Sometimes – more than I should admit – I find myself contemplating what I’d do if anything ever happened to my kids. I think this is a natural thought pattern for parents. Before becoming parents, we never had anything so precious, or that we feared so much to lose. But the thought comes more frequently these days, with each new report of a parent losing a child to one of the many dangers inherent in our society, whether through a school shooting, a bullying incident, or just a tragic accident.
I hate feeling powerless. Granted, everyday parenthood has a lot of powerless moments: fighting the temper tantrums when they were little; incentivizing them to want to work on their school work now that they’re older; bedtime, pretty much any day of the week. But are we truly powerless when it comes to keeping our kids safe?
In many ways, the answer is yes. Unless we keep our kids in a bubble, they are at risk every time they leave the house (and even while they’re in it). Freak accidents happen, and there are also bad and troubled people in the world, intent on doing harm and sometimes succeeding. But there are things we can do to help keep them safer – and to give ourselves some comfort that we’re being proactive about helping mitigate the new and prevalent dangers of the world we live in.
1. Kid-proof your house. Yes, we all baby-proofed when our kids first went mobile. (Quick confession: I still haven’t taken those cabinet lock things off my lower kitchen cabinets, even though my kids have been easily bypassing them for years.) But when was the last time you updated your safety protocols for the things your older kids could get into? Accidents are the leading cause of death for kids, so before you worry about stranger danger or really any other danger out there, take a look around the place where your kids probably spend the most unsupervised time: your home.
2. Teach kids about cyber-safety. Though we haven’t quite reached the point of Ready Player One just yet, access to the internet still exposes our kids to a whole new aspect of reality. Teaching them how to navigate cyberspace has become almost as important as teaching them real-world life skills. And as with most things, forming good habits early is a good way to get out ahead of potential issues.
3. Expose kids to basic self-defense. Everyone knows how big a fan I am of self-defense. And in my opinion, nobody has a greater need for it than parents and kids. (Personally, I can’t imagine a better reason to kill someone with my bare hands than if they threatened the safety of my kids.) Self-defense classes for kids can provide not only basic self-defense skills that could help them escape a potential threat, but are also a great way to practice self-discipline. (Here is an awesome video about using jiu-jitsu to prevent bullying.)
4. Get serious about body safety. One of the things I have always felt most powerless to fight against is the threat that my kids could find themselves victimized by sexual predators and convinced somehow that it’s ok, or that it’s their fault, or any number of the dreadful reasons you hear in stories of sexual abuse happening right under parents’ noses. That’s why I was so happy to learn about the new movement in teaching kids about body safety. There are tons of resources out there on the subject. If you haven’t already, check them out.
5. Talk realistically about stranger danger. Living in a city, my kids come in contact with a lot of strangers, in a variety of contexts, so giving them a blanket, “Don’t talk to strangers” admonition is not only impractical, it’s confusing. It’s important to get clear on the message of what is appropriate interaction with strangers, what isn’t, and which strangers can be trusted if they’re unsure of what to do. This article has great insights on how to talk realistically with kids about strangers.
6. Focus on responsibility. My personal motto when thinking about my kids’ safety is that since I know I won’t always be there to protect them in person, the best way to keep them safe is to teach them how to protect themselves. Teaching kids to recognize potential danger – whether it’s risk of an accident or risk of being harmed by another person – is the first step. Teaching them to be proactive about defending against those risks – even if it’s just by talking with trusted adults about things they’re unsure of – is the second. (And, of course, occasionally letting them fail, when it’s not life threatening, is the third.)
7. Supply kids with firearms. (Just kidding -- obviously.)
No, there is nothing we can do to absolutely ensure that our kids won’t fall victim to a tragedy – whether it’s a national tragedy or simply a tragic accident – assuming we also want them to have a full and satisfying experience of life. There are things we can – and should – do to mitigate the risks of living in the world today. But at the end of every day that includes news of another mass tragedy (which are becoming so impossibly frequent these days), the most important thing is to hold our kids close and appreciate that they are here.