During the school year, it’s pretty easy for you to keep track of where your kids are, and of who they’re talking to. But when summer break comes, it’s more likely your kids will be out and about. They’ll spend more time online, more time outside and more time in public places.
Of course, you keep close tabs on your kids. But unfortunately, you also know that dangers exist out there, and there are some people who would pose a threat to your little ones. Those threats are rare, but they can seemingly come from all directions. Here are a few tips you can use to teach your kids safety – in and out of school.
Safety on the web
In a previous post, I talked about keeping your kids safe on the internet. There are a few things every kid should know about internet use. Make sure your kids are aware that the internet is an awesome resource, but that dangers do exist.
- Tell your kids that oversharing isn’t okay. Don’t put posts on social media about family vacations, or give out personal addresses or even phone numbers in chat rooms. Oversharing provides information to friends, sue. But it also provides information to people who won’t use it in a positive way.
- Teach your children that, on the internet, it’s impossible to be sure that a person really is who they say they are. Of course, email and social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends over summer break. But avoid sharing personal details with people you don’t know.
- Remind your kids to keep internet passwords a secret. It’s not a good idea to share them with friends, because you can’t always be 100% sure they won’t be compromised.
If your child is lost
In the same way that you should have a game plan for, say, a fire alarm, you should also have a game plan for if your child gets lost.
During the summer, you’re more likely to be out shopping, at the beach or in a place that’s not familiar to your family. And it’s possible that your child may become separated from you in a crowd. Would your child know what to do?
Older kids may have no difficulty locating a customer service department in a large store, or a medic tent at a concert. Usually, designating a meeting place upon arrival is sufficient.
But for the kids who are a little younger, what do you do? Most people would say “find a police officer” but let’s face it. It’s not every day you see a uniformed officer walking around Walmart. Suggest instead, perhaps, that your child “find a mommy with kids” and talk to her. While it’s not a sure-fire way to keep danger away, it’s a good bet that another parent will be willing to help your lost child.
Know the facts
It’s scary, but it’s true: kids are more often abducted by people they know than by strangers. Instead of teaching them that strangers are dangerous, consider teaching them:
- Not to go anywhere, particularly in a vehicle, without your permission
- That if you make alternative arrangements for pickup, they will know about it beforehand
- That they should never approach an unfamiliar vehicle without you present
- That if they feel threatened, it’s perfectly okay to call for help
Of course, it’s important not to frighten your little ones. After all, you want them to be friendly, not terrified of everyone who is unfamiliar to them. But teaching your kids how to identify a situation that doesn’t seem quite right will go a long way toward keeping them safe.
Take your own precautions
I’ve mentioned this before, and it bears repeating: the everyday things you do can give away a lot of information about your family.
I’ve mentioned the bumper stickers on your car. Announcing that your child is an Honor Student at Westwood High tells potentially dangerous people where your child is during the day. Posting on Facebook that you’re currently vacationing in Maui leaves your empty home a target.
Even your answering machine message can give away a lot of information. You may think it’s cute to have your three year old record the greeting on your voicemail. In reality, though, this simply announces that there’s a child in the home.
Think about what you do, and the information that you’re relaying to people who may be a threat to your kids’ safety.
Leaving kids home alone
It’s perfectly okay to leave your older kids at home alone. In fact, you may choose to begin hiring your teenagers to babysit the younger kids. Before you walk out the door, though, be sure your older child is equipped with the tools he or she needs.
- Tell your child not to answer the door for anyone. Even if it’s a person they know. If, for example, a person knocks on the door claiming to be a uniformed officer, tell your child to call you immediately.
- Make sure your child has access to emergency phone numbers. If your child is panicked because, say, a younger sibling has gotten cut, it’s easy to forget something as simple as 9-1-1. Have, at a minimum, the phone numbers for emergency services, poison control and two trusted adults on hand, posted by every phone in the house.
- Know your child’s specific needs. Could an older child administer asthma medication to a younger sibling? Will your two preteens fight like cats and dogs the moment you leave the house? Know the specific dynamics and needs of your child(ren) before you leave them home alone.
Stranger Danger is Real… But Uncommon
The reality of the situation is that you really don’t have too much to worry about. Kids are smart, intuitive little people, and the likelihood that anything will happen to your child is extremely slim. That said, summer break brings challenges you don’t experience while your kids are safely at school. Taking a few precautions can ensure a happy, safe summer for everyone.