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Keeping Children Safe: 5 Child Safety Tips

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I’ll admit it. I have a thing for stories about girls and women who’ve been held against their will for long periods of time. What goes hand-in-hand with that is keeping children safe and teaching them discernment and making sure that they know the rules for safety. It is a natural thing that goes with my day job as an assistant principal and also with being a mother for nearly 27 years now. It doesn’t all come naturally, either, but rather something we learn as we go and, tragically speaking, something we learn when we hear the horrific stories of violence against women. Keeping children safe from all sorts of dangers isn’t an afterthought for me: it’s front and center for the work I do daily.

The story of the three girls (now women) held against their will in Cleveland, Ohio this week has gripped me. Not because of the morbid curiosity of their lives. For that, I’m referring to Emma Donoghue’s wonderfully written book Room, in which the story is told from the 5 year old captive son of the woman who has been held against her will for many years.

My job and my role as a mother remind me to let children know about keeping themselves safe. It’s about survival and the things we tell children. Sometimes, it’s about the things we fail to tell them.

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Here are the top 5 that keep coming to me about keeping children safe. I think it’s a good reminder no matter where we are with our parenting and, depending on the age of your children, can be helpful in discussing ways to be safe. These conversations don’t have to happen only when we learn of tragic stories. In fact, it’s best to have these discussions when your child is ripe for listening and when they do feel safe.

Know Your Community

Get out in your neighborhood, meet your neighbors, pay attention. These all seem like they should be a part of what we do when we buy or rent homes, but as we’re getting more disconnected from one another in person, it’s a good reminder that we can learn about odd behaviors and things that seem out of the ordinary. One of the interviews I saw on television had a family member of one of the kidnapped girls and he said to walk your dog in the early mornings so the children of your community see you and have a sense of safety. It’s actually smart to go out in the rain and snow, too, because those are vulnerable times for young people walking alone. They’d love to get in a car and dry off or get warm and predators know this.

Adults Never EVER Need Help From Children

When we hear the (nearly stereotypical) story of the man who offers children candy in exchange for helping him find his lost dog, it’s almost laughable. Yet, that’s exactly how predators lure children. A good rule to teach children that discernment is this: adults ask other adults for help. Not children. When a grown up asks a child to help them or save them from something, it should be suspect and met with a simple phrase from kids: “I’ll go get another adult to help you.” If they’re still there when the child and adult return, then they needed help. If not, then it was a scam and you just saved your life, kid.

Be Loud When You’re Scared

Depending on how children are raised, this is a tricky one but it works. We’ve all heard and nearly made a joke of “stranger danger”, but the truth is that when a child begins to scream and gets loud when confronted by a strange adult, other adults in the vicinity will respond. Sure, there’s the occasional temper tantrum that happens when our own children do this, but it’s better to take the judgmental stares of others over that as a parent than it is to have a child come up missing.

Use Code Words

Code words haven’t gone out of fashion and children need to have them memorized and ready. Even if they’re in the presence of a predator and already “caught”, it’s good to ask them some question that they can answer without alerting the terrorizing predator. If you have a latchkey kid who comes home to an empty house each day, call them and ask them to walk through the house while you’re on the phone with them. When you have a neighbor pick them up for you, make sure that trusted person knows the code word and offers it up right away so that your child doesn’t have to second guess their safety.

Trust Your Instincts

Too often, we brush off our “weird” feelings about situations in which we find ourselves or dark places where we are afraid. But, the truth is that we have an innate kind of animal instinct for a reason. Once, in college, I got stranded on the road when my car ran out of gas. There were two houses and only one had on a front porch light. Something told me to go to the other one because I could see lights on inside. When I listened to my instincts I learned that was smart of me because the kind people who helped me said that there was an ex-convict who lived at the other house. They suspected that he kept his lights on just to trick people and I was grateful that I listened to myself. When something feels wrong it’s better to be safe. Go with what feels SAFE.

I think that, especially for teenage girls, these rules still apply but I would add the following:

1. Come home with who you left with for a party/event/sports game. This is the best game plan for teen girls to be safe. Don’t leave with a stranger and always know where your friends are.

2. Stick together. Don’t leave your girlfriends unattended or in compromising situations even if they tell you to go. Stick around and call for help from other friends or adults when necessary.

3. Leave when things get out of control. While they have no way to control the drinking and drug culture in which they’re entrenched, I think this is smart for anyone. Teenage girls often want to stick around so they don’t miss anything, but it’s better to leave when their safety is compromised.

Photo credit to Funkyah

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Keeping Our Children Safe in an Unsafe World

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“A child has been reported missing.” As a parent, my heart naturally jumps and a sickening feeling overcomes my stomach every time I hear these words spoken on a news show. According to a statement from the United States Department of Justice, more than a quarter of a million children are abducted each year in the United States. Keeping our children safe in the unsafe world in which we live in today takes a tremendous combined effort between parents and caregivers, children, community members, schools, and local law enforcement agencies.

Statistical information about the number of children reported missing in the United States each year can be difficult to assess. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) based in Arlington, Virginia, states that this is due to the fact that missing children are classified under different categories: family abduction, endangered runaways, or non-family abductions. The NCMEC believes that the most accurate national estimates for the number of missing children are from studies conducted by the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. One study, published in 2002, states that in 1999, an estimated 797,500 children were reported missing. Of those, 58,200 were abducted by non-family members, 115,000 were the victims of the most serious, long-term non-family abductions referred to as “stereotypical kidnappings” and lastly, 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.

What Can Parents Teach Their Children?

The most important thing that you can do as parents is to create a living environment and relationship with your children that maintains a healthy mode of communication. Establishing a home where your child will feel truly comfortable in talking about sensitive matters goes a long way. Teach children safety tips in a way that is calm and reassuring, and always avoid the discussion of scary details of what may happen to a child who does not follow safety guidelines. Also, be wary of teaching your children to be on the look-out for strangers, since children may not have the same understanding of who exactly is deemed a stranger. This idea may make little children believe that they should only be wary of individuals who have an outwardly unusual and/or messy appearance. Instead, teach your children to be aware of certain situations or actions.

“Children should be taught to trust their feelings, and if something or someplace does not feel right to them, then they should leave it immediately. Adults should also teach their children to be on the look-out for people who could help them out of a dangerous situation, for example, moms with kids, firefighters, store clerks, and security personnel in uniform,” says Marc Klaas, who founded the KlaasKids
Foundation in 1994, one year to the day of the abduction and murder of his twelve-year-old daughter Polly.

Organizations That Can Help

Amber Alert. Two words that our nation has heard often, is a system that was named after Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered in Arlington, Texas. According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), the Amber Alert system is a voluntary partnership between law enforcement and broadcasters to activate a state emergency notification system, in order to provide broadcasters with a description of a missing child, and of their suspected abductor’s automobile. This description is then displayed on electronic highway signs, and in some states, on the scrolling message part of electronic lottery machines. Currently, this alert system is used in 47 states.

However, there are distinct visible flaws to the Amber Alert system, since each state has its own guidelines as to how an alert is issued, how it is used, and the fact that certain criteria must be agreed upon prior to issuing an alert. Upon notification that a child is reported abducted, police must first confirm that an abduction has taken place. Second, law enforcement has to believe that a child is in danger of exposure to serious bodily harm and/or death. Lastly, an adequate amount of descriptive information must exist to believe that an immediate broadcast will help. Some state and local police departments have been quick to issue an Amber Alert, while other agencies, (as in the case of Carlie Brucia and the police department in Sarasota, Florida) have been much more conservative in their approach and did not issue an alert quickly.

The mission behind Beyond Missing, according to Marc Klaas, who is also the company’s president, is
to provide a comprehensive program where police and law enforcement around the country can create flyers of missing persons, and then distribute these flyers to other members and agencies of law enforcement via fax and e-mail. Families of missing children/persons also have the ability to log onto the site www.beyondmissing.com to create their own flyers and post them throughout their community. “The flyers are sent within a 200 mile radius from wherever a child is reported missing. Local media, convenience stores, bus stations all receive a copy of the created flyer and this program (currently contracted with Texas and California), is available in both English and Spanish,” states Mr. Klaas, who believes that the long-term goal is a comprehensive National Amber Alert Network.

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