectations on movies and internet use, according to Saprea's guidelines. 

5. Give your child a voice

In the case of the Lake Oswego sleepover, the 12-year-old girl was able to call and text her parents on her cellphone, get a ride home and accurately relay the abuse she and her friends said they endured. She was able to understand that what was happening was wrong and had developed the instincts to act accordingly. 

Giving your child a means to contact you, and perhaps a code word to ask to come home without alerting friends, can be crucial in preventing abuse, according to Saprea's guidelines. Saprea also suggests role-playing possible scenarios with your kids. 

It's also important to nurture your child's emotional well-being. Yadon said "children that are struggling with their emotional well-being are often targets of abuse by minors, as well as adults."

It's also important to foster an "open line of communication" with your kids so that if things take a turn for the worse, they're comfortable coming to you without fear of shame or punishment.

"The critical thing, though, the biggest thing that keeps the dialogue open is to not have any topics that are off limits," Yadon said. "When we as parents send a clear message to our kids that [certain topics] are off limits … it causes a child to shut down in communication.

"Disciplining children is a critical part of parenting, [but] if that discipline involves shutting down communication, I’m probably making a mistake as a parent.

"[It's important to consider] the way you use shame or don’t use shame," he added. "We can discipline our kids, but when we do it without shame, without stigma and without making topics taboo, we’re much more likely to keep those lines of communication open with our children."

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