We think it’s important that children are aware of how to keep themselves safe when they are playing away from home or hanging out with their friends. Detective Sergeant Elaine McCormill, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch, has some good advice to share…
We’ve all been saying this past while about the great stretch we are now seeing in the evenings, which is brilliant for getting our children outside to enjoy the fresh air and burn off some energy. If your children are at an age where you are happy for them to go and play without adult supervision, it makes sense to sit them down and go over a few things. Years ago we would have called it ‘stranger danger’ but for young people nowadays it’s all about having ‘street smarts’.
As with everything in the parenting world, it’s about striking a fine balance; you want them to be aware of the potential dangers that exist out there, but you don’t want to scare them either. It’s about equipping them with the knowledge and confidence to assess a situation and then make the right call.
You may want to go over a few scenarios with them and ask them to point out the potential risks before guiding them on what the best course of action would be. Here are a few topics to get you started:
- You are walking home and a car pulls up. The driver says they are looking for directions and could you come over to the car to help.
- You are going out with your mates in the town centre. An older teenager approaches you and invites you to a party at his flat.
- You have just left school for the day and a car pulls up driven by a woman. She says that your mum has asked her to come get you because there is an emergency at home.
Our advice in any of these situations would be to encourage the child to not engage conversation and to keep walking. If they feel unsure, they should seek out a known place of safety; their school, a friend’s house or if they have access to a mobile phone they can ring a family member.
It is important, that these types of incidents are looked at in perspective – approaches to children are thankfully rare – however all parents should speak to their children about the importance of keeping safe and not speaking to strangers.
It is also important that parents take the time to explain how important it is for their children to stick together and not leave a friend or sibling on their own.
And it’s not just the real world where our young people can be confronted by strangers.
If your children are at an age where they have access to smart phones, computers, tablets or online gaming then the safety messages are equally as relevant. A stranger doesn’t have to be physically present to be a danger.
Be intrusive about what your children are up to online and make sure you talk to them about how they use their social networks or any other accounts. Give strong consideration to setting up parental controls on devices connected to the internet to restrict the kinds of sites they can access. If your son or daughter enjoys online gaming or messaging sites then make sure it’s someone they know – not everyone online is who they say they are.
The best safeguard against online dangers is being informed. Learn the basics of the internet and find out more about social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Read articles, take a class and talk to other parents. You don’t have to be an expert to have a handle on your child’s online world.
Find free expert advice at getsafeonline.org