Summer break symbolizes freedom for many children: freedom from school routine, homework, and the confinement of indoor play. Many children extend this sense of freedom, exploring their neighborhoods on foot or by bike. But as with any freedom comes responsibility-especially in light of frightening news like that of the 13-year-old girl who was almost abducted near Lake Calhoun in May.
In order to ensure your child’s safe return home, parents and kids both need to increase their level of vigilance in the wake of their new found freedom.
Here are ten safety tips to follow every time a child heads out the door:
1. The Basics – Always make sure your child knows his or her full address and phone number before leaving the house. To be certain your child can be identified should he become unconscious, enclose a paper with this information in his wallet. Older children should also put to memory the full name, address, and phone number of another trusted adult who can be contacted in the event of an emergency.
2. Set boundaries – Set clear landmark boundaries for where your child is allowed to play within the neighborhood. Make your wishes known. Are they allowed to cross at busy intersections? Ride on major roadways or outside of the neighborhood? Are there areas (such as alleyways or abandoned buildings) that you would like them to avoid? When your children know what’s expected of them, it’s easier to comply.
3. Use the buddy system – Whenever possible, urge your child to take along a friend (or two) as this can deter would-be abductors. It’s also helpful to have a buddy – someone that can seek help – in case of accidents, injury, or other emergencies.
4. Don’t talk to strangers – Instruct your children to steer clear of strangers. Inform them of the basic tactics child abductors use to manipulate children (i.e. offering rides or candy, needing their help to find a dog, etc.) A statistical breakdown of these tactics can be found at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website. Empower your kids with the ability to say “no” to anything that makes them scared, uncomfortable, or confused.
5. Know where your children are – Make it a house rule that your children must tell you or ask your permission before leaving the house. Have them check in periodically at agreed upon times and instill in them the importance of making those check-ins on time. Every moment lost in the life of a missing child is a crucial one. When possible, have your children leave a phone number of where they will be and/or have them carry their fully charged cell phone at all times.
6. Get to know your children’s friends – Meeting the parents might seem old school, but it’s still one of the most effective ways to keep track of your kids. If you can’t meet face-to-face, a simple introductory phone call to gather pertinent information and keep the lines of communication open is key. Keep the list of their phone numbers handy in case of emergency or if you have questions about your children’s whereabouts. Always ask your children what kind of supervision will be present when allowing them to visit friends’ homes.
7. Work together with your neighbors – Keep an eye out for suspicious and unusual behavior in your neighborhood. Make sure you know your neighbors and their children so you can look out for one another and choose a trusted neighbor or friend’s house to be the safe house (a place your child can go if he or she is in need of help). Familiarize your child with the area, ensuring he knows where local police, fire stations, libraries, and stores are in case he needs to get somewhere safe, quickly.
8. Pedestrian and biking safety – Your child should have a good understanding of the rules for pedestrian and biking safety including how to properly cross a street, wear a helmet when riding, obey the rules of the road, and travel only on safe, agreed-upon routes.
9. Seek help – If your children find themselves in a scary or uncomfortable situation while out and about, they should be instructed to seek out a trusted adult for help. If the “safe neighbor house,” or other meeting place is not nearby, teach them to call for help or reach out to authorities. All kids should be familiar with 911. Teach them how, why and when to use it and what to expect once they are connected with a dispatcher.
10. Child ID kits – In case your child does go missing, be sure to have an up-to-date Child Identification Kit, including a current color photograph readily available.
Summer break is a time for fun, relaxation and exploration. By following these safety guidelines, your child can feel free to build rich summer memories for years to come.