It’s a day each parent dreads… when their child is old enough to go out on his/her own, without supervision. While we’d all rather have them close by, cocooned within the safety of our home, independence is a natural part of growing up that needs to be cultivated. You shouldn’t prevent it. However, it is admittedly a hurdle that is quite challenging for parents to overcome. Especially nowadays when there seems to be danger lurking everywhere, or so social media tells you. Since it really isn’t going to do your child any favors if you lock them up inside the house, you’re going to have to make sure that you minimize the risks outside the home. Prepare yourself and your child for the dangers they may face and what they can do to keep themselves safe. Not only will this give you peace of mind, it’ll also build up their confidence and independence. Below is a list of the common dangers your child faces outside the home and what you can do to prepare them.
#1: Motor Vehicles
Did you know that the leading cause of fatal injuries in children 0 to 19 are motor vehicle traffic-related incidents? While this is not entirely preventable (freak accidents do happen), there are some things you can do to mitigate the risk of fatal injuries. Always make sure that your child is properly secured in his seat while traveling in a vehicle. Children 0-2 years old must be in a rear-facing seat while 2-5-year-olds must be in a forward-facing seat. Those who are 5 to 12 years old will need a booster along with the seatbelt while children older than that can stay safe with just the seatbelt.
If your child is going to be walking along the streets without you, make sure to teach them how to look both ways before crossing and to follow traffic rules. And if your child is now old enough to drive, make sure that they’re well aware of traffic rules and adhere to them. Most importantly, no texting or drinking while driving.
#2: The Internet
While a lot of the dangers outside the home can be physically prevented from entering it, online dangers aren’t so easy to lock out. Children are so adept at navigating the online world, from getting answers to their weird questions to looking up how-to videos and playing online games. However, their knowledge is limited to all the good things that the Internet brings. They aren’t knowledgeable about online privacy, viruses, and predators masked as friends. One good rule to help protect your child from online predators is this: if you won’t do it in person, don’t do it online. Just because you are protected behind your screen and keyboard, you should act in a way that is untoward or inappropriate. You won’t go up to a stranger on the street and tell him your private information and secrets so don’t do it online. You’re not going to be abusive to someone in person so don’t do it online.
Bullying is a national epidemic and something your child may experience in school. According to a study published in the Journal of School Health, 19% of elementary students in the US are bullied. While there’s really no way that you can prevent someone from bullying your child, you can do something to help them be better prepared to cope with the experience. Experts recommend that they practice a script and putting on a brave face. Teach them to look the bully in the eye so that they appear confident. Don’t aggravate the bully. Instead, your child should learn how to defuse a harassment. Showing a bully that he can’t be bothered will usually cause a bully to back down and move on.
#4: Sexual Predators
One thing you should always keep in mind: child predators don’t look like child predators. These are individuals who can disguise themselves as good people, gain your kid’s trust as well as yours. What this means is that you should never exempt a person from being a predator assuming more than 60K children annually become victims of predators. Anyone could be grooming your kid – establishing an emotional connection with your child in order to sexually abuse or exploit them. Grooming can be done in person or online. Groomers, as these predators are called, can be any age. A lot of kids don’t understand that they have been groomed or that they are being abused. Parents aren’t always aware of this either. Keep in mind that there aren’t always obvious signs of grooming and abuse but there are some things that you can look out for:
- being very secretive about who they’re talking to and where they’re going
- staying out late often
- sudden changes in appearance
- access to alcohol and drugs
- being emotionally volatile
- doesn’t engage as much with their usual friends
- hiding what they’re doing online
- have new things like toys, clothes, phones, etc. that he/she can’t or won’t explain
- using a sexual language they shouldn’t know
Here’s a list of grooming behaviors you should watch out for in others:
- Overly interested in the child
- seeks out the child and pays extra attention
- buys them gifts or treats
- touches or hugs them in front of trusted adults
- flatters the child that they have the same likes and interests
- pretends to be great friends with the child
- tries to be alone with the child
- tells dirty jokes to the child or shows them pornography
- befriends parents and offers to babysit
To protect your children, you’re going to need to keep communication between you and your children open at all times. Let them know that it’s safe for them to come to you for anything. Talk to them about sexual abuse; arm them with the knowledge of how grooming can happen. And let them practice what to do whenever they feel unsafe with someone. You should also teach them about body safety as early as possible. An educated child is empowered and has a better chance of protecting himself from groomers.
It’s inherent in children (at least, most of them) to love animals. That’s why zoos are the best field trips ever. However, their love of animals can compromise their safety if they’re not properly educated. In fact, the most common victim of dog bites are children. To prevent your child becoming a statistic, you’re going to need to teach them that animals, no matter how innocent-looking and cute, can be dangerous. Inform them that animals who feel threatened can lash out. They should avoid strange dogs and to never pet a dog without letting it first smell you (after they ask permission from the owner, of course). They should also avoid running away and/or screaming if a strange dog approaches them. Instead, stand like a tree and don’t look the dog in the eye. The dog will most likely walk away if it sees that they aren’t a threat. If they do end up getting bitten, they should tell you right away, no matter how small the bite is.
Falls can happen anywhere – inside the home, in school, in the playground, at the park, etc. And, according to the CDC, it is the leading cause of injuries in kids younger than 19 years old. While some falls are not preventable, you can help ensure your child’s safety in certain circumstances such as in the playground or sports field. Playground injuries can be prevented if you ensure that the equipment is safe, can handle your child’s weight, and has no sharp edges. Also, make sure that the ground underneath the playground equipment is soft, not hard. When playing sports, insist that he/she always wears appropriate protective gear.
#7: Stranger Danger
Stranger abductions are rare. They are more likely to be harmed by someone they know. However, it still pays to caution them against the dangers of people they may meet outside the home. Here are some stranger-danger safety tips that they should take note of:
- Don’t talk to strangers, even if they seem to know your name.
- Don’t walk with strangers.
- Don’t accept any gifts, candy, or food from strangers.
- Don’t entertain their questions when they ask for directions or help. They’re adults; they should know to ask for help from other adults or call 911.
- Don’t get in a car with strangers, no matter how cool it is.
- If they see a car following them, walk in the opposite direction to buy themselves time to get away as the car turns around.
- If a stranger tries to drag them away, they should struggle and scream “who are you?”
#8: Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol and drugs are two things that your kid is bound to get exposed to. They’re going to see it online, on TV, in movies, and possibly around their peers. Instead of allowing them to learn about it from someone or somewhere else, let them learn about alcohol, drugs, and substance abuse from you. And no, that’s not “putting ideas into their heads.” This is also not about lecturing them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. That only makes them more enticing. Instead, start conversations with them on the risks of alcohol and drug use. Help them get to the understanding of how negatively substance abuse can affect their goals and dreams. Then, help them practice how to refuse offers of a cigarette, an illegal drug, or an alcoholic drink. A lot of kids say yes to their peers simply because they are caught off-guard and unable to refuse without causing offense. Teaching them how to be assertive can give them the confidence to stand their ground when illegal substances abound.