The world can be a scary place, but you don’t want kids to feel like they’re in constant danger. By teaching the kids or grandkids in your life these lessons, they’ll be better able to protect themselves in scary situations.
1. Know home address and phone numbers
Kids should memorize important information about themselves — like their first and last name, their age, home address, and phone numbers for mom and dad. Younger kids, ages three to five, aren’t too young to learn this information, through try teaching them just one phone number where you know someone will always pick up. If kids ever get lost, this is essential information for them to give to a police officer or adult to get them home safely.
2. Never go anywhere with a stranger
Kids should know that it’s OK to talk to strangers, but it’s not OK to go anywhere with a stranger. Ever. Telling kids not to talk to any stranger takes away all the people that may be able to help them if they need it, says Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids blog and a popular lecturer who advocates for fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger. If for instance, kids were being followed, they should feel comfortable asking another adult for help, like a shop owner.
“Stranger danger” is an outdated term that even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is trying to retire, says Skenazy. But while it may be permissible for kids to talk to a stranger in certain circumstances, kids should never go anywhere with a stranger, even if the stranger says things like, “I’ve got candy over here,” or “Your mom asked me to pick you up.”
Skenazy recommends teaching kids the three R’s:
- Recognize that no one can touch you where your bathing suit covers.
- Resist – Yell, kick, run away. Don’t be nice if someone is bothering you.
- Report – Even if the person makes you promise not to tell, tell.
3. No one is allowed to touch you
You can teach kids as young as three that no one can touch them in the bathing suit areas, says Skenazy. Talking about touching won’t scare kids and it doesn’t have to be discussed at every meal, she says. “Treat it as a common sense precaution.” Make sure kids understand that “any kind of touch should not be secret,” says Irene van der Zande, executive director and founder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit that promotes child protection.
4. Don’t post or give out personal information or passwords online
Younger kids should not be online without adult supervision, according to van der Zande. “So often when it comes to technology, adults abandon their roles as leaders,” she says. “Even if you don’t understand the technology,” she says, you can co-pilot. Ask kids to explain what they’re doing so you can supervise.
Older kids may expect more privacy when online. Nearly all teens are online today, according to NetSmartz Workshop, a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Teens who are online are likely interacting with their friends. But ensure they know they can’t meet with someone they’ve only talked to online, and explain that they should never post personal information (like their address or full name) without permission from adults, says van der Zande. No one should know kids’ passwords besides parents.
Discuss cyberbullying and explain that they should always tell a parent or guardian if someone is sending bullying messages. Teach kids that they also shouldn’t respond to any rude messages, but they should save messages as evidence, according to NetSmartz.
5. Know how and when to call 911
Children may already know that they can call 911 if they need help, but make sure they know what constitutes an emergency. A family member who is choking or a fire in the home is an emergency, while needing help with homework is not.
6. No adult should ask them to keep secrets
Kids should understand that an adult should never ask them to keep secrets. Children should know that they can always tell their parents or grandparents anything, and stress that you won’t be mad or blame them if they come to you, Skenazy says.
Keep the lines of communication open — make the Kidpower Protection Promise and let kids know “no matter what, if you have a safety problem in your life, I want to know,” says van der Zande. Teach the difference between safe and unsafe secrets. Unsafe secrets, says van der Zande, include problems, any kind of touch, presents someone gives them, and friendships they’re not supposed to mention. Secrets that are about hurting or bothering someone are also a no-no, says van der Zande.07
7. Trust their gut
Even a young child will get a feeling that something isn’t right. Teach kids to trust their instincts if they get a bad feeling, and follow the second R: they don’t have to be nice if someone is bothering them, and they can run away and find someone else, like a mother with kids or a police officer, to ask for help.