Guest blogger and safety expert Pattie Fitzgerald gives her expert advice on how to be careful, but not go overboard...
Lions and tigers and bears...oh my!
How many times have you picked up the newspaper lately or turned on the TV only to hear a frightening story about a missing child? Or to learn about a child who has been molested by a teacher or other authority figure?
Did you think to yourself..."That's it, you can't trust anyone, and I'm never letting my kid out of my sight again!" Or do you go to the other extreme--complete denial--as in "This could never happen to our family--we live in a nice neighborhood, good school district, etc."
The fact is that both of those blanket statements are simply not true, and neither one of them does our children much good. But who could blame a parent for feeling one way or the other?
Let's take it one step at a time. As a child safety educator, I've seen parents who are so afraid to let their child out of their sight, that they "helicopter" or hover over every move the kid makes, without instilling any sense of independence or self-confidence in their child. The message their children get is that the world is a scary place and that most people can't be trusted. Not exactly a fun way to grow up, is it? Nor is it accurate.
On the other hand, I've also seen parents who have such a "hands-off" style that they seldom supervise their children's whereabouts, or get to know who exactly is spending time with their kids on a regular basis--whether it's another friend's parent, a camp counselor or the soccer coach.
These are the parents who rely solely on the "stranger-danger" concept with their children, assuming that if their kids simply don't talk to a stranger, then all is well. A risky assumption because 90 percent of childhood molestation happens by someone the child knows--not a stranger. Unfortunately, there are plenty of nice kids in nice neighborhoods who have been victimized by a predator's tricks.
Okay everybody--BREATHE! This doesn't mean we can't trust anyone. Nor does it mean that we have to frighten our kids to teach them some common sense safety skills. But we do owe it to our children to arm them with the right kind of information and not bury our heads in the sand. We owe it to our children to give them a healthy sense of independence so that they'll be comfortable making important decisions for themselves later on in life.
What is needed is a sort of "middle ground" -- the ability to teach our kids that most people are good, but unfortunately, there can be others who don't have a child's safety or best interests at heart. And while the good outnumber the bad, there are still some important safety skills every kid should know.
1. It's a parent's job to help our kids learn to recognize unsafe situations or behaviors in others, especially when we aren't around to intercede. But we need to do so in a way that empowers our children with confidence and self-esteem.
2. Kids need an inner barometer that tells them when something or someone doesn't seem quite right. They won't be able to sharpen that skill if they're either suspicious of everyone or completely in the dark about the realities of personal safety. So much of personal safety relies on listening to one's instincts and taking action when necessary.
3. Not every stranger is waiting in the wings, ready to scoop up an unsuspecting child. Not every sports coach or teacher is a molestor or child predator.
Which brings me back to the topic at hand: a child or adult who fears everything is as much at risk as a child or adult who fears nothing, because in both instances, one's instinct is blurred. And in the end, instinct is one of our greatest protectors. Deny it long enough and it won't kick in anymore.
Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc. and provides non-fearful workshops and seminars to adults and children at schools, community organizations, and corporations throughout southern California. For more information, visit Safely Ever After.