Your children are playing with their friends at the end of the street. You can hear their excited voices from the kitchen. However, you still glance out the window every few minutes to check if they are safe and worry if they disappear from view.
While incidents involving children being abducted or attacked are fortunately rare it is still every parent’s worst nightmare that something would happen to them.
The Gardai say parents should be alert to the dangers both young and older children may encounter. All of them can be vulnerable sometimes. Knowing how to cope with a potentially threatening or distressing situation, should one ever arise, will help empower them and boost their self confidence.
Experts advise against worrying children unduly or making them paranoid about their safety. Instead, they suggest having a general conversation and highlighting the risks of talking to strangers or accepting gifts or lifts. Children from four years onwards should be warned about the dangers which exist, they say.
Advice should be age-appropriate so it is important to explain things at their level. Simple skills, such as being able to state their name and address or look for a garda if they are lost or frightened, will help them should they encounter danger.
Older children, including teenagers, who may feel at risk when walking or travelling alone, will benefit from being able to recognise danger signs and knowing how to react to potentially threatening situations.
John Brawn, a west of Ireland based US trained assault prevention expert, says they should be encouraged to always be alert and walk with a sense of confidence and purpose.
“The more confident and aware you appear the less likely you will be singled out. If you walk with your head down listening to your earphones or grappling with shopping bags a potential attacker will know you are not alert.”
He urges young people to listen to their gut feelings or instincts. “These are important warning signs. Many times our instincts know we are in danger before our minds do. When you get a bad feeling about a place or a person don’t ignore it. If you feel threatened, take action. Leave the place, get away from the person, do whatever you have to do to be safe. Don’t be a easy target.”
Protecting young children
* They are always safer playing in groups than alone
* Do not allow them to play in secluded or dark places
* Find out where they are playing and ask them to play only in that place
* They should not involve unknown adults in their game
* Warn them against talking to adults they do not know
* Children should be cautioned against going off with adults without their parents’ permission, even when they are known to them
* Speak to them about good and bad touches
* Tell them to avoid talking to people they do not know when you are not around
* Encourage them to always seek out a garda if they need help
* Give them the self-confidence to assert themselves if they get a bad feeling about someone
* Tell them to be alert to someone taking undue interest in them
* If children lose their parents in a shopping centre advise them to go to a checkout or security office and say they are lost. Never just wander around.
* If they need to use a lift advise them only to use them with friends and not to feel embarrassed about getting out if they are uncomfortable with someone else being in there
* Get them to learn their address and telephone number by heart
* Try to keep your children within eye range when you are out together
* Tell them it is all right to say “no” if someone tries to hurt them. Many children think they should always do what adults ask them.
Advice for older children on staying safe
* If they are travelling alone on public transport tell them to sit near other families on the train or bus or near a door or exit. Avoid eye contact with other passengers. Read a magazine or book. If someone makes them feel nervous while travelling, move seat or carriage.
* If approached by a motorist acting suspiciously, advise them to run the other way. If they can, note the car’s registration number
* They should consider enrolling in a self-defence course
* Urge them not to take shortcuts through unlit areas, dark side streets or lonely parks. Keep to busy roads
* They should always tell their parents where they are going and what time to expect them home
* If they see someone who makes them feel nervous or uncomfortable, do not look at him/her as doing so may be interpreted as challenging them and they may respond. If they have to pass a group try to walk by as though they have not seen them. Advise your child not to allow himself/herself to be annoyed into commenting.
* Sit near the driver if travelling by bus at night
* If they are being followed head for the nearest place where there are people
* If someone tries to take something from your child advise them not to put up a struggle
* Tell them not to wait alone at deserted bus stops.
* Have their front door key ready to use as they approach home to prevent them fumbling in their bag or pocket on the doorstep.
* Encourage teenagers to walk facing oncoming traffic at night, if possible, to avoid the risk of a car sneaking up on them
* Do not wear headphones. They may not hear someone coming up behind them
* Walk confidently. Prospective attackers often pounce on uncertain, vulnerable people.
* Advise them to keep mobile phones and other valuables out of sight
* Stay alert if walking alone so they can see and hear what’s going on around them