It’s easy to overreact when you think of that dangerous world out there, but all children need to learn to become confident and independent young people. Maintaining good relationships, based on trust, will help you to give your children the freedom they need, but you have to agree some basic rules to keep them safe. Explain about safety and agree on rules which will give both of you reassurance. Rules vary according to the age of the child but some useful pointers for different age groups are outlined below.
Teenagers and Going Out
This age is a mine field for any parent. Teenagers are coming to terms with hormones and independence while being exposed to a whole range of influences, including sex, drugs and alcohol, where their safety could be compromised. It’s advisable to read up on all these subjects for in-depth knowledge on how to cope with your teenager, but there are some good tips that will help to keep them safe:
- Wherever they are going, ask them to let you know where they will be and how you can get hold of them in an emergency.
- Explain that you will worry if they are not back in time and agree how you will try to find them. Have a list of all their friends’ numbers and addresses.
- Make it a rule that your teenager will not travel home alone if it’s late, and agree to pick them up if necessary. If they have to travel alone, in a taxi for example, they could tell you or a friend the name of the taxi firm. Give your child advice on how to be confident (see below) and what to do if they feel threatened or frightened.
- Make sure your teenagers feel comfortable about having friends round to your home. They may feel less inclined to hang about in areas where trouble could start.
Primary school children
Children of this age are no longer under your care or safely tucked away in a nursery all day. For example, they may be at starting and finishing school, after-school clubs, friend’s houses, brownies and cubs or swimming and other sports. Follow this advice to ensure they’re safe:
- Have firm arrangements about getting to and from school. Your child should go straight back into school if you’re not there on time. Reinforce the rules about going with other people – even if they know them. The key one to remember is don’t go anywhere unless they have your permission first.
- Make sure your child knows your home number and the number of someone else trustworthy. If they can’t remember the numbers, keep a card in a pocket or school bag.
- If you’re late collecting them from somewhere else, such as a sports club, tell them to ask a friend and their parent to wait with you – otherwise they may be left alone with an adult whom they don’t feel comfortable with.
- If you’re out together, make sure they Know What To Do If They Are Lost. Have an agreed meeting point, so you know where look first.
Personal Safety Tips for Kids
Statistically the risks of being harmed by a stranger are low, but children need to feel confident that they know what to do in a situation where there is even a small risk to their safety. Trying to achieve a balance between protection and independence for children can be hard, so reassure them and give them some confidence tips. Below is some useful advice to give your kids. It may apply at different ages:
- Carry a whistle or alarm.
- If you’re worried about someone following you, go into a shop or busy place and ask to use a phone or use your mobile. Avoid using a phone box, where you could be trapped.
- Never take short cuts through secluded areas unless you’re with a large group of friends.
- Use your Mobile Phone, MP3 or Personal Stereo discretely, as you will be vulnerable to mugging if they’re on display. Don’t use an MP3/Personal Stereo when walking at night, your won’t be able to hear someone approaching.
- Walk facing traffic so a car can’t pull up behind you.
- Keep valuables well hidden.
- If you phone a taxi, ask the name of the driver so you can check when it arrives, and always sit in the back.
- On public transport, sit near the driver and sit in a busy carriage on a train if you can.
- Know how and when to use 999.
- Report anything at all unusual to your parents.
- Learn to say NO. If you’re not comfortable with anything just say NO, it doesn’t matter what your friends are doing, YOU are the importance one.
- Have your key ready before you get home. Once you’re in, keep all the doors locked and phone someone like your parents to let you know where you are.
- Keep a chain on the door and only answer if you can see that you know who it is first.
- Keep a stock of answers just in case. It’s sometimes difficult to come up something convincing if you haven’t rehearsed it: “We have a rule that we don’t talk to sales people” or “My mum is busy at the moment, can you come back another time” and so on.
- Call your parents or a neighbour if you are worried about anything.
- Try not to be alone in the house with an adult or older teenager unless your parents say it’s OK.
If you find yourself in threatening situation:
- Try not to talk in an aggressive or provocative manner.
- Shout or scream ‘No!’ and ‘Somebody call the police!’.
- Try to keep control. Panic can make you shaky and unable to cope.
If you feel you have no choice but to fight back, the police advise what they call a “bash and dash” approach:
- Target the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, throat, groin, knees or shins; choose whichever is easiest to get to.
- If someone grabs your arms with their hands, jerk your arm away in the direction of the attacker’s thumb – this is the weakest part of anyone’s grip.
- If someone grabs you from behind, bend forward and come back quickly, slamming your head against their face or chin (the back of your head is very hard, but it may hurt you as well).
- If they have a weapon and you think you have a chance to do something to get away, scrape your heel down the inside of the attacker’s leg, or kick them in the knee hard. Stamp on their instep with all your weight, then run in the direction of shops or people.
- Kicking someone in the genitals or poking them in the eyes is not as easy as you might have heard. If you kick up at an attacker, they may just grab your leg and you will end up on the ground.
- Only ever try something you feel confident you can complete, or you might just do enough to make the attacker angrier.
The best advice is to practise the two or three techniques you think you could use until they are automatic.
A self-defence course will give you some useful techniques and might make you feel more confident. But remember, the best advice is to try to avoid being in this situation in the first place.