With the back-to-school season in full swing, our attention is easily diverted away from summer fun activities and turned more toward class schedules and soccer practices. Whatever our priorities, be it work, play or school, personal safety should always be at the top of the list.
We would all agree that protecting the children of our community is paramount. So, as our kids go back to school, here are a few suggestions that may help accomplish this seemingly never-ending task:
1.) When sending the kids off in the morning, take a moment out of the A.M. chaos to really notice what your children are wearing. Over 50% of missing child or runaway reports taken by police do not have an accurate clothing description because parents just didn’t pay attention.
2.) Keep an up-to-date identification kit of your children. The kit should include a recent photograph (digital is best), a full description including height, weight, hair and eye color, blood type, identifying marks, eye glasses and allergies.
3.) Know all of your children’s friends, including names and contact numbers of their parents and their addresses.
4.) Since your children should be aware of “Stranger Danger” and should know to never go with someone other than family or designated friends, consider having a code word or phrase set up between you and your child. This would be used in the event that you need to send someone unknown to your child to meet or pick them up. Continually reinforcing “Stranger Danger” every school year, like safety, never gets old.
5.) Let’s be clear about “Stranger Danger.” It refers to getting too close to or getting into a car and going with someone they don’t know. Children, like adults, need to communicate and talk to people they don’t know in order to develop that sense of easiness of suspicion. When we keep them shielded away from everyone, they are unable to develop that intuition that we all have. As parents, we usually break that “don’t talk to strangers” rule anyway, i.e. When the teller at the bank, a total stranger, gives your child a lollipop, our response is usually something like, “Well, what do you say to the nice lady?”
6.) Special order backpacks and book bags with your child’s name prominently displayed are cute, but they are a really bad idea. It tells the world, including bad guys, who your kids are. When a creepy guy approaches an eight year old girl and calls her by name, he’s suddenly not that creepy anymore.
7.) Don’t assume that your child has learned everything about personal safety from their school. These days, all schools review the basics of safety when travelling to or from school, but it is never a bad idea to reinforce these lessons. It is also never too early to start teaching your children about protecting themselves.
8.) Lastly, we teach our children to not get into a car with stranger, never answer the door to someone they don’t know, and never use drugs or alcohol. These are valuable lessons we teach our kids, but we all too often overlook another important statistic: According the Department of Justice, over 1,000 children are injured or killed every year by accidental shootings in the home. Many kids know where their parents keep their guns and are often very eager to show them off to visiting friends. Teach your children that if they visit a friend who wants to show them their dad’s gun, leave that house immediately. No conversation, no negotiation -- just get out and tell an adult. Their life may depend on it.
A great parental resource for keeping your children safe is The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com). There you can find information about child ID kits and Stranger Danger. Another resource is a book that I highly recommend to all parents, “Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe and Parents Sane.” It is written by Gavin DeBecker, an expert in personal safety and security.