New Rules to
Keep Kids Safe

The Old advice just won't cut it in today's world
By Gavin De Becker
From "Protecting the Gift"

As parents today, our challenges in keeping our children safe grow bigger as they do. We go from thinking "I just want to make sure the playground is secure" to "Will he be okay walking to the mall by himself?" to "How can I be certain that boy will drive carefully?"

We try to protect our children with the same rules our parents taught us when we were little. But I will show you why those rules don't work, and offer effective alternatives.

Old Rule

"Never Talk to Strangers"

Children are taught this rule when young, but the very week it's handed down they're likely to see their parents violate it over and over. Further, they themselves are encouraged to violate it: "Say hello to the nice lady." "Answer the man's question." Consequently, the message is confusing.

There are other problems with this rule. One, it assumes that a very young child can be responsible for his or her own protection. This is a dangerous assumption, as we once demonstrated on a powerful segment of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"Oprah's producers and I approached several young mothers in a suburban park to ask for their co-operation with our experiment," says child safety advocate Ken Wooden. "Each mother emphatically insisted that her child would never leave the park with a stranger, then watched in horror from a distance as her youngster cheerfully followed me out of the park to look for my puppy. On average, it took 35 seconds to lure each child away from the safety of the park."

The second problem with the rule is its implication that people you know will not harm you. If stranger equals danger, then someone you know equals safety. But the opposite is true far more often. Friendly acquaintances have been gifted with what every other predator must work to gain: trust and access.

Until a child is old enough to understand the strategies of a predator look like, old enough and confident enough to resist them, assertive enough to seek help and powerful enough to enforce the word no--a child is too young to be his own protector, period.

The third problem is, if your child is ever lost in public, the ability to seek assistance from strangers is actually the single greatest asset she could have.

Anna McDonnel is a mother who has regularly encouraged her son, Henry and Quinn, to talk to strangers from a young age (seven or so). She will give each boy assignments such as, "Can you get directions to the nearest frozen-yogurt place?" Then she stands back and observes as her son selects a person to ask. Afterwards, they discuss why he chose the person, how the exchange went, if he felt comfortable and so on. Her sons have safely rehearsed all kinds of encounters with people.

As a result, the instincts about people that these boys have developed make make them less likely to be victimized then someone taught to never talk to strangers.

The important thing, of course, is to choose which strangers to take to and that brings us to the next misguided rule.

Old Rule

"If You're Lost, Go to a Police Officer"

Teaching this popular maxim to a very young child ignores several facts.  First, many identifying credentials, insignia, badges and nameplates tend to be worn above the waist, but a young child mainly sees a world of legs. Second, depending on where the child is lost, it could take a while to find a police officer.

There is one rule, however, that reliably enhances safety: Teach children that if they are ever lost, go to a woman.

Why? A woman is highly unlikely to be a sexual predator. Also, if approached by a small child, a woman is more likely than a man to get involved and stay involved.

I wouldn't call this next item a rule, but rather a commitment you can make to you child: "I will never send anyone you do not know to pick you up without telling you about it ahead of time. If anyone unexpected ever says 'You mother or father sent me,' do not go anywhere with that person, even if they say your parents have been hurt or are in trouble."

Eight Lessons to Teach Your Children

1. Honour your own feelings. If someone makes you uncomfortable, even a "friend," that's an important signal.

2. We (your parents) will be receptive to hearing about any experience you've had, no matter how unpleasant.

3. It's okay to be assertive, even to defy adults, if you feel threatened. Teenage girls especially should learn that "No" is a complete sentence. They don't have to justify it.

4. Know how to ask for help--and always ask a woman.

5. It's okay to scream, to run, even to strike out if you are in danger.

6. If a man tries to force you to go somewhere, you should yell "Help! This is not my father!" (because onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent).

7. If someone says "Don't yell," the thing to do is yell, and if someone says "Don't tell," the thing to do is tell.

8. Fully resist ever going anywhere out of public  view with someone you don't know, particularly with someone who tries to persuade you.


Old Rule

"No Place is Safe"

This is said to children, presumably to make them more careful. Sure, there are places we don't want our kids going, but that's not the key to their safety.

Telling kids that "no place is safe' is counterproductive because it implies that danger is waiting everywhere to get them. Not only is this inaccurate but the hopelessness of the message discourages personal responsibility. Almost every place can be safe for our children--if they know how they can help make it so.

The final problem with this rule is that it quickly loses credibility. When we warn children that no place is safe, they wait for danger as if it were an event that happens. Day after day it doesn't happen, and they soon become desensitized to the real safety issue: the risk that someone may try to take advantage of them.

Old Rule

"Don't Wander Off in Public"

Saying this to kids makes plenty of sense--as long as we don't rely on their compliance.

Here are some practical steps parents can take to reduce anxiety about becoming separated from their child. First is to dress small children in brightly coloured, distinctive, easily describable outfits. The small child in the colourful cap will be easier to spot in a crowd.

On vacations in unfamiliar areas, some parents bring along photos of their kids or have them wear ID tags, but where passer-by cannot easily read them. Having a plan or agreement such as "If anybody gets lost, we'll meet at the Ferris wheel," helps make reunions happen faster.

Sooner or later, after years of urging children not to wander off on their own, the time  comes when parents want to encourage them to go off on their own. When that age comes, parents can arm their children with the information they need to enhance their safety.

Allowing your child to be alone in public does not mean allowing him or her to make all the decisions about where and when, of course.

Take walking to school as an example. You can influence the route, and you can even monitor the trip for as long as you feel necessary.

I suggest that you walk the route with your child, ten times if that's what it takes for you both to feel comfortable about it. Together you can identify the safest place to stop and ask for help or refuge. Once you've selected the route have an understanding with your child that he'll always stick to it. Explain that you might (particularly in the beginning) drive along and observe your child from time to time.

The question parents ask me more is: How can my teach my child about risk without causing too much fear? One way is to show them that nothing is so terrible that it cannot be discussed.

Too much information can "prevent the child from developing a sense of security in himself and his world," as Ava Siegler, Ph.D., notes in What Should I tell the Kids? With this in mind, I strongly suggest you give TV news an R rating. My acronym for NEWS is Nothing Education or Worth Seeing.

Being afraid of others is actually the fear that we are unprepared to protect ourselves. Obviously we cannot change or eliminate all the dangerous people in the world. What we can change is our and our children's ability to deal with them.

Source: May 2000 Reader's Digest - Gavin De Becker

From "Protecting the Gift"

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Copyright © 2017 Dennice A. D. I. Goudie. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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DADIG As the site administrator, DADIG, is solely responsible for the opinions expressed. I do my utmost to ensure that all news reports are verbatim with indicators as to where the quotes can be found online.


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