safety tips for kids

By Chiamaka Onyewuchi, MD

A new baby. A personalized jersey. An online profile. All of these things have one thing in common: they identify your child both in name and location. Sharing od news and bursting with parental pride is natural. But in doing so, you can also unknowingly put your child’s safety at risk.

Children of all ages are now more savvy with smart devices, video chat, and other apps. Protecting your child from child predators and human traffickers has become more challenging.

 

Every 40 seconds, a child goes missing or is abducted in our country. Most cases involve a family member or friend and are resolved within hours. But there are tips to help avoid becoming a statistic at all. Below are examples of how your child’s privacy is exposed and how to protect them in almost any situation.

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Babies

We’ve all read the announcements in the newspaper, shared photos on our Facebook pages, and seen those lawn storks announcing a baby’s name and gender. It all seems innocent enough. But what feels celebratory in the moment remains informative long after the event has passed.

These announcements identify your child and put them at risk for abduction. Predators are given an easy way to find your baby. In some hospitals today, they are eliminating newspaper and bulletin board announcements and recommending during childbirth classes not to place balloons, banners, or lawn storks outside your home. Save the decorations and fanfare for the baby shower or gender reveal party and make sure your friends and family know where you stand.

It’s not easy to set boundaries with loved ones. You may already be doing all you can to maintain your privacy. But well-meaning grandparents or friends could be sharing your name and your baby’s name, location, and even schedule with others. Refrain from announcing every Wednesday is the “mommy and me” class, or that on Fridays you meet your sister-in-law at your local café.

 

Internet Safety – Pause Before You Post

We often overshare in our lives. And for new moms who may be homebound, exhausted, or even bored, the Internet can seem like the only connection to the outside world. Of course, actually talking to another person on the phone and hearing his or her voice can be more comforting than initiating a cyber-connection. A good rule of thumb is to pause before you post, which can save you unsolicited opinions, too. Look to support groups or other in-person networking opportunities to get out of the house and get support as a new mom.

If you’re seeking a babysitter or nanny to help during those first few months or years, look to trusted friends and family for recommendations. Avoid posting the position online, which can bring any stranger to your door. Always ask for references and meet in a neutral, public setting when you begin to interview. Preferably have a friend who can watch your baby so you’re not distracted.

Cynicism isn’t the al, but it’s not a bad idea to fore the public announcements and keep news of births and milestones closer to home. Check your settings on your social media pages, too, so that only those people you know are viewing your content.

The sad truth is that kidnappings occur every day and we know babies are helpless. Tired moms and dads have a lot on their plates. They may not realize that suspicious individual in the neighborhood or remember to lock the door when it’s naptime. Taking simple necessary precautions and keeping private information private will protect you and the ones you love from dangerous predators.

Adolescents

We expect our children to be polite, trust adults, and show reverence. Many young boys and girls believe it’s not od to challenge authority. They assume all adults are kind and honest. They are, after all, adults who should know better. While respecting authority is an important lesson, it is also important to teach your children how to trust their inner voice and be assertive.

Protect Your Child from a Predator

Helping your child establish his or her personal boundaries is a key factor in keeping them safe. It may be uncomfortable to talk about the scary stuff happening in the world. And we certainly don’t want to instill fear in our children. But all you have to do is turn on the TV and you can see that our world events demand these conversations early.

It’s OK for kids to say “no” if they are uncomfortable or something feels off. Remind them there is safety in numbers. Whether walking to or from school, playing outside, or spending time in a recreational setting, your child should be in the company of others. Predators are not looking for confrontation or a scene. They are looking for a child by him or herself and they use age-old tactics to lure them.

 

Personalized clothing items, book bags, and lunch boxes provide important information for an abductor to call out your child’s name. That can give the impression they know them or the family. Remember, young kids are vulnerable and trusting. They easily can fall victim to the temptation of candy, toys, games, or money used to get them to approach the car. It’s also not uncommon for perpetrators to claim they need help finding a lost dog. Or they might say the child’s parents sent them to give them a ride.

Make a plan with your child to combat any of these scenarios. And let them know you will never have someone they don’t know pick them up from school, a friend’s house, or an activity. Create a secret word or phrase with your child in case a friend or family member would need to take them someplace. And always encourage your children to yell and scream “HELP” or another word that draws attention. Making your child aware of the dangers will empower them to act if anything were to occur.

Teens

We see plenty of reports about the dangers of online predators and safeguarding teenagers’ identities. However, with all of the new social media platforms – some of which are anonymous – and the propensity teenagers have to overshare and communicate electronically, teens are extremely vulnerable.

Teach Your Teens That Nothing Online is Ever “Offline”

Too often they do not know the permanency of their tweets, texts, snaps, and posts. It’s easy for them to adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. As we have read more than once, however, nothing is ever really deleted from cyberspace.

Teenagers often feel a false sense of security in the comfort of their homes or hiding behind a screen. Just as there is a little filter to the words they type online, which can result in cyberbullying, they similarly and impulsively may post provocative or revealing photos and information in the heat of the moment. Consequences seem elusive and most teens are living in the moment and act accordingly, driven by emotion.

 

Whether they are announcing on a group chat that they’re home alone, or give too much information in their online profiles such as the school they attend, age, hobbies, location, or schedules, these identifiers could provide enough detail to someone who wants to do them harm. And too often, the connections teenagers make over the Internet are not always who they think is on the other end. That 16-year-old girl from Tennessee could be a 45-year-old man down the street cyberstalking your child. Be involved in monitoring your child’s online accounts and activity. They are still a minor and your job is to know what is happening in their lives, even if they aren’t willing to share.

Sexting – the sharing of risqué messages and nude images online – has received a lot of attention in the schools and media. However, human trafficking is a big problem right here in the United States. This modern-day slavery forces women, men, and children into commercial sex acts using violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion. The perpetrators can be someone your teen knows or a stranger they met online. Teens who are seeking attention or who may be having family or emotional problems can be particularly susceptible to the lies and luring of traffickers.

Teens who think they could be discovered on YouTube or social media as the next model, actor, or singer need to understand it’s never that simple. Most reputable agencies are not searching the Internet for talent. Young, impressionable, hopeful girls can be desperate for approval and attention. With impulse control being what it is with young people, too often they are only one click away from inviting trouble into their home.

 

The takeaway is to never make it easy for predators or kidnappers to take advantage of a situation that could be avoided. Think prevention … not paranoia and follow these tips:

  • Know where your children are and who they’re talking to or visiting.
  • Pay attention to changes in your child’s behavior for sudden and ongoing changes.
  • Never leave your child alone in a public place, car, or stroller.
  • Never ask a stranger to hold your baby, even for an instant.
  • Don’t label their lunch boxes or clothing.
  • Don’t let children out alone. Remember the buddy system.
  • Teach your child their telephone number, how to contact you and a close friend or relative in case of an emergency.
  • Pay attention to threats and take them seriously.
  • In custody battles, get social security numbers, credit card numbers, and addresses.
  • Take a lot of photos of your child and keep them current.
  • Keep dental and medical records updated and accessible.
  • Make sure your kids know their neighborhood and can identify safe houses where they can run in the case of an emergency.
  • Never open the door to a stranger. Establish a secret password between you and your child.
  • Older children should be encouraged to use their critical thinking and intuition, and to anticipate, for example, slow-driving cars in front of a neighborhood or playground.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider if you notice any new changes in their behavior.

About UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC Pinnacle is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Pinnacle includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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