It used to be that a child felt safe and secure in their own yard. They could go outside to play without having to worry that they would be bullied by other children, kidnapped, or injured in drive-by shootings. Unfortunately, that time of innocence and security is gone. It’s important for your child to know about safety in your neighborhood because it’s not always safe any longer.
Here are some things that every parent would be wise to teach their children:
1. Teach them their full name, parents’ full names, address, and telephone numbers. A parent’s cell phone number would also be good to memorize. Tell children that knowing this information will make it easier for them to get home if they become lost at a store. For very young children, you may want to make an identification card that children can carry when you leave the house.
2. Impress upon them the importance of letting you know when they’re leaving the house and then to stay nearby. If they choose to leave your yard, ask them to tell you where they are going, if anyone is going with them, and when they plan to return.
3. Explain to them that as long as they are with a trusted adult, they may talk to others, but that it’s important for them not to talk to strangers if they’re alone in the yard, walking in a store, or at a park. They need to know that you can’t tell a “bad” person just by looking at them.
4. Teach your children that if they do get lost, if someone is following them, or they are being bullied, to head to a store or library because they are safe places to go. Then they should tell an adult who can call you or the police.
5. Decide together where the children should go if there’s a bully, a stranger that’s making them uneasy, an emergency, or if you can’t be at home with the children. A trusted neighbor that lives close by would be a good choice. Of course, you’ll want to check with that neighbor to be sure it’s alright to use them as a safe house.
6. Convince your children that it’s not safe to play in alleys, empty buildings, or construction sites. They should also play with friends because there truly is safety in numbers.
7. Let your children know that drugs and alcohol are dangerous. If anyone, including a friend, offers either of these to them, they should say “no thanks” and then tell a parent or another adult that someone offered these things to them.
8. Help them learn to be aware of what is going on while they’re outside; for example, paying attention if they see the same car circle the block more than twice. Telling a parent or adult about something like that could protect them, other children, or help keep the neighborhood safe.
When you talk to children about the dangers that could be around in your neighborhood, don’t make everything sound sinister. You want them to be aware of the dangers, but you don’t want to scare them to the point they’re afraid to go outside. Be honest with them and make sure they understand they can always come to you if they do become afraid, if something doesn’t seem right to them, or if someone or something bothers them. They need to understand safety in your neighborhood, who they can trust, and what they can do to help the neighborhood stay safe.