Teaching children basic personal safety skills gives them the tools needed to reduce their likelihood of being victimized. Children who learn to be assertive, trust their instincts, and recognize and respond safely to potentially dangerous situations are less likely to be targeted by an offender.
Teaching children not to go anywhere with anyone without first getting permission from their parents reinforces to children that the duty of supervision lies with parents, as opposed to leaving it up to children to assess the motives of individuals.
Supervision is very important in helping to keep kids safe. Although supervision can be particularly challenging during adolescence when youth are seeking autonomy and independence, it is important to check in now and then on what they are doing.
Safety strategies need to be taught and reinforced on a daily basis so that your child is prepared.
‘Stranger danger’ as a safety strategy for children is not only outdated, but also ineffective in reducing a child’s risk of abduction and victimization. Here’s why:
- The concept of a ‘stranger’ is difficult for children to understand.
- In certain situations children may need to approach someone they don’t know (i.e., a ‘stranger’) for help.
- Children are more likely to be abducted by someone they know or have come in contact with (i.e., not a ‘stranger’).
There is no crash course in personal safety. It is important to have regular conversations with children throughout their development to increase their personal safety. Practicing safety strategies and problem solving helps build children’s confidence and competence around their own personal safety. What to teach children:
The Buddy System: There is safety in numbers at all ages. Introduce the buddy system to children at age 4. Regularly
reinforce the importance of using the buddy system when going places to increase personal safety. For 4- to 7-year-olds, a buddy is
someone who is old enough to supervise them (e.g., parent, older brother or sister, aunt, babysitter). Continue to reinforce the buddy
system during adolescence (e.g., don’t abandon a friend at a party, travel in groups to and from the mall and other outings).
As your child gets older, have ongoing conversations about the importance of being careful when accepting rides from people and making sure others are aware when a ride has been accepted.
- If asked to go and your parents don’t know, SHOUT NO!: Remind children and youth to check in with parents/caregivers before going anywhere with anyone. As youth become more independent and are away from home with friends, establish the expectation that they check in with parents/caregiver before going anywhere with anyone or changing locations. Use “what if” scenarios to help children/youth anticipate situations and practice using a safe response — it will increase the likelihood that they will use it if they encounter a dangerous situation.
- SHOUT NO! RUN — TELL Someone: Teach children assertiveness skills. Teach them that it is okay for them to say no, set limits, and not comply if someone wants them to do something or go somewhere and they have not checked with their parents/caregiver or they feel uncomfortable in any way. Teach children age 7 and up to resist, make noise, and make a scene if someone tries to get them to go somewhere.
- Trust your INSTINCTS: Explain to children that our bodies warn us of danger. We need to pay attention to our body, and if we are in a situation where we feel uncomfortable or something seems dangerous, trust that feeling, and leave the situation and tell a safe grown-up.
Supervision is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Children require different levels of supervision based on factors such as age, development, environment, and individual characteristics. The following provides information for healthy supervision of children from 4 to 16 years old.
If children have special needs that may increase their vulnerability, they will require a more protective environment. This means more direct adult supervision is necessary to increase their safety.
4 to 6 years old:
- Children require direct supervision
- Children need to be visible to the parent/caregiver at all times, such as when children are playing in the front yard, on the street, at the playground or park, etc.
7 to 10 years old:
- Children need close supervision
- Some indirect supervision and monitoring occurs, such as when children are walking to and from school, and having playdates outside the home
- If possible, ensure your child travels to and from school with other children and/or an adult you trust
- Know the routes children are taking to school and remind them to avoid shortcuts
- Ask your child’s school to implement a call-back program if one does not already exist so you will be alerted as soon as possible if your child does not arrive at school
- Make arrangements to get children to and from playdates and activities
- Ensure your child understands that they should not approach a car, even if the person driving calls them over
11 and 12 years old:
- Children start to seek more independence, but still require adult monitoring and supervision
- Set the expectation that children need to check in to get permission before going anywhere so parents/caregivers always know where they are, what they are doing, who they are with, and when they will return
- Build in regular check-in points, such as texting or calling when they are out. Technology can be used to your advantage as youth prefer and will often respond quickly to texts
If children are not being picked up or dropped off when they go out:
- Ask them to check in once they arrive at their destination
- Ask them to check in before they leave to come home so you know what time to expect them, and check in on their whereabouts if they are late
- Discuss considerations when accepting rides, such as accepting a ride from an aunt or friend’s mom versus the guy they see and talk to on occasion at the grocery store
13 to 16 years old:
- Parental monitoring continues to be very important
- Peers often have increased influence at this stage
- Continue with expectations that youth need to check in to let parents/caregivers know where they are, what they are doing, who they are with, when they will return, and if they are going to be late
- Continue with check-in points — connect via text or by phone while they are out and remind them to have their phone fully charged whenever they go out
- Stay up until youth get home to make sure they arrive safely
- Remind youth that under any circumstance, they can call you if they need help, such as if they need a ride home late at night or if they get separated from friends
Continue discussions about the parameters around accepting rides from people, such as:
- Making careful decisions about who they accept rides from
- Making sure they are with another person (even if the person who offers the ride is someone they know well)
- Informing a parent/caregiver when they have accepted a ride — even from people that they know
- Making sure the person who is giving them a ride knows that their parent/caregiver is aware that they have given them a ride
If your adolescent is seeking babysitting jobs, provide guidance, such as:
- Avoiding posting or responding to ads online
- Avoiding giving out personal cell phone numbers and avoiding responding to new opportunities from a personal cell phone
- Inquiring about babysitting jobs for people known by people connected within the neighbourhood
- Providing parents/caregivers with information about where they are babysitting, and having a way to be contacted while they are there
The information provided above is intended for information purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. Readers should assess all information in light of their own circumstances, the age and maturity level of the child they wish to protect, and any other relevant factors.