We’ve all heard that phrase, “Stranger Danger!” But in all reality there are good strangers and bad strangers. I recently attended a fantastic field trip with my six year old son where he learned about personal safety from a police officer. I want to share a few points with you that I thought were important.
Children need to be able to identify safe strangers. What does a safe stranger look like? The children were shown what to look for to identify a police officer, fireman, and paramedic. They talked about what the uniform of each emergency worker looks like. This was fairly easy for the kids to understand. But when they were asked who are safe strangers at the mall, there was a little more hesitation. Security guards was one quick answer. The officer told the kids that cashiers are also safe strangers.
Children also need to be able to identify unsafe strangers. The police officer was very serious with the kids at this point in the lesson. Any adult asking a child for directions is not a safe stranger. Adults should only ask other adults for directions. Any adult asking a child to come and see something (ie. puppies, kittens, candy, etc.) is not a safe stranger. The children were taught to simply say, “NO,” then run home or to school while making noise. Upon arrival at their destination they were told to tell an adult immediately. And of course the adult should always call the police to report the incident. Here was the point I hadn’t thought of though…children tend to hide in uncomfortable situations. So a child might run away from the unsafe stranger and hide to feel safe. But now no one knows where that child is. The children were clearly told not to hide.
Another point that was strongly conveyed was that children must tell their parents where they are going. For example, if a child has permission to go to the next door neighbours house, but then wants to go to the park, he or she needs to check in with mom or dad first so that the adult knows the child has changed locations. Many 911 calls are made by parents that can’t find their child. Emergency services are dispatched only to find the child at a nearby house or park. Had the child gotten permission to move locations, the emergency services could be used elsewhere, perhaps in more life-threatening situations.
Calling 911. The police officer talked about another point I had not ever thought of! He asked the students to raise their hands if they had a landline telephone in their house. Less than half the students raised their hands. More and more parents are switching to cell phone only as they find the landline useless and just another expense. Here’s the catch though: When you dial 911 from a landline, your address immediately comes up on the 911 operators computer screen. You don’t have to say a single word on the phone and they will dispatch all emergency services to your home, immediately. If you call on a cell phone, things don’t happen immediately. It takes time for dispatch to bounce the cell phone signal back off the satellites to determine your location. In an emergency those extra minutes can mean the difference between life and death. So if you don’t have a landline, which I don’t, give some thought to it. I know I am. At the very least, I would encourage you to make sure your child knows his or her address if there is only a cell phone in your home so that the process of getting emergency services to your home may be faster.
The last point I want to add is simply for kids to stay visible. The kids were told that they need to stay visible when out in public. Although it’s fun to hide in the clothing racks at Wal-Mart, the children were told not to do this. It only takes a minute for a child to be snatched away. The officer really put a lot of responsibility on the kids to stay visible to their adult even though they might want to look at the toys in the next aisle or play a hiding trick.
Many of these things seem like no-brainers but I can honestly say that I hadn’t talked in depth about these things with my children before. I am thankful that my six year old heard all of this and now I will be sharing it with my eight year old too! Please take the time to go through this list with your own children. Don’t assume your kid just “knows” what to do or what you expect.