Keeping Kids Safe

What you don't know, could hurt you!

By Amy Paulson & Illustrations by Robin Williamson

We've all been waiting for the days of summer when the warm sunshine brings hours of outdoor fun for our families. Unfortunately, summer is also the most dangerous time of the year! Research shows kids will be rushed to emergency rooms nearly 3 million times during "trauma season" - May through August. To help ensure your kids never see the ER, Metro Parent Magazine presents this look at how to keep 'em safe this summer - and all year long.

Parents learn early that it's difficult to raise kids to be sociable, yet cautious of those they don't know. This means teaching kids to be "street smart" at home, in school, or while they're out with their friends.

Kidnapping

As frightening as kidnapping might sound to a child, it's important for parents to talk to them about the dangers of strangers.

"Parents should not be afraid to be honest with their kids and tell them, 'This is what can happen if you stray from mom and dad," said Detective Sgt. Shelley Heindell of the Michigan State Police Department.

In 2001, she said 840,279 adults and juveniles were reported missing to the police and entered into the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The FBI estimates that 85-90 percent of missing persons are juveniles.

Her advice? "Use common sense. You'd be surprised at how many parents don't, and so put their children in dangerous situations," Heindell said. "Never leave your kids in the car when going into a store, friend's house, or to pay for gas."

Make sure your kids:

  • Know their full name, address and phone number.
  • Know to call 911 in emergencies and how to use a public phone.
  • Never accept rides or gifts from someone they don't know.
  • Go to a store clerk, security guard, or mother who has children, for help if lost in a mall, park, or on the street.
  • Know to lock doors and windows and see who's there before opening the door.
  • Walk and play with friends - not alone - and avoid places that could be dangerous, such as vacant buildings, alleys, playgrounds, or parks with broken equipment and litter.
  • Take the safest routes to and from school, stores, and friends' houses. Walk the routes together and point out places they could go for help.

Police also recommend parents make an identification card of their child, complete with recent photo, height, weight, and eye color and address. Have this information handy in an emergency.

Contact your local police department to see if fingerprinting services are available. Many products such as identification bracelets, cards, shoe labels, and fingerprint kits are available at online at www.yoursafechild.com or www.mcgruff.org

Sexual Abuse

Here's another difficult topic. However, experts agree that talking about sexual abuse and how to prevent it is as important as lessons about alcohol and drugs.

"We've got to feel comfortable talking-to our kids about this, or if we can't, then go to someone who can," said Tracey Stulberg, Ph.D., director of the Birmingham Family Therapy Clinic.

"As children learn about their bodies, they need to know what parts are private and understand that they have personal space. Parents must explain that some people do not respect that personal space," explained Stulberg, who has worked with sex offenders, victims and their families for 18 years.

"Tell them, 'You're not talking dirty. You're talking about your body and it belongs to you,'" she said. She encouraged parents to talk about how their child might feel perhaps uncomfortable or yucky in the stomach if they were ever asked to touch someone or show off their body inappropriately.

It's important to stress to children that it's not just strangers who could be possible offenders; teachers, family members, doctors, and priests could be offenders. In fact, the lowest percent of predators are the strangers that kids meet on the playground.

The National Crime Prevention Council provides the following sexual abuse prevention tips:

  • Let your child know that she can tell you anything.
  • Teach him that no one not even a teacher or close relative has the right to touch him in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable. Also, he should know it's okay to say no, get away and tell a trusted adult.
  • Don't force your kids to kiss or hug or sit on a grown ups lap's if they don't want to.
  • Always know where your child is, and whom she is with.
  • Tell your child to stay away from strangers who hang around playgrounds, public restrooms and schools.
  • Be alert for changes in your child's behavior that could signal sexual abuse, such as sudden secretiveness, withdrawal from activities, refusal to go to school, unexplained hostility toward a favorite babysitter or relative, or increase anxiety. Physical signs of abuse include bedwetting, loss of appetite, venereal disease, nightmares, and complaints of pain or irritation around the genitals.

Home Alone

Experts agree that a child should be at least 12 years old before being left alone, and at least 15 before having the responsibility of caring for a younger sibling. But a child's maturity also plays an important role when deciding if he is old enough to be alone.

If your child can be home alone without being afraid, the National Crime Prevention Council advises you teach her:

  • How to check in with you, or a neighbor, immediately after arriving home
  • How to call 9-1-1
  • How to give directions to your home, in case of emergency
  • How to use door/window locks and the alarm system, if you have one
  • To never let anyone into your home without asking permission
  • To never let a caller at the door, or on the phone, know she's alone, but say, "My mom (or dad) can't come to the phone now"
  • To carry a house key with her in a safe place and not leave it on a ledge or under the doormat
  • How to escape in case of fire
  • To let you know about anything that frightens her or makes her uncomfortable.

Helmets

Approximately 1,300 bicycling deaths occur in the U.S. each year and more than 500,000 people are seen in emergency rooms for bicycling injuries. Half of all bicycle related fatalities involve children.

"By limiting your youngster's biking to off-road locations, implementing early riding curfews and having your child wear a helmet, you will dramatically decrease his risk of suffering a serious injury," said Mark Brandenburg, M.D., author of Child Safe: A Practical Guide for Preventing Childhood Injuries.

He also advises kids:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Wear light-colored clothes that make them more visible, and tight fitting to avoid being caught in the bike's moving parts
  • Learn and obey the rules of the road ride on the right side of the road, ride single file, signal before making a turn
  • Look both ways - 7 of 10 car/bicycle crashes occur at driveways or other intersections
  • Ride only in safe places - parks, school grounds, bike trails and sidewalks.
  • If allowed to bike at night: wear reflective clothing and have a headlight and front /rear reflectors
  • Leave headphones at home when going for a spin

"More than 800 bicycle riders are killed in the U.S. every year, almost all in collisions with cars, and 75 percent of them die of head injuries," said Nothing sounds better than a relaxing day at the pool, however, if you're heading to the pool with children, relaxation is probably the last thing you'll get. Even ifs child has had swimming lessons, it's important to always keep an eye on him in the water. Kids' swimming skills can vary greatly from year to year, according to Connie Harvey, health and safety expert for the American Red Cross. Swimming lessons are strongly recommended for kids who don't know how to swim. And while parents are eager to get their babies into the water, the American Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

He advised:

  • Take your child with you when shopping for a helmet; she'll be more inclined to wear it if she likes the look and feel of it.
  • Never shy away from purchasing a helmet because of its price; if you can't afford the helmet, you shouldn't be buying the bike.
  • Make sure the helmets is certified b the Consumer Product Safety Commission and fits properly snug, but not too tight, and doesn't block an part of the visual field.
  • Don't forget that biking isn't the on outdoor activity in which kids should be wearing protective gear. Helmets have been recommended for these other sports: auto and motor sports, boxing, equestrian sports, football, lacrosse, rollerblading, rugby, skateboarding, snowmobiling, softball and wrestling

Winter sports helmets are created with strict standards for skiing and snowboarding. Batting helmets are designed with special protection over a left or right ear.

Nothing sounds better than a relaxing day at the pool, however, if you're heading to the pool with children, relaxation is probably the last thing you'll get.

Even ifs child has had swimming lessons, it's important to always keep an eye on him in the water. Kids' swimming skills can vary greatly from year to year, according to Connie Harvey, health and safety expert for the American Red Cross. Swimming lessons are strongly recommended for kids who don't know how to swim.

And while parents are eager to get their babies into the water, Academy of Pediatrics believes swim claws are not a good idea for infants Tots don't know to use floating techniques in caw of emergency, and the, increased exposure to public pools can invite unwanted infections and rash

  • Teach your kids never to enter ti water without an adult present and never to horseplay near the water. E children who swim well should never enter the water without a buddy around.
  • Be sure that a responsible adult always supervises children when they around water, even a small wading pool.

Internet Worries

Unsupervised, the Internet can be dangerous, exposing children to predators and inappropriate material as they surf the web and communicate through e-mails, chat rooms, and public message boards. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children advises that Internet related complaints grew from 640 per year in 1993 to 188,000 in 1999. Of those complaints, more than 35 percent involved child pornography on the Internet, according to the Michigan State Police Department.

Chat Rooms

It's critical to talk with your kids about the people they meet online. They need to understand that they do not actually know the people they are meeting, and the person might be lying about their name, age, etc. People, including kids, like to role play online.

Pornography and Hate Sites

The best way to keep your children safe is to simply be there with them while they are online. Let your children know your rules for online use and make sure to enforce those rules, according to Merle Marsh, school administrator and Internet educator. With older children, there's a fine line between snooping and overseeing. Your kids should know you're keeping an eye on their computer use. Avoid keeping computers in your child's bedroom where secrecy is expected. For less than $50, you can buy software for Internet filtering and monitoring. CyberPatrol, N2H2, Cybersitter, CyberSnoop and NetNanny are among the filtering agents that help provide safe Internet experiences.

These signs that your child may be at risk online come from the Michigan State Police Department:

  • Your child spends large amounts of time online, especially at night.
  • You find pornography or other "banned" material on your child's computer.
  • Your child receives telephone calls from someone (particularly an adult) you don't know, or is making telephone calls, sometimes long distance, to telephone numbers you don't recognize.
  • Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.
  • Your child turns the computer off, or quickly changes the screen when you come into the room.
  • Your child is using an online account belonging to someone else.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.

The Cybertip Hotline, www.cybertipline.com or (800) 843-5678 , was established in 1998 for reporting online crimes against children, including pornography, and using a chat room to arrange meetings with a minor for sex.