Losing my children is absolutely my greatest fear. The simple “mom brain” thought of something bad happening to my family makes me lose sleep at night. My heart aches for any parent suffering due to their children being abducted or running away from home. Don’t even get me started on tragedies like Sandy Hook or Columbine.
Personally, I have found that the best way to counteract this particular parental fear is to acknowledge that bad things can happen and try my hardest to prepare my children to react correctly. If it were legal I would micro-chip my kids just like we do our pets. I am serious. (Ask my friends and family, because I bring up this line of thinking a few times a year.) I myself would not mind being micro-chipped…if I ever get lost or kidnapped, trust me when I say I most definitely want to be found! However, the government and civil rights in general are probably not in line with my thinking; therefore, good communication and preparation is going to have to do for my kiddos.
Stranger danger for kids has gotten a whole lot stranger over the years, especially for those of us who did not grow up surrounded by technology and social media. I worry more about someone catfishing me or my kiddos via the internet, than I do about them getting snatched at a grocery store. The cyber world has changed the boundaries for us parents and we are no longer safe simply by being in our own backyard. Monitoring screen time is not enough, moms and dads also have to be sure to explain that there could be scary people trying to cause harm virtually.
My kiddos are still pretty young and are not really at the age to jump on-line and private message with their friends. I have a few years before I have to start worrying about them having their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts (hopefully by then I will have tweeting figured out to an exact science, but I am not holding my breath on that one.)
Recently my second grader came home from school all excited about a new program they used in class called Edmodo. While she rattled on about how cool the website was, all I could hear were alarm bells. The idea of more screen time including chatting? It gave me anxiety because it is one more thing to monitor. I was very grateful when my daughter’s teacher sent a detailed email that same day explaining everything, also with a little on-line research of my own, I discovered that Edmodo is an educational site that allows for kids in the same classroom to chat with each other via the internet. It is also a great way for teachers and students to connect with others and share things via a safe social network.
Edmodo has turned out to be a great way for me to start a dialogue with my oldest regarding on-line safety. We discussed how she can chat with everyone from her classroom, and how every single comment can be viewed by the other students. This discussion then piggy-backed into details regarding how not all things on the internet are private and that she should never talk to strangers via personal messaging. We still have a long way to go in this department of stranger danger, but I am thankful that a relevant teaching opportunity came along to kick-start the conversation.
DON’T JUST WORRY ABOUT STRANGERS
I recently read a great article, The Problem With “Stranger Danger”, by Paula Rollo. This writer pointed out how the majority of bad things that can happen to a child typically do not occur by the hands of a stranger, but by someone the child knows personally. I found myself nodding along as I read this article, because it is something I think about a lot. If you watch a mystery show, the murderer or kidnapper is always the spouse (or the neighbor, or the co-worker, or the family friend, or the creepy uncle, etc.) I don’t walk around like I am living in a Law & Order episode, but we as parents do need to make sure our kids are comfortable with who we put in their lives, and that goes for teachers, babysitters, family members, friends, neighbors, etc.
Good interpersonal communication with our kids can really help stop a bad situation from happening. I have discussed interpersonal communication before in blog posts, and I also took one class specifically about this type of communicating in college, so I feel like I am an expert (HA!). Asking my kids pointed questions after they have been away from me at school or with friends is a good way to make sure all is on the up and up for them. I read somewhere that blanket questions like “How was school?” are bad because they typically get a one word answer and sound a bit too routine. If I ask my daughter what she had for lunch or who she talked to in the library, many more details pour out of her. This keeps a strong conversation going and I get a much better sense of the people she is encountering during the day. Communicating and listening go hand in hand. I still have a long way to go when it comes to being a great listener, but I am trying, especially with my kiddos. If I hear something strange in their voice or a hesitation, I need to pay attention to it and make sure all is good in their world from a safety standpoint.
Also, while we can’t background check every person that comes in contact with our children, I do applaud my daughter’s preschool for always doing background checks and even fingerprinting on people working or volunteering in their classroom. Our YMCA also screens their volunteer coaches. The better safe than sorry approach is catching on with a lot of organizations and as a parent that makes me breathe a bit easier.
Teaching Stranger Danger Outside the Home
One day my oldest came home from her three-year old morning preschool class with puppets on popsicle sticks. I gushed about how cute they were, and my daughter was quick to correct me that the puppet with the red shirt was not cute, but in fact mean because that puppet was the stranger. I was a bit taken aback, as my little girl went on to explain that they had used the puppets as a teaching lesson for what the kids should do if ever approached by a stranger. My daughter explained that she would yell, kick, hit, bite, spit, poke eyes, pull hair, rip clothes, perform karate chops, and more in order to get away from a kidnapper. I did not like hearing my daughter use such harsh fighting words, but I was thankful the preschool teachers were smarter than me as a new mom and already coaching little ones on how to stay safe. My daughter’s teacher also covered scenarios regarding what to do if a child got lost and couldn’t find a parent, so my daughter was able to start taking notice of what workers wore in stores and how police officers and security guards were dressed. This one puppet lesson started some great dialogues at home for my husband and me.
And the lessons just keep on coming from outside our walls when it comes to stranger danger. We live in what I consider to be a very safe neighborhood and city, but the elementary school in our district is taking no chances and they have strong safety measures in place that include security cameras, locked doors during school hours, and an entrance system that requires all school visitors to ring a buzzer and be granted access via the office administrators. We also have a police officer constantly on-site to patrol the buildings. The days of parents being able to just waltz into a classroom or lunch area are over, and I am okay with that, especially when it means blocking access to an unwanted intruder.
Our school district also held an all grades educational seminar early in the academic year that explained to students how to react and handle an intruder in the building, should that ever occur. The school handbook also includes an intruder guidelines section for parents and the general public to read. It is cringe-worthy sad to me that we have to prepare for these types of scenarios, but I applaud the pro-active approach everyone is taking to try to ensure safety.
Stranger danger is not a fun conversation, but it is necessary. I don’t like scaring my kiddos, but sometimes a scary conversation may be warranted in an attempt to keep them safe. As unpleasant as it all sounds, I do believe that we as parents need to be on-guard against virtual strangers, real strangers, and the non-strangers that may be causing our kids discomfort.
How do you talk with your kids about strangers? Do you probe further to make sure the people in their life are not making them uncomfortable? Do you have some great tips to share regarding on-line safety? Let Family Footnote know via our website, Facebook page, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org