How can we help children grow in their independence but also stay safe? Here are some guidelines.
It’s logical for parents to be concerned about the safety of their children. During their first years of life, we’re concerned because they’re small and vulnerable. They don’t know how to get home on their own, nor can we trust them to clearly distinguish who is trustworthy and who isn’t.
As they grow, children acquire a wider range of freedom of movement and become more independent from their parents. But with this freedom, there is more opportunity for dangerous situations to arise. As awareness of crimes against children increases, parents naturally want to help make sure their children never become a victim of abuse, assault, exploitation, or trafficking.
How can we help children grow in independence but also stay safe? Here are some tips to help guide you.
1Have a clear schedule and routine
Having an organized schedule for both weekdays and weekends can help you and your child detect when something unusual occurs. Your children should know what they’re going to be doing during the day and with whom. As much as possible, there should be clear expectations: who’s going to wake them up and help them get ready, who will take them to school and pick them up (or which bus they will ride and where they will get on and off), who will go with them to play in the park, etc.
2Define the people in your child's care-giving environment
Educate your children to know exactly who is a member of the family and, from among those people, who will be caring for them. For example, they should know they can only go places with their grandparents, with their mom and dad, and with aunts and uncles that you designate.
If there’s a babysitter, explain to your children that this person is not a family member but will take care of of them at certain times within certain limits (be specific). Tell them clearly where and when they will be in the babysitter’s care. Tell them that if they go out, they should only go with the sitter to places you have designated (to an after-school activity or to see a relative, for example).
3Create awareness about the school environment
Make sure your child knows and follows the proper protocol for leaving school or any other activity in which they participate. Also, get to know the children in your child’s class, and who their parents/guardians are.
4Teach your children about tricky people
It’s important for kids to develop social skills and to not be fearful of every stranger, but the best way to help them learn to discern safe people from unsafe people is to teach them how to detect “tricky people.” In short, make sure kids understand that a “tricky person”:
1. Asks you to break a safety rule.
2. Asks you to do something that feels “thumbs-down” to you.
3. Offers to teach you something for free.
4. Says lots of nice things, give lots of attention and gifts, and make you feel guilty.
5. Can be someone you know.
It goes without saying that your child show know to never get into someone’s car unless a parent has told them to do so, and to never accept gifts or invitations from people they don’t know.
5If there are groups of children and several parents, take turns
To keep an eye on your children more easily, you can organize shifts among parents who can be trusted. This applies to places like parks, pools, and beaches. However, don’t forget: you’re ultimately responsible for your children, and children are generally very active and it’s difficult for one parent to be the “guardian” for a big group of them.
6Be prepared when you're in crowded places
Be especially mindful in spaces with a large numbers of people: shopping centers, concerts, parties, parades, crowded subways and city streets, etc. If your children are young, place tags on their clothes with their name, the parents’ name, and contact info. If they are older, make sure they memorize their parents names and contact info and that they know what to do if they become separated from you. Enforce rules when you are traveling together — staying close, holding hands, waiting at the next corner, etc.
7Don't over-expose children on social media
Protect your children’s privacy. Be judicial about what you share about them on your profile and social networks, and keep information about your family life private. If you share photos, be selective, and consider ways you can limit exposure, such as not sharing your children’s names, school, or other identifying information.
8When in doubt...
Warn local authorities and community leaders if you notice a stranger loitering near the school, home, or in the neighborhood. Don’t be quick to jump to conclusions, but also listen to your gut.
9Be sure to take into consideration the age and maturity of your child
A 5-year-old is not the same as a 10-year-old or a 13-year-old, and not all children of the same age have acquired the same degree of maturity. Be realistic about what your children can understand about personal safety and set boundaries accordingly.
10Don't overprotect them
Help your children to mature: explain things to them in a way suitable for their stage of development. Don’t make things too easy for them; give them guidance about what’s right and wrong, but without giving them all the answers or isolating them in a bubble.