It's our job to protect our children, but as they grow up we can't be with them 24/7. As much as we'd like to live in a perfect and safe world, we don't. Kids are particularly vulnerable. In fact, the National Crime Prevention Council reports 12-19 year olds are the most frequent victims of major crimes. I teach my own children and the teens in my youth programs about personal safety. I walk a fine line when discussing the topic because as much they need to know how to be cautious, I don't want to scare them into becoming paranoid. Here are eight personal safety tips every kid should learn.
Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Talk to them about why it's not wise to text or chat on the cell phone when walking alone on the street or in the parking lot. It makes you oblivious to what's going on around you and, therefore, makes you more vulnerable. Teach kids to wait until they're in a safe public place to use the phone or text messages.
Make sure your parents or the adult in charge knows where you are. At least one adult should know where the child or teenager is at all times. I always tell my kids, I can't protect them if I don't know where they are. That doesn't mean they have to be right beside me all the time or tell me every move they make. That would hinder their growing independence. It does mean if they are going outside to play, I want to know. If they're staying at a friend's house or participating in an extracurricular activity, I expect them to extend that same courtesy to the adult in charge there.
Avoid walking directly beside (or parking by) large vans in a parking lot when alone. Why? Large vans block the view of others in the parking lot, making it less likely for someone to see if something is amiss. Also, many of them don't have back side windows so it's tough to know if someone is there or not. That makes kids more vulnerable to predators or foul play.
Be wary of adult strangers asking for your help. Kidnappers and sexual predators often trick kids by asking them to help find a lost pet or to show them how to get somewhere. My kids are eager helpers, so I explain to them that adults they don't know shouldn't seek them out for help, and it's acceptable for them to refuse and go to a safe place. I also stress that they should tell a trusted adult about the instance right away.
Have keys ready before you reach the house or car door. Sometimes your child may have to go to the house or car alone, especially if he or she is older or drives a car. Stress the importance of having keys out beforehand to avoid rummaging to find them and to move faster in case the need to get in quickly arises.
There is safety in numbers. Talk about why it's not wise to wander off alone. Encourage kids to stay near other kids and trusted adults. My kids know even when they want to "be alone" when they are outside or away from home, they should still be within sight or hearing range of others.
Memorize important phone numbers and names. One of the first things my kids learned once they were able to speak was my name and their daddy's name. By the time they were in preschool, they also knew their home address and phone number. If they were lost or separated from me, they knew how to tell a "safe" stranger how to locate me.
Trust your gut feelings. Understanding what to do when a situation or person is suspicious is often difficult for kids. They are usually taught to respect and obey adults. I teach my girls to listen to their instincts. If a situation or person makes them feel uncomfortable - even if the person is someone they know - they should act on those feelings, get away, and tell someone. Those uneasy feelings are usually there for a reason, and their safety is more important than the adult's bruised ego. Intuition is one of a kid's greatest tools for ensuring personal safety.
More from this contributor: