We live in an exciting and yet frightening world, one that offers so many great opportunities for our children but also presents great risks. It is estimated that every 40 seconds a child will go missing somewhere across the United States, a disturbing statistic. What can you do to keep your child safe?
When we look back at our childhood, it’s undeniable that the world was a vastly different place. Children were allowed to run around unsupervised outside until the street lights came on, the universal sign that it was time to head home, without fear of who may approach us or what may happen. We would pass messages to our friends late at night by Morse code using our flashlights in the bedroom window rather than sitting up in a late night chatroom which could also contain any number of online predators. Today, parents have to be more diligent than ever.
Many of the very developments that provide our children with new opportunities in life are also the most frightening. For example, the Internet has changed the world as we know it, that’s a fact. With its rise to popularity came tech jobs, global marketing opportunities, and more. However, experts estimate that 1 in 5 children between the ages of 10 and 17 will receive some form of unwanted sexual solicitation online. This includes sexual messages, photographs, and more. Of these, it is estimated that only 25% every informed a parent, meaning that your children likely face far more online than you are even aware of.
We can’t spend every minute of every day hovering over our children in order to keep them safe (as tempting as that may be). However, there are important lessons that we can teach them in order to arm them with the knowledge to keep themselves safe starting at a young age.
Here are 12 safety tips every parent should teach their children today:
#1 – Basic Home Details
We often overlook just how important it is for your child to know the most basic details about their home in the event that they are ever lost but teaching them this information can make a major difference in getting them home safe! This includes their full name, home phone number (or parent’s cell phone number), and their parents’ names. These are the details that a police officer will be looking for in the event of an emergency. If your child is too young to remember these details and you are going somewhere where you want to take an extra safety precaution, there are bracelets and temporary tattoos that can be made with their basic information on it.
#2 – Important Phone Numbers
On top of your own basic home information, there are other numbers that your child should be familiar with in the event of an emergency. Numbers like 911 or a specific helpline should be memorized so that they are able to use them from any cell phone or landline. At home, put up a list of numbers that your child may also need if something were to happen. For example, if they were home alone and needed to ask a non-emergency question, who can they call if the situation doesn’t call for 911? This may include aunts, uncles, grandparents or close family friends. It’s also important to make sure these people know you are leaving their number.
#3 – Water Safety
This is particularly important if you have a pool or live near a body of water, however, it is a lesson that every child should learn as you never know when they may be in this situation (a friend may have a pool at home, for example). There are a number of little rules your child should know here in order to significantly lower the risk of a drowning emergency. For example, don’t swim while overly tired, don’t swim during lightning storms, no pushing or shoving near a body of water and don’t enter any water body without talking to an adult first to ensure that it’s safe. With approximately 350 children under the age of 5 drowning in pools across the country each year, this is a topic you don’t want to overlook.
#4 – NEVER Talk to Strangers
This may seem like the most basic lesson that a child can learn, however, many parents take it for granted that their child understands without hammering this detail home. Don’t just make this statement in passing, sit down an have a long discussion about its importance. Provide them with examples of what can happen to help them truly understand why you are being so serious. This is a conversation you will likely have to have many times as your child grows older.
#5 – Don’t Take Anything from Strangers
Building on the last point, don’t forget the age-old rule that your child should never touch or take anything from strangers. As children, many of us were taught the image of the ‘free candy’ van designed to lure children in. This is a concept that has carried forward into the modern age. Whether the stranger is luring them with a cute puppy that they should come pet or offering free sweets, teach your child to simply walk away. This should be made easier if they are already buying into the idea that they shouldn’t talk to strangers, period.
#6 – Say ‘No’
This is one of those lessons that’s not only going to keep your child safe but taught properly it can also serve them well long into their adult lives. Far too many people of all ages find themselves in situations where they are completely uncomfortable simply because they are afraid to say ‘No’. This may arguably be one of the most powerful words when it comes to protecting ourselves, and one that we should feel comfortable using when it feels appropriate. A child needs to be taught the importance of using ‘no’ in situations of peer pressure, but also in other high-risk situations, like if someone is trying to touch them in a way that they aren’t comfortable with. Stress that they can always go to a grown-up such as a parent, teacher, or a police officer if someone refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer in these situations.
#7 – Create A ‘Password’
We see new warnings circulating social media every day about people trying to pick up children from local parks and malls. In many cases, they are able to do it so quietly that no one in the vicinity is even aware that they shouldn’t have your child. How? One of the tricks many use is to tell the child that they are a friend of their parents and have been asked to pick them up. This creates a misplaced trust encouraging the child to willing leave with them as if there’s nothing wrong. The easiest way to protect your child from these predators? Institute a ‘pickup password’. This is a word or phrase that you will pass onto anyone that you do ask to pick them up on your behalf. If someone approaches your child, they should ask for the password. If you have sent your best friend Scott, he will be able to provide it showing your child that it’s safe to go with him. Make sure this isn’t something obvious that can be guessed or figured out.
#8 – Don’t Leave Home Alone
This is another one of those rules that you will need to teach and then reteach with slight alterations throughout your child’s life. However, it all boils down to the same basic rule – never leave home alone. As a young child, this means never leaving unless a parent or guardian is with them. As your child grows up there may be situations this doesn’t apply, like letting them walk to the park down the block with their friends. In these situations, however, they need to stick together ensuring that no child is ever alone in the process. A predator is far less likely to approach a group of children than they are a child standing all on their own.
#9 – Home Alone Rules
Speaking of the idea of being alone, there very well may come a time where your child is going to be home alone, even if it’s only for a very short period of time. It is extremely important that you sit down and discuss the safety rules that need to be followed during this time in order to keep your child safe. If they are returning home to an empty house (such as coming home alone from school) always lock the door as soon as they are inside and call or message to let you know they arrived home safely. From this moment forward, never open the door for anyone. If someone is supposed to come, like a family member coming to keep an eye on them, ensure that they have a key (and the password). If someone does come to the door or calls and is asking about their parents, don’t reveal that they are home alone. Simply use the excuse that their parents can’t come to the door (or phone) at this time and offer to take a message.
#10 – Online Safety
A topic that never would have crossed a parent’s mind in the past, this is incredibly important today with our online obsessed society. While social media sites like Facebook try to place minimum ages to discourage young children from accessing their services, the odds are that your child is logging on somewhere even if you aren’t aware. In fact, a report from Common Sense Media revealed that 50% of children already have at least one social media account by the age of 12. For this reason, it’s important to sit down and discuss the use of solid passwords to keep their information safe, not to post personal information online publicly (like home address, their school name/class, times they are home alone, etc.) and not to add strangers in the same way they wouldn’t engage with strangers in real life. As with other lessons on the list, take the time to provide examples so they understand why they should follow these rules.
#11 – Basic First Aid
This isn’t to say that your 2-year-old child must understand the workings of the Heimlich maneuver, however, teaching your child the basics of what to do if they, or their friends, are hurt could very well mean the difference between life or death. This refers to the basics. For example, your child should know to put pressure on a cut while they seek assistance, or not to try to remove anything from their eyes themselves by clawing it out (a first instinct if, for example, they feel a piece of glass in their eyes). Ultimately, you want them to know how to get to help as soon as possible and as safely as possible.
#12 – Always Check In
There are many things that you certainly aren’t going to mind your child doing, like playing with their good friend who happens to live next door in the backyard or walking across the aisle at the store to take a look at something they have been eyeing up. However, these decisions can leave a parent panicked as to where their child is. At a young age, start teaching your child that before they go to do anything like this they must first check in and let you know. Stress that it’s not that you want to have the chance to say no, simply that you want to know where they are so that you aren’t worried. Moving forward, if you do have to say no, give your child a reason so they understand, otherwise, they are likely going to stop checking in because, in their mind, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission if they know they’ll be told no.