A safety podcast!

Karissa Lightsmith of Lighthouse Montessori invited us to join her for a podcast last week and Jill was delighted to participate! It was a fun chat, summarizing Jill’s favorite safety high-points.

Listen here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/55562/365787-episode-6-safety-savvy-with-our-children

Categories : Misc.
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Safety is about authenticity.

That’s what I told a group of 5th-12th graders at summer camp last week.  “Safety is about authenticity.”  I was presenting information entitled “Safety … For Millennials.” But I opened with authenticity. Be authentic about who you are, where you want to go, who you want to be with and what you want to do. Trust your instincts. Follow your gut. Be authentic.

Surprisingly, they were engaged. And after a brief discussion on how I was probably shorter than most of the campers in the room, we made great progress! What can I say? I’m five-foot-nothing on a good day so I wore my tallest wedges to meet this group of kids. AAAANNNNND they totally called me out for wearing ridiculous footwear in a cabin setting!

I wanted them to learn the myths and facts of safety regarding kidnapping, trafficking, stranger danger, crime rates, and predators. Which they were already fairly knowledgeable about.

We talked (briefly) about general body safety. I had to work hard to overcome my preschool teacher past and tell them that their body is amazing and private. Instead we went with trust your own instincts to protect your body. When you get a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach … that is your brain telling you something is dangerous, or at least not right.

Instead of stranger danger we talked about “tricky people.” And learned about the red flags of someone who does not have good intentions towards you. We talked through different scenarios and things that an adult (or another kid) might do that would be a warning sign to you that they aren’t making safe choices.

This group of smarty-pant campers was surprised when I called them “digital natives.” To be fair, this was a group of students from the Snoqualmie Tribe. So they were like, “natives or natives?” And I was like, “You guys are KILLING me here! Digital natives!” So after dissecting the ins and outs of growing up in our technological world we worked through safety tips for using computers, tablets, smart phones and apps. Navigating the internet is a lifelong skill all students need. Doing it safely requires a bit of forethought and some solid decision making.

Being home alone is all fun and games until something goes SIDEWAYS! So we brainstormed through different potential problems that could arise. My final answer to them was, “We’ve covered a million scenarios … I’m not trying to tell you exactly what to do if the house is on fire, you get injured or a friend tries to come over. But I am going to tell you that staying home alone is your first foot in the door towards gaining more responsibility and more freedom. Think about it before hand. Know the rules. Follow the rules. If you get this right your parents will be impressed and more open to other things you would like to do.”

Sleepovers are fun. And horrible. And so likely to end in tears, or trouble, or grounding, or flashing lights! Good grief! Okay, but kids want to go to them anyway. So we discussed the questions to ask yourself beforehand and then how to get out of it if you are uncomfortable at any point during the night.

Our last topic of the day seemed to catch them off guard a bit. Protecting younger kids: they are annoying and you don’t really want to deal with them …. but those younger kids need your protection. So I buttered them up with compliments about their wisdom, knowledge and street smarts. (yup, I was totally laughing on the inside, but I said all of those things anyway!) I reminded them that you don’t have to be an adult to be a hero. Guard younger children, and know when to ask for help from a safe adult.

Guess what? As an adult, teacher and parent I already have three strikes against me. As far as teenagers are concerned.   And I told the kids that I know that and I get it. Sometimes your parents or teachers feel like the bad guy. They feel like the enemy. But when it comes to safety you’re going to need help from an adult. So if you won’t talk to one, you probably have at least one crazy friend who will. If something is going on, please tell that crazy friend.

So, this all makes it sound like I crushed it and the safety presentation was a huge success. That’s because I haven’t told you about our closing question and answer session yet. After I share all of my contact info with them and say …. “So, what questions do you have about any of that?”  nothing happened.  All the kids just sat there looking at me and each other. Until finally there was a brave boy in the back who raised his hand and asked a question:

“How old ARE you?!?”

That was the question from the group.  That was the only question they had for me after I poured out my heart and soul to them for 60 minutes.

Kids these days …… they’re …. awesome!

Even more awesome was the hand-made dream catcher I was gifted.  Many, many thanks to the Snoqualmie Tribe.  We are honored that you invited us to speak with your campers and so dang proud that people in the community are investing in our children and their safety!

dreamcatcher

 

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By Jill Goetz

Preschool and Early Educator Child Safety Specialist

The story has played out in the nightly news, in Glamour magazine and through online articles; Lucas Michael Chansler was sentenced to 105 years in prison after pleading guilty to nine counts of producing child pornography.  The FBI is currently searching for HUNDREDS of victims based on files and information found on his personal computer.  Two confirmed victims were located in the greater Seattle area, prompting local lifestyle show New Day Northwest to invite an FBI representative and yours truly, from Savvy Parents Safe Kids to discuss the impact social media is having on our children.  We were able to share an incredible amount of information regarding this case and why it is so newsworthy for all families, not just those in our neighborhoods.

The FBI released a long list of online names and email addresses Chansler used when posing as a 15 year old boy to befriend girls. Parents can’t help but wonder, “Why do so many teens fall for this ploy?”  The answer is remarkably simple:  teens and tweens today are digital natives.  They’ve grown up surrounded by laptops and smartphones, both at home and at school.  Where previous generations utilized written correspondence and talked on the telephone, teens today text and use online apps as their primary form of communication with each other.  Skye, FaceTime and webcams are normalized for them.  Chansler was a master manipulator who recognized the trend, and the vulnerability of teens, and used it to his advantage.

Please remember that the developing brain in adolescents doesn’t always sense or identify threats.  These victims did not see the danger in doing something as commonplace as chatting online with another teenager.  But they weren’t spending time with another teenager – they were being engaged by a cunning, predatory adult.  That’s why Chansler and other perpetrators are able to use ploys like this so successfully.

The victim who finally contacted the FBI and brought Chansler to justice repeatedly gave him compromising photos of herself.  Why?  Because he threatened to ruin her reputation and embarrass and shame her. She complied because she was afraid of her parents’ reaction and didn’t want to face their disappointment.

PARENTS – approach your kids and start talking about this now, before online relationships go beyond appropriate.  Everyone likes to think “not my kid.”  But the teens identified already in this case were good kids, average teens.  They were just like your kid.  Really.  Just like your kid.

Do you know how to talk to your child in a way that will make them feel safe sharing their experience?

Do not be surprised to find out your teen already knows all about the topic or has already experienced something similar online.  Kids don’t see these relationships as dangerous and will go to great lengths to hide them from you, along with being coerced by the perpetrator to maintain secrecy.  So you can’t wait for your teen to come to you.  They won’t.  Period.  They don’t want you to know that they messed up and they don’t want you to know how bad it is.  You have to be vigilant and earnestly monitor their online actions.  Sleuth around like it is your job.  Because it is!  Ultimately you want to find the way that your teen was talk openly with you.  It’s probably going to be something that does not involve making eye contact with you, because that can be intimidating.  So something like taking a walk – side by side, or talking across the table at game night, or even riding in the car where mom is in the front seat and they feel “safe” in the back seat.  These are all great times to start having short, daily, non-judgmental conversations about safety before there ever is a problem to begin with.  You don’t have a teenager at your house?  You’re kids aren’t even potty trained?  You’re still in luck!  Start having these conversations with your preschooler because it is so much easier to have difficult conversations later on, if this type of open communication is perceived as the norm in your family-culture.

My three year old uses my iPhone like a BOSS …

That’s because kids are accessing social media at increasingly younger ages. They handle smartphones, tablets, laptops and PC’s like itty-bitty professionals.  It’s like the Geek Squad lives at your house.  So, here are the tips you need to help children stay safe, and better monitor their online usage.

  1. COPPA is the Child Online Privacy Protection Act.  It has guidelines for social media websites and following the mandatory age for use.  Families need to adhere to those guidelines, no matter the argument given by your child.  And there will be many.
  2. We already know that home computers need to be in a public location, with parental controls, online monitoring software and that you need to know all of your teen’s passcodes for everything from You Tube, to online games and instant messaging.
  3. We want parents to understand that the internet is not a thing.  The internet is a place.  LET THAT SINK IN.  If you wouldn’t send your child to a mall full of pornographic stores, then they shouldn’t be unsupervised on the internet.
  4. When it comes to smartphones for tweens or teens our answer is simple … not before 8th grade.  Just don’t do it people!  A basic cell phone can provide the connectivity guardians are looking for.
  5. Parents should always have access to their teen’s phone and passcodes.  That’s easily done by designating that their phone charges in mom and dad’s room each night.
  6. If your teen already has a smartphone be sure to disable location services and enable privacy settings in each app.
  7. From our website, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, get the free download of Qustudio.  It will monitor everything on your teen’s Android phone or computer and let you know whether those apps and sites are appropriate or not.

No family is crime proof. We can however reduce risk. Talk to your kids, watch videos with them that show how easy it is for them to be tricked. Never give up, keep talking, keep snooping, use all the safety tools that are available to you.

www.SavvyParentsSafeKids.com

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*Author note: Before anyone gets their panties in a wad over this “article” I want to be super clear.. This is just an opinion. It just happens to be MY opinion. This is NOT a statement of how I think of your parenting. I don’t hate you. I just hate sleepovers. There is no guilt or judgment of those who love and adore sleepovers for their kids. This is merely a profanity laced opinion piece. I AM NOT JUDGING YOU. So pull your panties out of your crack. Relax and don’t take my rant personally. Because, really, it’s me. Not you.

I am not a “fan” of sleepovers (and by “not a fan” I mean I hate them. With capitol H). I. Hate. Them.

What parents want to believe happens at slumber parties…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Really Happens at Slumber Parties

 I have said this about a bazillion times over the past 7 years when I teach my parenting workshops on child safety. When the subjects of sleepovers come up, I can almost feel the tension in the room. People either love them or hate them. So when I am upfront about my dislike of sleepovers, the folks who love sleepovers often begin to staunchly defend this childhood tradition and pretty much think I am crazy. Or no fun. Or both.

Perhaps I am crazy, no fun or both. I could care less.

There was this blog a while back that mentioned a “seminar that advises against sleepovers”. Although I was not specifically mentioned, I knew it was probably my seminar she was talking about. She was shocked. Then I was lumped in with all the other folks who are “sucking the fun out of childhood” She obviously did not agree with me. That’s cool to disagree but labeling someone as “Sucking the fun out of childhood” because of  safety concerns. Not cool. The blogger of course had fond memories of her shenanigans at sleepovers and hoped that her kids have the same experience. I hope they do too. Her kids also looked to be under 9 years old. Sleepovers can be cute when they are 9. They can be a nightmare once they hit middle school.

Coincidentally, not even a week after that blog was posted, a parent from a workshop shared that her sister in law happened upon two 14 year old cousins making out at the big cousin’s sleepover party at a recent family reunion. Let’s take a minute for that to sink in. Shall we? The cousins were making out.

Making. Out. (That means tongue folks).

Horror abounded of course. Yet, another parent who was also standing there listening to this whole story being told, chimed in with her own cringe worthy stories about “kissing cousins”. Apparently this is a thing.

Yuck.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I have not tried to embrace sleepovers. I have both hosted and attended sleepovers (as a host parent and as a child attendee). I have experienced them to the fullest. The good. The bad. The ugly. A pathetic lack of sleep and a candy hangover in the morning was the least of my worries. It was the fact that some of those sleepovers ended so badly they included (but were not limited to) general kid shenanigans and/or eventually leading to police involvement. 

I had sleepovers as a kid and my relationship with them has always been complicated.

Truly, I LOVED the IDEA of the sleepover, but often was left not wanting to return to a particular house because I began to realize that people don’t even remotely try to hide their crazy when someone else’s kid is at their house. I slept in houses that I felt were “dirty” (There is a word for it now. We call it hoarding), there were homes where I was scared of the dad (turns out he was beating the $h!t out of the mom and kids) or there was just REALLY LOUD arguing going on.  All. Night. Long.

I began to realize that sleepovers nearly ALWAYS put me in some sort of predicament that I needed better skills at getting out of. Most of the time I failed.

Now before you think that my parents were not on top of things by not vetting these homes out before I went over, you need to remember this was the 1970’s and it was a classic example of don’t ask / don’t tell. The families looked “normal” on the outside and my parents were not trained to ask about such personal stuff and I just did not think about telling. Boom. Train wreck sleepovers in the making.

Middle school sleepovers were just a hot mess of mean girls.  However, a particular highlight at one house, was the hot “older” guy (he was probably 25 years old) with a bitchin’ Camaro who lived next door to my friends’ single mom and let us talk to him in his yard until the wee hours of the morning. WTF? 

By high school I liked sleepovers a LOT more and for all the wrong reasons. There was little sleep and lots of fun. “Fun” should be specifically translated to mean boys, parties, drinking, etc.. This, coming from a kid who was pretty much a goody two shoes. Even being the goody two shoes, I managed to get my kicks and it was always during a “sleepover”. It did not matter if the parents were strict or lax in their rules. We found a way. They always find a way.

If my own experiences were not enough to put the final decision nail in the sleepover coffin for my kids, it only took me about 3 months of teaching child safety to really hate them. Wanna know why? Parents share stuff with me. Terrifying stuff.

Here is the top ten list of the most commonly reported issues that crop up during sleepovers. These have been shared with me, by parents within the last 6 months. Typically kids between ages 11 and 14. In no particular order of horror. Here they are:

 

Making out. (Same sex, opposite sex, kissing cousins)

Porn. Lots and lots of it.

Chatting on chat roulette sites with naked people.

Mean girls/bullying. Lots and lots of it.

Sending naked pictures of themselves and sexting that would make you blush (boys and girls)

Sneaking out

Stealing cars

Drinking and Smoking pot

Molestation

Vandalism (This seemed to be exclusive to boys)

I get it. There are lots of places where kids can seek danger. Sleepovers are not the only cesspools of trouble out there. I am not saying all sleepovers are full of inter-family make out sessions and car thefts but I think that all parents need to be open minded to the fact that sleepovers DO present special and unique opportunities for debauchery and rule breaking. Sleepovers are a magical mix where there are extended periods of time where the kids are together, hopped upon caffeine and sugar (Plotting and planning) combined with being totally unsupervised. Be real. Parents will not be hovering over the kids  between 12 AM and 5 AM.  In fact, even during the awake hours the parents are probably upstairs having a cocktail and trying to drown out the awful music and incessant noise coming from the kids.  Kids are tricky and determined and will find a way to get to the fun, even at “respectable homes” where “responsible parents” take away the electronics, or whose kids are straight “A” students. Danger looks like fun, sounds like fun and IS FUN. Kids like fun. Heck, remember how much goody two shoes me liked fun?  “Fun” crosses all demographic and socioeconomic lines.  So I think the less you stop thinking “My kid won’t like that kind of fun” and embrace the “My kid is gonna probably really like that kind of fun” you won’t be shocked when you get wind of the sleepover bullshit that transpired 3 weeks ago at little Johnny’s house or YOUR house. For the love of sweet baby Jeezuz, Stuff even went down at MY house! 

Simply put, it’s smart to assess sleepovers like you would any activity your child does and decide if you are comfortable with that particular risk. My kids think I am a jerk sometimes for not letting them go to sleepovers. I am TOTALLY OK being the asshole parent about this. However, I am their hero since I am totally OK with letting them ride bikes in the neighborhood, stay home alone and eat a shit ton of their candy at Halloween. There are other parents who are not comfortable with that risk and that is OK !! Those parents might love sleepovers and that is OK too.

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Millions of children across the country are returning to school.   For parents, children and commuters, sharing the road requires extra caution.  It is important for motorists to compensate for children’s underdeveloped skills.  For example, children have only two thirds of the peripheral vision that adults have.  They have difficulty determining the source of a sound and are still learning to judge distances and speeds.  When a car is coming towards them, they can’t judge how fast it is traveling or how long it will take to cover the distance.    They tend to overestimate their abilities and think they can run across the street before the light changes or a car approaches.  Crossing guards, reduced speed limits, and traffic laws all aim to make getting to and from school safer.  In addition, here are a few back to school tips for motorists.

  1. Be on the lookout for and obey school crossing guards.  You may only see them for a few hours a day, but they have one of the most important jobs in public service.  Years ago, older elementary school children were given an orange safety belt and sent out to the streets to help younger children safely cross the street.  Today, most crossing guards are adults and receive classroom training and certifications in order to perform this important job. The safety patrol members guarding the crosswalk are there to direct the students, not the traffic. It is a driver’s responsibility to stop to allow pedestrians to cross in a crosswalk.

 

 

  1. Obey School Speed Zones.  School zone speed limits are often, but not always, only applicable during posted weekday hours near the beginning and ending of school when children are likely to cross roads. In some jurisdictions, the school zone speed limit is effective at all times when school is in session, plus additional time before and after the school day. Flashing amber lights often indicate when the school zone is effective.  School speed zone laws vary from state to state, but in nearly all cases, fines for violating school speed zones are doubled.
  1. Be Attentive.  Most drivers would never intentionally speed in a school zone or pass a stopped school bus, but if you’ve ever driven to work and don’t recall getting there, you know how easy it is to daydream, get caught up listening to music, or in states that still allow cell phone usage in cars, become distracted while in a phone conversation.

 

  1. Know the Law For Passing a School Bus.  According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation, nearly 100,000 school bus drivers reported 88,000 vehicles passed their buses illegally in a single day. Each state has different laws concerning when it is legal/illegal to pass a stopped school bus.  Find out whether you are required to stop for a bus in the same lane, opposing lane or at an intersection in this state summary of driver’s handbooks.  Remember, children walking to or from their bus are usually very comfortable with their surroundings. This makes them more likely to take risks, ignore hazards or fail to look both ways when crossing the street.
  2. Heed the Crosswalks.  Generally, pedestrians have the right-of-way at all intersections; however, regardless of the rules of the road or right-of-way, you as a driver are obligated to exercise great care and extreme caution to avoid striking pedestrians. Don’t block the crosswalk when stopped at a red light or waiting to make a turn. Blocking the crosswalk forces pedestrians to go around your vehicle and puts them in a dangerous situation.

 

Tips for Parents:

 

  1. Comply with local school drop-off and pick-up procedures for the safety of all children accessing the school. At arrival and dismissal times, drivers are often in a hurry and distracted which can lead to unsafe conditions for students and others walking, bicycling and driving in the area.
  2. Avoid loading or unloading children at locations across the street from the school. This forces youngsters to unnecessarily cross busy streets—often mid-block rather than at a crosswalk.
  3. If you park on the side of the road, always have your child exit the car on the side away from traffic.
  4. If your children ride a bike, scooter or skateboard to school remind them that they must walk the bike or scooter or carry the skateboard across the crosswalk. If they roller skate or rollerblade to school, they must remove the skate or blades and walk across the crosswalk, as well.
  5. If your child rides a school bus, be sure check out our School Bus Safety Tips.

How do your driving habits change once school is in session?

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It sneaks up on you… the day arrives and your child asks “Pleeease! I don’t want to go to the store with you… can I stay home instead?”  This can be an exciting (and scary) time for both parent and child (mostly scary for the parents!). This is a popular question in our workshops…. “Is my child ready?” and “What is the age law on children staying home alone?”

Many parents think the “law” is age 12. So it comes as a surprise to find out that in most states there is no age “law” minimum for kids staying home alone, just recommendations. The “recommendation” for each state can vary from ages 8 to 12, but these recommendations are not a law.

Only you can determine if your child is ready (and the situation is safe) to stay home alone… we have complied a partial list* with some good questions to help get you started and help you gauge the maturity and readiness of having your child staying home alone for short periods of time:

  • Does your child know how to dial 911?
  • Does your child know your full name and address?
  • Does your child know how to operate the phone correctly?
  • What are your rules regarding cooking or playing outside when you are gone?
  • Can your child respond correctly to “What if” situations such as “What if the power went out?” or “What if there was a fire?”.
  • Have you reviewed your rules on answering the phone or the door if you are not home?
  • What are your rules about having friends over?
  • Does your child show an interest or confidence in staying home alone?
  • If your child will be watching a sibling, do they get along?
  • Will a younger sibling respect the rules and authority of the older sibling?
  • Does your child know what to do if they become injured while home alone?
  • Can your child lock and unlock the door to your home?
  • Is your child physically capable and physically healthy enough to stay home alone?
  • What specific dangers might your child face? Would they know how to handle them?

Common parent myths and missteps:

  • Telling your child to not answer the door. When you  are not home, your child  should not OPEN the door but should always “ACKNOWLEDGE” the door by answering through the locked door, in a loud voice “Who is it? “I can’t help you” and then just walk away. You just want to make sure that the person on the on the other side of the door knows someone is home. If someone is casing your home to rob it, the last thing you want is for them to think your home is empty and to then have your child find themselves in a home invasion.
  • No Friends over. Some kids do better when they have a home alone buddy. If there is an emergency, both kids can work together to make a safe decision.
  • Older Siblings make great built in babysitters: Staying home alone is a big deal for many kids and it often takes some time for them to get the hang of knowing what to do and feeling confident being home alone. It is often best to wait 6-12 months before leaving an older child home with a younger sibling. This waiting period can be even longer if the younger sibling is an infant or toddler, if the younger sibling is hard to manage, has special needs or may not respect the family safety rules or if the siblings don’t have a history of getting along.
  • Daytime home alone is the same as nighttime home alone readiness: It is common for kids to be comfortable being home alone during the day but nighttime home alone readiness might not happen for a while. This is normal and time and confidence will help them prepare for being home alone after dark.

 

Be clear about your expectations before you leave. Leave a list of emergency contact numbers for your child and go over a list of homes or businesses they can go to if they need to seek help. When you return home make sure to ask how things went and if there is anything that can be done next time to improve the experience for both of you.

 

About the Author:  Kim Estes is the owner of Savvy Parents Safe Kids and has worked with parents for over 15 years, educating them on various parenting topics. Kim is a certified prevention educator through the National Security Alliance, the Kid Safe Network and is a Darkness 2 Light facilitator. As a Child Safety Expert, Kim has appeared on local and national TV and Radio shows, helping to raise awareness on the importance of prevention education. For more information about her work or to schedule a workshops go to:  www.savvyparentsafekids.com

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It’s the start of the new school year and for most kids and parents, it’s an exciting time!  It’s about reuniting with friends, meeting the teacher, and shopping for school supplies.  For nearly 23 million children, it also means riding the bus.  According to NHTSA, http://www.nhtsa.gov/School-Buses school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in the U.S.  Nonetheless, there are several things we can teach our kids that will ensure safe travel to and from school.  Here are a few school bus safety tips.

The Bus Stop

  • Leave plenty of time to get to the bus stop.  Don’t run, and stay on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left, facing traffic.  Plan to arrive 5 minutes before your designated pick time.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings.  Don’t be distracted by using handheld games or listening to music on headphones.
  • Once at the bus stop, stay a safe distance from the street.  No running or playing around.
  • Do not talk to any strangers or get in their car.  Immediately alert a parent or a known adult if a stranger tries to talk to you or tries to pick you up.
  • Wait for the bus to arrive and the stop sign to be extended.  Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop and the driver tells you it is safe to get on board.
  • Always remain 10 steps away from the bus where the driver can see you.  Never go behind the bus.
  • Keep all of your loose items in your backpack.  Ask the driver for help if you drop something.

 On the Bus

  • Once on the bus, go directly to your seat and sit facing forward.  Always remain seated when the bus is moving.
  • Do not stick your head or hands out the bus window.  Never throw anything out of the bus.
  • Talk quietly and always respect the bus driver.  Follow all of their instructions.
  • Keep the aisles and emergency exits clear.  Keep your backpack on your lap.

Exiting The Bus

  • Only get off on your designated stop.  Do not go home with friends unless it has been prearranged with your parents and the school.
  • When you exit the bus take 5 giant steps (10 feet) away from the bus.  Stay away from the bus and look for cars.
  • If you drop something, alert the bus driver before trying to retrieve it.  If you forget something on the bus, do not attempt to go back to the bus as the driver may not see you and the bus may start moving.
  • Always cross the street in front of the bus.  Never go behind it.

For Parents

  • Whenever possible, walk your child to and from the bus stop.  Wait for the child to be safely on the bus before leaving.
  • Introduce yourself and your child to the bus driver.  Schools usually provide plenty of assistance at the beginning of the year to make sure kids get on the correct bus after school, but knowing the bus driver will help reassure your child that they are on the right bus.
  • Report any concerns about the safety of the operator or the bus to school officials.

Looking for a fun way to teach your kids about school bus safety?  Check out the Pennsylvania DOT activity booklet that includes crossword puzzles, coloring pages and word searches to reinforce the safety message.

Riding the bus can be fun, but for young children, it can be a little scary until you get in a routine.

The buses for elementary and middle school run close together in my neighborhood.  Years ago on the second day of school, I put my son on the bus in the morning, only to get a call a half hour later from the school letting me know that he had boarded the middle school bus and not the one that would take him to the elementary school.  He was a big 4th grader so the bus driver didn’t notice.  My son laughs about it today, but back then it left us both a bit shaken.  After that we were much more diligent about identifying both the driver and the bus number.

About the Author, Marcia Ensley 

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Back to school preparation has started. We are spending lots of money, and endless hours, shopping for clothes, back packs and other back to school essentials. We fret over how to prepare healthy lunches and snacks. We update forms and we make appointments for haircuts and check ups.

Yet, we often overlook updating our tweens safety skills.

I wish adults would fret a bit more about their child’s safety health. That we would update and replace old safety skills with the promptness that we replace worn backpacks and outgrown clothing.

The “Tween” years are defined as those years “in between”. They are not little kids anymore but are not teenagers either. The ages of 8-12 represents a huge leap for kids and their parents. Back to school is a critical time to review and replace your tweens growing safety needs. Plan ahead now and your won’t be as likely to be caught off guard later.

Here are some basic tween safety skills that parents should be thinking about, talking about and practicing with their tween:

Checking In:  Tweens start to crave more independence from their parents and most noticeably parents will no longer be hanging out with their Tween at play-dates (oh, I was also informed by my Tween that they no longer refer to them as “play dates” either). Tweens will often start wanting to explore their neighborhood without a grown up tagging along.  This can be nerve wracking for parents but this kind of independence is a normal developmental milestone for tweens. Start practicing having your child “Check in” if the plan changes while they are at a friends house or if they are out and about in the neighborhood. Checking in helps you know and understand what they are doing and with whom.

Role Play:  Your tween will begin to experience more risky peer situations. Even if your child is a “rule follower” or has “good friends” or is “active in school, church or sports” they are going to experience risky peer situations where they may be asked to break the rules or your tween will be with peers who ARE breaking the rules or engaging in risk taking behaviors. Help give your Tween some good scripts on how to get out of these situations, present different scenarios that may happen and help them have tools and an escape plan to get them out of the situation. Also, let your Tween know that they can still come to you after the fact and talk to you about what happened.

Safety to and from School: Your Tween may want to start walking home from school and/or the bus stop. Evaluate your Tweens readiness by making sure they are able to stick to a regular (and populated) path. Will they come straight home or become distracted? What are the specific risks to your child? Traffic, high crime area, busy street to cross? Only YOU can determine if your child is ready to go it alone or with a buddy. If you have decided that they can start walking to and from school on their own, make sure that you practice a preferred route, identify homes and /or businesses they can go to if they need assistance. Take a buddy whenever possible and remind them to NEVER approach or get into a car with anyone, even if they know the person, without checking in first with you.

Asking questions: This is the time for parents to  really step up their game and start asking more thoughtful and engaged questions about what is happening in their Tweens life.  When your child is going to be spending time with other families, be sure to ask “what is the plan?” and “who will be watching the kids?”.  Some Tweens at this age are seasoned at staying home alone. Others are not.  The same goes for movies, games and internet access. Your comfort level about kids being home alone and your family rules about internet access and games may not be the same as someone else. If you have concerns, then talk to the adult in charge about your concerns. Also be thoughtful in asking your child open ended questions about their day, their interests and what their plan is when they are going to a friends house.

As a parent of Tween and a full fledged teenager, I can fully attest to the fact that the more we talked about safety expectations for back to school, the better things went. Tweens will test boundaries, rules will be broken, there will be many opportunities to discuss how things could be handled differently next time. Yet, by the end of the school year, in spite of some uncomfortable moments and deep pits in my stomach, we got through. We learned that the safety net we provided at the beginning of the school year was the most powerful investment we made in our back to school preparations.

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Summer Safety Strategies for All!

Spring is here. The weather can be fickle one moment offering us a promise of summer with a warm sunny day or bringing us rain clouds that seem more like we are in October still. As our days grow longer and the weather eventually gives way to sunny skies, we will be drawn to the outdoors and all the great adventures that summer has to offer. This is a great time to look at how your family’s safety needs have changed since last summer and begin to talk with your children about summer safety.

Ages 2-5

  • Practice learning their phone number in case they get lost or separated from you
  • Practice finding a safe mom (or other grown up) with kids if they need assistance
  • Remind kids to make sure they have their safe grown up with them when talking to new people!

Age 6-9

  • Review healthy boundaries and let them know that is it is OK to say “NO!” if someone is making them uncomfortable.
  • Remind them to check in before taking off around the block on their bike or skateboard.
  • Talk about who the safe grown ups are in their life
  • Never accept a ride from ANYONE (even if you know them!) without checking in first.

Ages 10-13

  • Start looking at their readiness to stay home alone for short periods of time
  • If you are considering a cell phone for your child, summer is a great time to “practice” having this new tool and it will also allow for some of the novelty to wear off before school begins in the fall.
  • Remind them to take a buddy with them when they are out and about in the neighborhood.
  • Never accept a ride from ANYONE (even if you know them!) without checking in first.

As always, continue to keep the conversation going with your kids and never use scare tactics when talking about safety. Keeping the conversation simple and short is best

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I try to post a little safety nugget on my Savvy Parents Safe Kids Facebook Page every day. Today’s tip was this:

Let your children know that sometimes, they may have to ask several adults for help before they actually get the help they need. Teach your child that it is OK to move on to another adult if the first (or second or third) adult cannot (or does not) help them when they are asking for help. You would be very surprised at how many parents “blow off”, “dismiss” or don’t even give a child the chance to express their concerns. Adults will often dismiss a child for “tattling” or “making things up” or “being mistaken”.
After I posted the tip, it got me to thinking about how as a society we are continually surprised when adults often ignore red flags, dismiss their gut feelings when something is clearly wrong and are terrified to speak up and SAY SOMETHING. ANYTHING. That is, until something REALLY BAD happens. Then it’s too late.

We should not be surprised, as we have conditioned entire generations with the notion that “tattling” is very bad. So don’t do it. Ever. This kind of thinking is exactly what criminals thrive on to keep committing their crimes. Criminals count on you to not report suspicious activity, to be afraid to follow your gut and to be embarrassed to speak up. Even worse? They count on you to dismiss a child’s concern or fear. We have conditioned people to be afraid to speak up.

What we need to do is help kids (and adults) understand the difference between tattling just to get someone in trouble versus reporting potentially unsafe behavior. We need to teach children and adults to become listeners and not dis-missers. That being empowered is more important than being embarrassed.

I have told both my children that they can go to as many adults as needed to get help. If that fails, they should call me immediately. Once, during a play date, one of my kids was being de-panted by another kid. Repeatedly. My child went to several moms to complain. Every single mom told my child “Now, don’t be a tattler” or to “just go back and tell them to stop”, “go work it out on your own, I don’t want to hear tattling” or the worst…. “Well what do you expect if you get them all riled up by playing rough?”. Seriously.

I got a phone call immediately.

You would think that by all the opinions and sharing that people do on social media that we would not be afraid to speak up but sadly, when it comes to really standing up and speaking up in person, many people just can’t do it.

I know that when we are raising kids it can get old hearing a child continually telling/tattling on other kids. I get it. However, we need to guide and teach kids the difference between tattling on someone to just for the sake of getting that person in trouble versus teaching a child to be a responsible mandatory reporter for safety. Kids who learn to be responsible reporters become adults who will listen to concerns and understand the importance of being a mandatory reporter.

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