This post is the third installment in a series covering life skills that are disappearing as our world technologically advances. As young adults find themselves struggling to learn self-care, social, and financial skills later in life, there is now a demand for such workshops and classes at the college-level. In some instances, technology has also created a need for new life skills that weren’t essential before. In this series, we will explore our top life skills and how your child can master them through fun activities. To follow this series, please subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media.
Should we teach children to always give others the benefit of the doubt? In many situations it is important to trust others, but it is just as important to empower children to identify those who aren’t trustworthy. Life skills such as spotting suspicious behavior, avoiding bullies and how to interact with risky people are even more important in a digital age. Today’s bullies and predators can pose as children online, wire finances, send computer viruses and blackmail with photos and videos. In light of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we’ve listed our top safety topics and methods to stay safe. Times are changing, and so the approach to being safe has changed too.
The Lesson: No More ‘Stranger-Danger’
“Kids are learning ‘stranger-danger,’ which is cute and it rhymes, but isn’t really effective,” says Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of Safely Ever After. “Most strangers are not dangerous… kids think a stranger is going to be somebody who is kind of scary-looking or scary-sounding, but statistically, if someone wants to harm a child they are not going to appear scary, they’re going to be charming, have an enticing offer, and seem friendly.” ‘Stranger-danger’ also teaches children to believe that only strangers are dangerous, when in fact, 90% of all childhood abuse occurs by someone the child already knows. Instead of teaching ‘stranger-danger,’ Fitzgerald believes that ‘tricky people’ are the adults children need to be aware of.
By understanding ‘tricky people,’ children can observe an adult’s behaviors and actions, and know if that person is untrustworthy. Rather than keeping an eye out for a fictional scary-looking stranger, children need to be aware of the person asking them to do something that may get them in trouble, provide confidential information, or just doesn’t add up. A safe adult who needs help will ask another adult for help. A tricky person is an adult who seeks a child for help. Last year, a family who instilled the concept of ‘tricky people’ in their sons made the news after successfully avoiding a dangerous situation.
The Lesson: Cyber Safety (cyber bulling, catfishing, security)
Digital safety is essential at this day and age, and there are many ways to help keep your children safe and empower them. Most computer classes focus on teaching typing and computer functions, without covering cyber safety. There are, however, fun interactive programs that teach cyber safety, such as the Carnegie Cyber Academy. This cyber academy trains children through missions, earned badges and secret quests to become ‘cadets’ that defend the internet. For a list of other fun activities used in classrooms and homes, eSchool News has a list of cyber safety activities that include: investigative role-playing, relevant analogies, gaming and more.
Children need to know that although computers are amazing tools for school work, they can also be tools for bullies and predators. Once a comment, photo or video is posted online, it should be assumed that it is public (despite your privacy settings) forever. Ask your child, “15 years from now, is that post something you would want your future manager or partner to see?”
Similarly to the concept of ‘tricky people,’ children can identify suspicious characters and emails online. People asking for personal information, or emails that declare you’ve won an amazing trip or sum of money, should not be engaged. Online challenges such as the cinnamon, duct-tape, or the Blue Whale suicide challenge are dangerous activities. Having regular dialogue about safety and good judgement will empower children to make good decisions when they encounter these situations. A great way to avoid cyberbullies, catfishing scams and online challenges is to not upload personal pictures, post personal information and to ignore and block these users. Avoid computer viruses by only downloading files a guardian has approved and installing malware protection. In addition to using safety settings, keeping the family computer in a central place in the home (and not the bedroom) is a great way to monitor computer activity. Using computers and smart phones are part of daily life for most people, and they can be helpful and fun when used wisely and in moderation.
The Lesson: Bullying
Teaching your child how to handle and resist bullying will help them with long-term stress management, problem-solving and communication. Although poking-fun amongst a group of friends is normal, excessive rude and hurtful comments, shunning, and relentless humiliation is bullying. It is important that children have at least one trusted adult that they can confide in, should they need to report a bully. Having a group of friends to travel with means safety in numbers and will boost a child’s confidence. When confronted by a bully, it’s important to know what to say. Practicing dialogue when responding requires standing straight, speaking firmly and with purpose. Self defense classes are also great for empowering children. These classes can be fun, provide new friendships, and give them the confidence they need to face anything that comes their way.
An important note is that bullies can be adults too. Many children with low self-esteem resort to bullying because they are bullied by adults or older children at home. Again, it is important that every child have a trusted adult they can confide in if they feel unsafe.
The Lesson: Unfamiliar Pets and Wildlife
Animal safety is one of the most underestimated safety topics, perhaps because it is assumed that if an animal is a pet, it must enjoy being touched by strangers. Contrary to that belief, you should never touch an unfamiliar pet without asking its owner first. Today, many dog owners are opting for brightly colored leashes and gear, labeled with ‘caution,’ ‘no dogs,’ and ‘friendly,’ to alert any passersby to ask before petting. Animals can have good days and bad days just like people, and sometimes they want to be left alone. Similarly to pets, children should also be aware that wild animals can be dangerous. Observing them from a distance is safer for both people and animals.
The Lesson: Safety Apps Help
Part of being safe is being prepared. They are many personal safety applications that can be downloaded onto a smart phone for those exposed to dangerous situations, in abusive households, or who just want to be prepared.
Apps such as Circle of 6, bSafe, and Red Panic Button are free for users and have similar features. Preset your emergency contacts and in some cases, your message, so if you feel unsafe your loved ones and emergency personnel will be contacted immediately. These apps will also notify everyone of your location and will sometimes discreetly began recording all audio after the alert is sent. Other apps such as SafeSnapp will take three photos of the assailant and send it along with your location to selected contacts.
Through fun activities, self defense classes and regular dialogue, children can learn how to be safe in a variety of situations. Giving your child the tools they need to be empowered around bullies will give them confidence, allowing them to have more positive experiences at school, online and at home. Because of this, teaching safety is an important life skill that will lead to a child’s independence and happiness. Stay tuned for our next installment of our life skills series!