Safety Conversations with Young People Make a Difference
With the school year fast approaching, it is a great time to talk to your child about personal safety. By routinely conducting low-key discussions and practical exercises, you can help build your children’s confidence and skills, which can be useful if they ever get into a bind.
Steer clear of drumming up fear about stranger danger. This term can cause confusion and may discourage a child from seeking help. Additionally, the majority of child abuse cases involve someone known to the victim.
Age-appropriate discussions should include:
- Being alert and aware in public. People who maintain a healthy awareness of their surroundings are more likely to notice potential dangers and react accordingly. To train your kids, play a game where they scan the area and describe the people and activities they observe. What are the nearest cross-streets, park and landmarks? These details will be helpful if they need to call the police.
- Trusting intuition. Kids who learn to trust their gut can more readily identify and avoid a problem situation. Reinforcing these instincts will help them strengthen this defense mechanism over time.
- Eliminating distractions. Texting, Smartphone games and music will interfere with awareness and intuition.
- Being assertive. “Kids need to build confidence to say ‘no’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with that,’” says School Resource Officer Brian Imus. In some cases they may need to be rude to avoid an uncomfortable situation. This includes asserting physical boundaries if someone gets too close.
- Asking other adults for help. If they feel unsafe, there are adults who can help them when you’re not available such as police officers, store clerks, bus drivers, postal workers, teachers and neighbors.
- Memorizing contact information. In case of an emergency, they should know their full names, parents’/guardians’ full names, addresses, including city and state, phone numbers, including area codes, and your contact information during work.
- Knowing when to call 9-1-1. Teach them how and when to call 9-1-1. The dispatcher will ask them many questions to assess safety and location. Ideally they stay on the line until the dispatcher tells them to hang up, as long as it is safe to do so.
- Communicating plans at all times. They should always check with you first before going anywhere with another person — even an acquaintance. Sometimes kids don’t communicate when they’re breaking rules. “Parents should be upfront with them, letting them know that they can call you no matter what,” says Imus.
- Communicating concerns. They should let you or a trusted adult know immediately if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. There are no secrets where safety is concerned.
- Friending strangers online. “If your child can’t tell you who their online friends are and where they met them, such as Susie from math class, that’s a problem,” advises Imus. “Go through their friend’s list and ask questions.”
Routine discussions and practical exercises can help bolster your child’s personal safety skills. Open lines of communication so that you can take advantage of the teachable moments that present themselves each week.