Helping children learn and practice safe behavior

Jessica L Szabo

Silver Pinyon Journal

16 July 2009

Earlier this month, the community group Humboldt CAASA (Community Advocates Against Sexual Assault) taught children’s safety classes through Great Basin College’s Kids’ College. These classes, and others like them, are valuable resources for children and parents but the lessons cannot be allowed to fade from memory once the formal lessons end.

“Children should be taught that safety is more important than manners. If they find themselves in a threatening situation, it is more important to get out of the situation than to be polite. Children should be taught how to stay safe when alone, out with friends, and even online or when using cell phones,” said CAASA Coordinator and Advocate Billie Wirthlin.

“Enforcing the safety behaviors is the best way to keep them in place,” added CAASA Coordinator and Advocate Chelle Robinson. “Most kids know that bad things can happen. They usually will say it just won't happen to them. If they don't understand the precautions, take the time to explain why you're having them do what they're doing. Different methods work for different children. Some children are more inclined to follow them when there is punishment for safety rules broken. For others, they may understand the need for safety and follow them. Starting safety behavior early is best, as it will become second nature as they grow older.”

CAASA members stressed the importance of teaching children and teens that safety procedures are important no matter where they live, or how comfortable they are in a situation.

“People in urban areas tend to be more cautious. However, simply telling your children not to talk to strangers does not give them all the information they need. Kids need to know the difference between the guy they see on the corner by the laundromat every day and the new school bus driver whom they've never met before,” Wirthlin advised. “Parents tend to feel safer in rural areas and will often let their guard down. It's more common to see children in rural areas roaming the neighborhood without supervision, playing in a stranger's backyard or going door-to-door for their school fundraiser - walking right into homes and knocking on stranger's doors. How many parents think to check the sex offender registry online before sending their kids out to trick-or-treat or sell stuff for their school or organization?” she asked.

Many children will follow safety procedures when they are alone or with a family member, but disregard safety rules with friends to avoid seeming like an outcast in their group. Robinson suggests speaking to the parents of the child’s friends, encouraging your child to stick to safe behavior as a role model for his or her peers, and including the child’s friends in safety classes and presentations, with the permission of each child’s parent or guardian. She advises parents to avoid simply telling their child that their friend is just a bad influence.

“We all know that often telling a child their friends are a bad influence usually just makes them hang around them more,” she pointed out.

In some situations, it isn’t a child refusing to obey safety guidelines or a child’s social circle encouraging unsafe habits, but another adult in the child’s life who simply does not take safety guidelines seriously. Perhaps the child’s babysitter allows them to answer the phone and tell callers their parents are not home, or a neighbor simply says, “I’m here to see your mom,” instead of stating their name when they knock at the door.

Robinson recommends speaking directly to the person, and explaining that the behavior they are encouraging is unsafe.

“Teaching safety is not just the parents' responsibility, it's the community’s as well,” she said. “Never think it's none of your business, because who wants to look back and in hindsight think ‘if I had only said something they wouldn't have gotten hurt’.”

“It only takes one incident to change your lives forever; a visiting stranger in a small town or getting too close to a sex offenders neighborhood. It's impossible to know what some people are capable of,” Wirthlin added. “We see this every day on the news; kids in small towns taken by someone no one ever expected to be capable of such a crime or "city kids" who have found themselves in a situation they just couldn't get out of. It is important, no matter where you live, to stay alert and be prepared, to teach are kids how to get out of a dangerous situation and how to avoid these situations all together. “
Some basic child safety guidelines: a review for parents

Jessica L Szabo

Silver Pinyon Journal

16 July 2009

Teach children to never walk into a stranger’s house alone or with other children

You may live in a relatively safe neighborhood or building, or in a town where you feel like “everybody knows everybody else,” but you do not literally know every person who lives around you. The house your child walks in to could belong to someone perfectly safe for them to be around, or it could belong to a very dangerous person who would harm the child. A pretty house or yard, nice cars, or bumper stickers and yard signs indicating the person shares your religious or political beliefs are not guarantees that the person is safe to be around.

Make sure children understand and follow specific safety rules

The difference between the child’s new school bus driver and a stranger they regularly see at the corner Laundromat or in the lobby of their apartment building may be glaringly obvious to an adult, but a young child may not understand why they aren’t allowed to accept rides from an adult they see around but don’t know, but are allowed to get on the school bus when there’s a new driver or a substitute. Some children even refuse to speak to a security guard or store clerk when they get lost because they’ve been told “don’t talk to strangers” with no further information. Explain each situation to them, answer their questions, and be clear about which behaviors are safe and which are unsafe.

Don’t allow other adults to teach your children unsafe behaviors

The neighbor who insists that your child open the door without providing his or her name or the friend who gets annoyed when the child says, “He can’t come to the phone right now,” instead of the very unsafe, “My Dad isn’t home,” needs to be reminded that you are trying to teach your child safe habits, and that all adults in his or her life need to encourage him or her to practice these habits until they become second nature. If your friend simply cannot wait for you to return their call, or the neighbor thinks it’s rude that your child demands to know who is at the door, they can stop calling your home phone line or stopping by unannounced. A child’s safety comes before an adult’s mild inconvenience

Be mindful of your own behavior

Repeating “never let anyone you don’t know into the house” is going to have less of an impact if the child sees you inviting anyone who stops by for any reason in to your living room. Allow your child to see you walking out on to the porch to speak to sales people or political campaign workers, ask for identification from service people you don’t know, and refusing rides from strangers.