This week, we’re covering the most important aspect of our lives: Keeping Children Safe. Specifically, I’d like to talk a bit about keeping children safe from people who aim to harm them.
It’s every parent’s nightmare: your precious child coming to harm. There are so many things that can happen to kids that we start preparing for their safety before they are even born. Before they are even conceived! Every day, we hear on the news about another abduction, bullying episode that went to far, or sexual assault. Like all animals, human predators tend to pick off the weakest and least capable of a population. Unfortunately, that often means children. But our kids don’t have to be unprepared for the realities of life. We can prepare them to defend and protect themselves without terrifying them, and maybe we’ll even sleep better at night because of it.
Parents are constantly telling their kids not to talk to strangers. Maybe you’ve created that rule in your own household. It’s very important to have some variation on the rule, but there are some vital pieces missing if all you tell your kids is ‘beware of strangers.’ Firstly, did you define strangers for your kids? Predators can get around ‘someone you don’t know’. All they have to do is tell your child their name and they are in. They are no longer a stranger. Instead, I like the definition of a stranger being anyone mommy and daddy haven’t met. Teach your kids to not give personal information to strangers, instead of instructing them to be completely mute. But make sure they know that secrets aren’t okay. If an adult asks them to keep a secret from you, they should immediately spill the beans. Maybe that means you find out what you’re getting for your birthday from your husband or your mother, but that’s a small price to pay for what could happen otherwise.
Secondly, teach them that not all strangers are bad. What about the sweet old lady standing behind you at the check out counter? Maybe she’s an axe murderer, sure, but chances are she just misses having babies around to love on. There’s no reason for your child to scream, “I DON’T KNOW YOU! GET AWAY FROM ME!” If your child is with mommy and daddy, it is safe to talk to strangers, but still not okay to give out personal information.
Thirdly, if your child is ever scared, in danger, or lost, a stranger can help. Teach your kids that safe strangers can help them. A safe stranger is somebody like a mommy, a police officer, waitress, mail carrier, store clerk, etc. Teaching your kids which strangers are okay to talk to creates a less scary scenario for your child should they ever need assistance when you are not immediately at hand.
Possibly most important of all, if your child doesn’t feel right about a person, tell them that instinct is extremely important! If they get a bad or scary vibe off of someone, they should get away as quickly as they can and find help. Most times, people instinctively know when danger is at hand. Most victims report having felt ill at ease prior to being attacked.
- With young kids, my advice honestly is to not allow them to answer the telephone at all. If you do allow your kids to answer the telly, teach kids to hang up if the caller makes them uncomfortable and to tell mom and dad about the call. If he or she is home alone, teach them to call someone like grandma and let her know what just happened. If asked for mom or dad and the parents aren’t present, the child should say they are busy and ask the caller to call back later. Kids rarely take good messages anyway. Same rules for texting.
- Teach kids how to call 911 and what it is used for, and consider getting your child a cell phone that at the very least dials 911 for emergency use.
Phones aren’t the only mediums for predators. Consider internet chat rooms and social media sites, email, instant messengers, and pretty much any website they have access to. Predators could be (and most likely are) lurking in all of these places.
Preventing Abduction…or Worse.
- Teach children a family password for after school or practice pick-up times, and change it weekly or monthly. Practice it even when it’s just mom and dad. Make sure grandparents and other trusted carpool parents know the password. Kids love to ask “What’s the password?” If someone shows up claiming dad sent them to pick Jimmy up, but he doesn’t know the password, Jimmy will know to run to his teacher or coach and let them know what’s going on.
- Kids should know to hold on to their bicycles if someone tries to remove them from it and to scream as loudly as they can. Kids are easy enough to toss in the back of a vehicle without anyone noticing. A screaming kid attached to a bike? Not so much.
- Kids (and adults, really) should avoid walking or biking anywhere at night. Have your kid travel with other kids. Numbers = safety. KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILD IS AT ALL TIMES! Also know what route your child takes to and from each location he visits. Teach him to avoid isolated areas, such as alleys, parking lots, backyards, or wooded areas. If someone does approach your kid, teach your kid to run around a parked car and yell for help.
- Consider teaching children some basic blocks, strikes, and escapes from grabs. At the very least, your child should know that if someone is trying to force him to go somewhere with them or do something that doesn’t feel right, he has the right to say no forcefully. If saying no doesn’t work, he should know that biting, scratching, eye gouging, and groin striking are acceptable ways to get away and find help. Above all, he should know that making a lot of noise draws attention that could help him get away and be safe.
I hope this has given you the courage to prepare your child for the worst while praying for the best. It's never too early to begin.
For further reading, this is a great website that talks about bullying prevention, abuse prevention, and stranger safety http://www.kidpower.org/library/article/safe-without-scared/