Thursday, June 11, 2009

Common Sense Child Safety

Some years ago, I attended a presentation about child safety at my son's school. Unlike lots of books and articles on the subject, there was no talk about teaching kids about "stranger danger." There were no exhortations for parents to tether themselves to their children, lest the tots wander away, never to be seen again. The tone was not a panicked "the-world-is-a-terrible-place-so-you-should-put-your-child-in-a-bubble-to-protect-him." Instead, it was a common sense discussion of how to empower children, so that in the very unlikely event that they are ever abducted, they can protect themselves.

Here are some of the ideas that were presented:
  • Teach your children to be sceptical. For example, why would they have to follow an adult somewhere to get candy -- why couldn't the adult just give it to them on the spot? Why would an adult need their help finding a puppy or kitten -- why wouldn't the adult be asking other grownups for help instead?
  • Teach your children to trust their instincts - the hairs rise on the back of our necks for a reason.
  • Don't teach your children to be too polite or compliant. Obeying adults certainly has its place, but they needn't blindly do everything they are told to do. Similarly, older kids should be taught it is ok to embarrass themselves and raise a ruckus if something doesn't seem right.
  • Let your children know that if, God forbid, they are ever grabbed by a stranger, they should shout something like, "You're not my father!" (or "you're not my mother!") rather than just yelling in a general way: many kids have temper tantrums and other adults might not pay attention to a child who is screaming. But a child trying to convey a more specific message is likely to get attention.
  • There are a couple of techniques that kids can use to escape an adult's clutches: 1) make themselves unappealing by peeing in their pants or throwing up - this has the added advantage of calling attention to their situation; 2) fighting their attacker by poking his eyes or kicking him in the groin or otherwise "fighting dirty" - kids won't have the strength to fight off an adult, but they can use their strength strategically to improve their chances.
  • If kids need to ask for help, finding a mom with kids is usually a safe bet. Not only are moms with children of their own less likely to be a threat, but they are more likely to take another child's plea for help seriously.
  • If a car approaches a child on the street, he or she should run away in the opposite direction. This is especially useful in NYC, where one-way streets abound, but even on a two-way street, it takes time to turn a vehicle around.
  • Remind kids that they should never give up. Even if they are placed in the trunk of a car, they can get help by kicking out the car's rear lights to draw attention to the car, or by making lots of noise and bouncing around.
As I was recounting some of these ideas to a friend recently, she shared an idea of her own: she's taught her daughter that it's ok to have "surprises" but not to have "secrets." The thinking is that a surprise is just kept quiet for a little while (e.g. until the surprise party occurs, or until the surprise gift is given), but something that must be kept quiet forever is likely to be more insidious. This makes sense, since so many cases of inappropriate sexual contact is framed by the abuser as a "secret."

My friend also showed me an ID card created by the NY state police. It features a photo and description of her daughter, along with her daughter's finger prints -- which could prove invaluable if the unthinkable ever occurs.

No comments: