Keeping Kids Safe
Keeping Kids Safe
Melissa R. Rich, Ph.D.
I have 2 sons who are now grown; David is 28 and Josh is 26. I remember when they were in school I never worried about them getting hurt there – beyond falling on the playground and scraping some knees or elbows.
Sadly, for many parents today, this is a stark reality. It’s scary and tough to send kids off to school in morning and, because of violence in our society, not know if they’ll make it home safely in the afternoon.
I can’t guarantee any child’s safety, but I can make some recommendations that will help improve the situation.
Keep the lines of communication open. Your child needs to know that they can come to you with anything – and that you’ll receive it calmly with a non-judgmental, non-critical, problem-solving attitude. Your son or daughter may not be the issue but they might know someone who is. This is something children or teens are NOT equipped to deal with alone. They need to know there is someone safe they can bring that type of situation to.
If and when they do, stay calm. Ask open ended questions like, “Tell me more about it”, and “what do you think?”. Let them see that you’re listening and paying attention. Also – don’t wait for them to come to you on everything. Seize teachable moments and start discussions with them on pertinent issues.
Know what your child is doing online – and limit their time there. There are some great things on the internet, and there is also lots of violence. Monitor your child’s online footprint and set some limits. When we were growing up the rule was, “homework first, then you can watch 1 TV show for every chapter you read in a book”. Let your child know what the boundaries are – and maintain them.
Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. This may involve turning phones & devices off (or turning them in to Mom or Dad) at bedtime. Too many kids have their sleep routinely disrupted by calls and texts. Research shows that this isn’t healthy – for kids or parents.
Know your children’s friends and their families. Who do they hang out with and what is their family like? When my boys were small I was very careful to not let them go to houses where guns were available and not secured. Maybe I was over cautious but I don’t think so. I also tried to know all the parents and make sure they knew me.
Make sure your child has balance in their life. Don’t be afraid to gather up devices and send your kids outside. Or sign them up for swim team, dance class, horseback riding lessons, etc. Be careful not to overcrowd their schedules so they have no free time. Let them be kids and have some fun!
Let your kids know they can ask for help – without getting in trouble. When I was growing up our parents told us that if we ever got into a situation we were concerned about we could use them as an excuse to get out of it. And we would NOT be in trouble with them.
So work it out ahead of time. If your child sends you a certain key phrase or word call them immediately and tell them they have to come home RIGHT NOW because they need to do – whatever. They can then tell their friends that their parents are being unreasonable (again!) and they have to go. You can pick them up or they can drive themselves home. When you see them there is no blame, just reassurance that you’re glad they were smart enough to get out of a situation that made them uncomfortable. It always worked for us.
Listen to your child’s concerns and take them seriously. Cyber bullying is a reality for many kids and can quickly become a nightmare. Physical bullying is always a problem as well. Depending on your child’s age, you jumping in to fix things may not be the best solution, so tread cautiously. But if several things have been attempted, unsuccessfully, to solve the problem, it’s time for parents to step in and take charge.
Don’t be afraid to talk about current events. Yes, school shootings are scary. However, your child may need to discuss some concerns they have. Ask them what they think about the shootings, how are their friends reacting, do they like their school, etc. Listen to their answers. They may surprise you.
Bottom line is that parents are not going to be able to solve every problem for their kids. But remaining available, approachable, and non-critical are key elements in letting your children know that they matter to you. And remember, you can never tell a child that you love them too often. We all need to hear that.