In this ever-changing world and with increased use of multiple social media platforms, it easy to think danger lurks around every corner for unsuspecting children.
Doug Chadwick, chief criminal deputy with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, urged parents to discuss so-called “stranger danger” as part of a larger approach that encourages children to be aware of their surroundings whether they’re out with their parents, on the computer or at play in the neighborhood.
He also offered these tips and advice that are as vital today as they were decades ago:
▪ Don’t be paranoid that every stranger is out to get you. Just be aware of the potential danger and have a plan.
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▪ Parents need to have periodic frank talks that are age-appropriate and tailored to the child’s personality and level of understanding.
▪ “Stranger danger” is a misnomer because most crimes against children – especially sexual assaults – are committed by a family member or someone with close ties to the child. Statistics show that with somebody who’s sexually assaulted, it’s likely somebody that they know, not a stranger. Be aware; educate your children about what they would do. Role-play a situation.
▪ Explain to your child that adults don’t ask kids for directions and that you don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know. Be wary of an adult who engages kids. Children should learn appropriate sexual boundaries.
▪ Online predators are seen as the newest threat to children and teens – especially through social media. The stranger isn’t walking up to you and offering candy – they’re in a chat room. Some kids are very tech-savvy, but kids don’t always understand the ramifications.
▪ Parents must have open and honest discussions with their children about their expectations online. It’s a good idea for parents to “friend” or follow their children’s various accounts and to monitor their online use – even by searching their browser history.
▪ If you suspect your child has been sexually assaulted, or is being sexually assaulted, look for changes in behavior. Kids start to isolate all of a sudden – they do a 180. They don’t want to be around people or don’t want to be around certain people. If your child is telling you something, you should believe them.
▪ A more likely scenario to consider, however, is that the child gets lost or the parent and child become separated. Parental reaction in that instance depends on the size and type of venue where the child is lost – such as a large store, on the street in a major city or on a wilderness trail. Teach children what to do in several situations by role-playing.
▪ Several rules apply in almost any missing child scenario. Parents should take special note to know specifics about their children – such as height and weight – and note the clothes that they’re wearing. Find a person affiliated with the event – don’t panic, get someone who has authority and get them to broadcast a description of the child.
▪ For children, Chadwick suggests telling them to look for somebody in a uniform.
▪ Police ID kits are good to have in the event of an emergency, he said. For an effective Amber Alert, authorities will quickly need a description of the child, a recent photo and other pertinent information. A hysterical parent might not be able to focus on relevant details – it’s good to think about this in advance, when you’re not distraught.
▪ Other threats to children include domestic violence and firearms in the home, according to Chadwick. A good majority of 911 calls come from children reporting an incident in their own home.