New Jersey’s weather has warmed up in recent weeks and the lazy and longer days of summer are on the horizon. This is certainly a relief after COVID-19 shut-downs and precautions left many of us feeling stir-crazy.
However, as schools here in our own state and across the country dismiss children for summer break, more children will be out and about attending summer camps, at town swimming pools, riding bikes, or walking around with their friends.
Now is a prime opportunity for parents, adults, and caregivers to review safety tips with children.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
While this statement seems obvious, children are not always aware of their surroundings. They’re kids after all and fun is mostly on their minds. However, unfortunately they should always be aware of where they are and who is around them – whether they are inside someplace like a mall or outside at their town basketball courts. There are several ways that parents and their children and review and practice situational awareness.
Additionally, in today’s technological world, many children walk or ride around while glancing at cell phones. Instead of being glued to the phone, kids need to keep their eyes up and put their cell phones down when out in public. By doing so, they are better equipped to avoid possible dangerous situations with traffic or possible suspicious individuals.
Lastly, experts recommend parents should not put the names of their children onto their backpacks so that a potential predator cannot try to personally connect with them via their name.
Many of us reading this may remember our own parents saying to us all the time “stay together!” before we leapt out the door to play with friends. As usual, our parents were right. Experts agree that one way for children to stay safe in public is to use the buddy system whenever out and about. This includes while walking home from school, anywhere out in public or while riding the bus home from school.
Listen to Your Body
Has your Spidey sense ever gone up? Have the hairs on the back of your neck ever been raised? When this happens, it’s usually not a coincidence, it’s our bodies possibly trying to warn us. Remind children to always “listen to their gut,” to say no and to trust their instincts. Goose bumps are a physical form of our body’s reaction to the fight-or-flight response. Teach and frequently remind children to be aware of their own feelings. Furthermore, review with your children how they might get out of an uncomfortable situation (yell, scream, run in opposite direction) that might not feel right for them.
Set Body Boundaries
Parents, educators and other caregivers should frequently review and set appropriate body boundaries. Set rules that, “When someone says STOP, we stop” and that adults should never force any child to be touched by a relative or friend if he/she doesn’t want contact. When children know what appropriate body boundaries are, they feel empowered and are more in charge of their own bodies.
Help Children Identify Safe Adults
Experts agree that parents should help their children identify at least two safe adults. A safe adult is someone they can turn to if they ever feel unsafe or if they have been hurt. Think about adults within your own home and outside of your home that your children could go to if they needed to. Before welcoming these people into your own circle of trust ask yourself “do I trust this adult with my children?” If the answer is yes, remind your child if you are ever unavailable that they can always turn to these other safe adults. If your child has a cell phone, program these numbers into their phone.
As parents, keeping our children safe during their childhood is our highest priority. Instead of focusing on the negative, dangerous situations that could happen, think positively about how best to educate, and empower your children with information. It’s this information that will help prepare children and families to stay safe.
Robert Weck was recently named Director of Security at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child. Weck worked for the Summit Police Department for 31 years, including the last nine years as Chief of Police.