The purpose of this article is to address some of the key points parents need to know in order to keep their children safe.
Let them know who can help them:
When I was an officer I participated in something called "Safty Town". What they did was educated very young children (ages 4 to 5) on safety matters. My role was to visit the children while in uniform, then the instructor and myself would educate the children on how to identify a police officer. We would point out things on my uniform like my badge, radio, big belt with all sorts of stuff, and the color of my uniform. The purpose was to get the children to understand what a police officer would look like and more importantly to let them know that we are there to help them if they need help.
Often times when I was on duty and having lunch in a restaurant, I would have some parent who was having a problem with their young child, say something like "If you don't sit up straight I will go tell that police officer to arrest you." Or, we would have parents bring there children into our police station and want us to threaten to arrest their child if they do not wear their seatbelt or for some other discipline problem the parent was having that day. This is a very counter productive thing to do. What these parents are telling their children is that the police are in a sense the boogey man and someone to be fearful of. The major problem with this is; if something happens, the child will be afraid to seek out a police officer for help.
If you are having a discipline problem with your child be the parent and deal with it. Do not put it on the police department's shoulders, it is not their child, nor their problem. Attempting to have the police department dicipline your child will do more harm than good. If you have had a bad contact with the police you need to through that over the fence when it comes to protecting your child. Because like it or not if your child becomes missing the first organization your going to contact will be the police department, no matter how you feel.
What is a stranger:
It is common for parents to tell their children the danger of going with strangers. The problem is what is a stranger. What adults view as a stranger is different then what a child may view as a stranger. Instead of addressing what a stranger is, you need to address things a stranger may do and address dangerous situations your child may have to deal with. This makes it much easier for your child to understand. Below is a list of common issues your child should be made aware of.
What if an adult wants you to do something you don't want to do?
First, every child should know that he or she has a right to say "No!". We have a tendency to tell children to obey adults. This makes them vulnerable to every adult. There are only certain adults they should obey. And you should tell them who they are. Teach your child to protect their personal space from unwanted intrusion.
What if an adult asks you to keep a secret from your mother or your father?
No adult should ask a child to keep a secret from their parents. If an adult, even someone they trust like a babysitter or a relative, ever tells them to keep a secret, they should tell you immediately. Molesters depend on the fact that a child will keep their secret.
What is a stranger?
Children should know that a stranger is any adult they don't know well. That doesn't mean they're bad. It just means they haven't earned your trust yet. Even someone they see every day, like a neighbor, is a stranger if they don't know them well.
What if a stranger wants you to come to his car or house?
If a stranger pulls over and asks for help or wants to show you something in his car, don't go to the car. Stand back and be ready to run. You should explain that while it's OK for a child to ask a grownup for help, grownups shouldn't ask children for help. They should be asking other grownups. Abductors will use many lures to draw children to them:
They ask for help, like directions for finding a pet.
They seduce children with gifts, candy, money or jobs.
They make threats.
They pretend to be authority figures, like police and clergy.
They say its an emergency. "Your parents are hurt. I'll take you to the hospital."
What do you do if a stranger says he's come to pick you up?
For the safety of your child, you should have a secret code word that just the family members know. If you ever send someone to pick up your child, give them the code word. Your child should not go near the car unless the stranger knows the secret word.
What do you do if you think that someone is following you?
Don't be alone. Immediately run to a friend's house or the nearest store and tell them. What if a stranger ever threatens you or tries to grab you? Shout "HELP" and "I don't know you" and "call 911". And get away fast. Make a big scene so people will come. Carry and use a personal attack alarm. Most abductors and molesters will run away if their victim fights and attracts attention with noise.
What if you're home alone and someone calls for your mother or father?
A child should never tell anyone they're home alone. Just tell them "My parents can't come to the phone right now. I'll take a message." And never open the door to any stranger.
What if you get separated while you are shopping or in another public place?
Whenever you go shopping, set up a meeting place. If you get separated, don't search for each other. Immediately go to the meeting place. Or ask a police officer, guard, or employee for assistance.
Encourage children to walk and play together, to watch out for each other. Young children should not be out alone, especially in the evening.
Explain that if they're ever lost or abducted that you will look for them until you find them. No matter what. This is critical. Most abducted children are told by the abductors that their parents don't want them anymore. If they believe it, they have no place else to go.
Know the basics:
Another thing that we did at safety town was to make sure the children memorized the following:
Their first and last name
Their street address
Their full telephone number with area code
Their parent's first and last name(s)
This information is very important and not very hard for even a young child to remember as long as someone helps them. It would be a good idea to make it a daily practice of having your child repeat the above listed information to you on a daily basis, that way they should get it memorized pretty quick. As a police officer I had come across lost children who were unable to give me their basic information, which made getting home a lot harder.
There are more dangers then just strangers:
Another thing that was addressed in safety town was letting the children understand what dangerous things they might find and what to do. Items such as guns, knives, syringe needles etc?, which they may unfortunately find in parks or even school playgrounds.
To give an example I was once dispatched to a residence where someone had overdosed on heroin. The other people that were with him got scared they would get into trouble and pulled the syringe out of his arm and threw it outside into a snow bank. We had to pull teeth to get the information out of the addicts friends regarding what they did with the syringe. Finally we were able to locate it in the snow bank. This snow bank was located in a elementary school yard that was adjacent to the apartment complex where the heroin user was found. The area where the snow bank was, was right next to a path that the kids took to go to school. I also want to emphasize that the heroin user was also tested positive for hepatitis C. I want to further note that I worked for a small suburban city that was for the most part a safe community. Do not fall under the false sense of security that just because you do not live in the inner city that you or your children will be safe from criminal activity.
The above example shows the importance of children to be able to recognize these things and contact an adult about them if found, but not to touch the items themselves. A good way to get children to identify with what these objects look like, is to find photographs of them and explain to the child what they are and what to do if found.
We have included on this website two free downloadable pamplets courtesy of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children they are as follows:
Personal safety for children - A guide for parents
Knowing my 8 rules for safety - A guide for children
To obtain these documents click on the link listed below you will find this identical article except at the end you will be able to download the files.
Scott Shaper is a former police officer with over 14 years law enforcement exprience. He is also the author of the popular book Crime Awareness 101 and he operates the website http://www.crimeawareness101.com