The World is an “Unfenced Pool:” Common Sense Rules for Protecting Your Child (Part 3)

Driving to work this morning, I was stuck in traffic on the 2 Freeway and I looked up to the overpass and watched as two kindergarten-aged children walked across the pedestrian bridge alone. I took the next off-ramp and circled back until I could see that they were not alone.

It is a hot day in July. You visit your sister’s house. The children are anxious to get in the swimming pool. You help the children into their swimsuits and then you and your sister retire to the kitchen to talk and share a cup of coffee. Hardly!

Our minds have been trained to think of swimming pools or any unprotected water as a potential threat. We automatically shift into protection mode when young children approach water. One adult for every two children in the pool! We understand the importance of that rule and wonder who was not paying attention when a child drowns at a birthday party or in the neighbor’s back yard.

We need to create a similar alert watchfulness for young children when they are outside of our homes. This heightened attentiveness does not mean that we alarm our children, become tense, nervous and lash out at the child; rather, we become so practiced in our protective behavior mode, that we can shift into this gear without creating any anxiety in our children. We remain relaxed and natural but with a new set of instincts that change our level of alertness when we are in circumstances where our children might be in danger.

Thankfully, most of our children’s activities are contained within schools, playgrounds, and homes. But it is on the edges of these safety zones that danger can lurk.  It is the child that strays away from the group, becomes the straggler at the park or when walking to school that is quickly identified as a potential victim by the practiced predator.  Most children under the age of five or six are unable to understand danger, whether it is drowning in the neighbor’s pool or being snatched by a stranger or molested at school. They need to have adequate supervision and simple, concise rules of behavior and communication in order to keep them safe.

The vulnerability of the young child requires that we as adults stay alert and pay attention. There are thousands of stories of adults intervening in the nick of time to protect a child from danger. This can be from accidents, assaults by strangers, and even from abuse by their own families or caretakers. We have a collective responsibility to protect every child from abuse and violence.

In order to begin changing our mindset, let’s look at some simple, but effective, rules that will protect your child.

Rules: Part One

  1. When outside the home, young children must be in the direct line of vision of an attentive caretaker at all times.
  2. Parents must directly participate in the child’s activities whether they are at home or playing with friends.
  3. Create a place in your backyard or common areas where children are safe to play under your watchful eye.
  4. Attend play dates at other homes, particularly when there are more than 2 or 3 children invited.
  5. In public areas: parks, amusement centers, restaurants with child play areas, malls or while shopping never take your eyes and/or your hands off your child.
  6. Never let a child go to the public restroom alone.
  7. Teach your child to identify strangers.
  8. Do not expect your child to be able to fight off an assailant, run, say no or disable his car anymore than they will automatically learn to swim if they fall in the deep end of the pool.

Summary: We all want to say yes to our children when they ask to go outside and play. So say yes, pick up a chair and move to the yard, the driveway or the garage. Your child will know you care; the stranger (or neighbor) will know you are watching.

The World is an “Unfenced Pool:” Common Sense Rules for Protecting Your Child (Part 2)

Having your child abducted is every parent’s worst nightmare! Of the 466,949 children that went missing last year, 32,687 were kidnapped by a family member, 9,338 were kidnapped by non-family member, and about 100 were abducted by strangers (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2015, NISMART 2003).

These numbers alone should give us pause, at the same time remembering that a more insidious form of abduction is child sexual abuse that steals the child’s self esteem and truncates their childhood. In our clinic, that evaluates both child sexual abuse as well as child sexual assault, only 15% of all children are assaulted by strangers. The vast majority of perpetrators are known to the child and many are part of the extended or nuclear family.

Young children (0-10) are the most vulnerable for abuse and/abduction. We begin this series with some simple ideas on protecting your young child from strangers but we will also focus attention on learning to protect your child from individuals who your child sees everyday but who may also present a real danger. Understanding how children are abused, what signs and symptoms are warning signs for parents that should remind them that their child is at risk. Parents are the critical foundation in protection through communication and through understanding how children disclose abuse or frightening events. Teaching your child to stay safe and make good decisions must begin by sharing knowledge and communicating with your child at an early age. Families can establish habits of protection and behavior that will extend through the dangerous “tween” years (9-12) into high school and college.

These ‘tween’ years have become increasing dangerous particularly for our girls. With more girls going through puberty at younger ages, we are faced with the challenge of having young children in woman’s bodies without the maturity to make safe choices. In addition, we consider them to be “just kids” and delay providing them with the information they need to stay safe. These young women are a particularly tempting target for all sexual predators; the stranger; the acquaintance as well as the family member or friend. Much of the child pornography that I am asked to review for the FBI and local law enforcement involves children between the ages of 9 and 12. Add to the fact that we are constantly bombarded with the media, children of all ages are increasingly vulnerable and available to predators through social media. Understanding the real risk of web-based searching for children as potential sexual victims, is critical in building a system of protection within the home.

Adolescents and college students have an amazing capacity to see themselves as “bullet-proof.” We need to give our adolescents and beyond, enough common sense to keep them safe when they are exposed to a world that does not value their innocence or their lives.

The goal of this series is not to alarm parents or create an atmosphere of danger lurking behind every bush or to change a carefree happy childhood into one of fear and dread. Quite the contrary, the goal is to help parents develop simple rules; apply them in a matter-of-fact “we love you” attitude that builds an open atmosphere of sharing and communication in every home. The end result will be that children will be safer while families are drawn closer and closer to each other. The best tribute to those children who are victims of abuse and assault, is for us build a living memorial through strong, loving and safe homes and communities.