SUMMER SAFETY SERIES #1 of 8
Empowering Children to Feel Safer in a Sometimes Scary World
Since July 20, 2012, our nation has been exposed to five tragedies, all taking or threatening the life of at least one child. In Aurora, Newtown, Boston, Cleveland, and Oklahoma, manmade or natural violent events have taken the lives of young people. Below are ways to talk to children and help them feel safe in their immediate lives even when the bigger world can be scary and unpredictable.
- Find out what children already know about the tragedies. Older kids will probably have more developed memories and opinions about these events.
- Gently probe to see if they worry about bad things happening, especially when trusted adults are not around. Older children are more likely to articulate concerns; a young child may talk about being afraid that a monster will come to school, or bring a drawing home of their biggest fear.
- Validate in age appropriate ways that bad things sometimes happen to innocent people, even kids. Stress that this is not because the victim was bad or deserved it in some way; rather, things sometimes happen for reasons that we do not fully understand.
- Validate that when people are hurt for any reason, it can feel scary to others who hear about it.
- Remind them most children stay safe in school, at home, in stores, etc. The media reports a tragedy – because it is unusual. Demonstrate how their lives have been safe in school, at sports, at home.
- Point out that even when something very bad happens in a community, good people respond and help. Talk about the Red Cross, EMTs, fire personnel, etc., who are ready to help.
- Focus on something kids can do to feel empowered. Baking cookies for local fireman, collecting pennies for the Red Cross, saying a special prayer injured kids – allow young people to feel they have impact.
- The key is neither to sugar-coat the dangers of life nor to feed the beast of fear.
- Emphasize community and individual resilience; seek balance with the relative rarity of events like those of the past year.
SUMMER SAFETY SERIES #2 of 8
Empowering Children to Prevent Abduction
* About 200,000 children are abducted by family members every year, often by a non-custodial parent.
* Another 58,000 kids are abducted by non-family members who usually intend to sexually abuse the child.
* About 70% of abductors are known to their victims.
* About 75% of abducted children are female.
Despite these terrible numbers and terrible deeds, only a minority of young people – about 115 – are killed, ransomed or kept by their abductors yearly. The rest are eventually found and returned.
The FBI points out that most parents talk to their kids about not talking to strangers. Rarely, though, do parents speak to their kids about staying safe with people they know.
The FBI recommends that families choose a codeword known only by immediate family. Teach children even caregivers and relatives must know the codeword or the child should not leave with them. If the adult does not know it, the young person should run away, calling loudly, “This is not my parent. Call the police!” Demonstrate at home, at a park, shopping center, or after-school activity what to do if Aunt Betty, a teacher or a stranger told them that you were in an accident and they had come to take your child home. Younger kids need more practice.
- Teach children lures used by predators, i.e. “My puppy jumped out of my car -can you help me?”
- For non-custodial parent: “Mom said I could take you for pizza!”
- Teach children about internet safety (to be covered later this summer)
- Ensure that kids know their name, address, phone number and how to dial 911.
- Teach your child that they can talk to you about anyone that person makes them uncomfortable, even a relative or friend. Teach them to trust their gut, often a life-saving practice.
What Parents Can Do to Guard Against or Respond To an Abduction
- Take new pictures of your child every six months and keep them handy.
- Have fingerprints, foot prints, and mouth swabs (for DNA sample) in a safe place
- Talk to your kids about internet safety. (to be covered in July)
- Make sure custody documents are handy and in order.
- Do not have your child’s name visible on clothing.
- Carefully check the references of nannies, babysitters or au pairs.
- Insist on meeting the parents of your children’s friends if they visit friends’ home or seek a ride.
SUMMER SAFETY SERIES #3 of 8
HOME ALONE: Safety When Kids Are Home Alone
It’s a great milestone when a child can stay home alone.
When is it okay? Maturity, confidence, and capability are more important guidelines
- Does your child usually follow rules?
- Is child a good problem solver?
- How would child handle an emergency?
- Does child want to stay home alone sometimes?
- Does child know how to call 911?
- Does child know their address, phone number, relevant cell numbers?
The setting counts too: Are neighbors usually available when your child will be alone?
Start slow: Begin by leaving child alone for short periods and work up to longer periods if they do well, eventually including night hours.
Set the rules: Go over rules each time you leave. Try some role-playing.
- Younger children to stay indoors; older children should lock the doors leaving the house.
- Younger children should not have friends over when alone.
- Establish a list of acceptable guests for older children.
- Keep all doors and windows locked.
- Do not answer the door unless person is on the guest list or if they know the codeword. (see Article #2).
- Child should not reveal to any phone caller that they are home alone.
- Have an emergency plan in case of fire or sudden illness or accident.
- Practice the plan.Set age appropriate rules for using kitchen appliances, grills, knives, etc.
- Leave note or text regarding where you’ll be and how to get in contact.
- Have a back up contact if you cannot be reached.
- Prepare list of important numbers; cell numbers, 911, poison hotline, other trusted adults
- Establish location of a First-Aid kit
Review the experience:
- Practice solving any problems that came up.
- Check how they feel about staying home alone.
Staying home alone is another step towards independence and freedom for both parents and kids. It can be a confidence builder for the child and makes life a little easier to mom and dad. Following these suggestions can help staying home alone be a success for the whole family.
SUMMER SAFETY SERIES #4 of 8:
Social Media Challenges: Teaching Youth to be Responsible Users
Today’s children are growing up in a new world of social media with unprecedented dangers. The news stories can be shocking:
– Online predators lure youth to run away and sexually assault them
– Teens are tormented by cyber-bullying, leading to increased risk of depression, anxiety and suicide
– Extreme blog communities encourage teen suicide or other dangerous behaviors
– Increased internet access to dangerous drugs or cocktails
Since the proliferation of cell phone use among tweens on up, childhood has forever changed. Instead of communicating with peers within more limited time frames – verbally or in person – youth have increased access to information and to each other. Cell phones often creep into bedrooms, keeping a child from fully disconnecting from their social network and resting their minds and bodies. Further, social media allows youth to access a larger and more diverse social network. At a time in development where one yearns to connect and fit in, it becomes increasingly difficult to teach youth about healthy boundaries, relationships and communication.
One can certainly name numerous benefits to increased internet access, including the availability of current events, resources and communication with supportive peers. However, the relative anonymity of the internet and lack of accountability make youth at risk for victimization, feelings of isolation or negative influences.
While research into the above risks of social media is in its infancy, we can offer the following guidelines to protect children:
- Develop a foundation for open discussions about the challenges youth face. Try to temper your reactions; listen so your child will feel comfortable talking.
- Educate children about the risks associated with social media use, and develop a plan for them to communicate concerns to you. Remind youth ANYTHING they post online is PERMANENT – if they are not willing to have their parent, teacher or future employer read their post, they should not put it out there.
- Teach boundaries: limit time spent on social media, do not allow electronics in the bedroom, and inform children you will randomly check their electronic use to ensure they are using the privilege responsibly.
Modern technology certainly poses new risks for parents. However, by increasing awareness, engaging in open dialogue and reaching out for help when needed, we can empower our children to stay safe.
PPS has a Child and Development team offering counseling, testing,
assessments, and other psychological services.
For more information see our website or contact us, 704-554-9900.