By Jamie Thompson
As parents, we want to do everything possible to keep our children safe. This is especially true when it comes to school, where they spend a significant amount of time each day. There are a number of things you can do to help protect your kids at school, both physically and emotionally.
Walking to School or the Bus Stop
If your child lives close enough to school or the bus stop, consider letting them walk! It will improve their mood and performance at school, and they’ll form great memories and friendships along the way. However, it’s important to make sure they can do so safely.
- Map out a safe route. Walk or bike the route with your child a few times before they start going on their own. This will help you identify any potential hazards along the way, such as busy streets, construction, or secluded areas.
- Teach your child to be aware of their surroundings. They should put their phone away and never walk or bike wearing headphones, so they can be aware of what’s going on around them. Remind them that it’s safest to be where lots of people can see them, and explain why they should never take shortcuts.
- Create and practice an emergency plan. Create an age-appropriate plan for what to do in an emergency. You don’t want to scare your kid, but it may be helpful to role play a few scenarios on one of your walks together.
- Arrange a walking crew. Find out who else in your neighborhood walks to school or the bus stop, or if there’s already a group your child can meet up with. Younger children should never walk alone; if a buddy can’t be arranged, consider walking with them yourself.
- Make sure they know key contact info. They should know their address and both parents’ phone numbers. This is important even if they have a phone, because phones can run out of battery or get misplaced.
Bullies and Social Media
We can’t completely shield our kids from the dangers of bullies and social media, but there’s a lot we can do.
- Know your kid’s crowd. This is the number one thing you can do to get ahead of the inevitable conflicts your child will encounter at school. Get to know their friends and friends’ parents, and always know where they’re going and who they’re with – this is important at every age.
- Make your home the place to be. This is an especially great tip for parents of teens. Create a “chill pad” in the basement or den; set up board games, a minifridge, snacks, and a gaming system. Keep in mind that teens desperately want independence, and won’t have their friends over if you hover.
- Talk to your child about bullying. Make sure they know what bullying is, and that they should tell you if they are being bullied. Empower your child to assert themselves when it’s physically safe to do so, and to get help if they ever feel threatened. Teach your younger kids the difference between bullying and lesser offences like teasing, and strategies for dealing with both.
- Set social media boundaries. Remind your child that people only put their best moments online, which can make us feel “less than.” Social media can also make us feel excluded, because every little get-together gets posted online these days. Give your child a realistic perspective about social media, and set boundaries for its use. This could include things like turning in phones after dinner, not friending strangers, and installing a parental monitoring app.
These days there are plenty of safety gear options for children and teens. Here are a few I’d recommend:
- GPS tracking devices. These devices are small and affordable, and can help you track your child's location in an emergency. Be sure to put it in or on something that is likely to stay with your child, such as a shoe sole or interior pocket, or consider purchasing a wrist model.
- Personal alarms. Personal alarms are like pepper sprays for kids; they’re safe, but great at scaring away a bully or attacker. Get one with a keyring that can be attached to backpacks.
- Bulletproof backpack or insert. Tragically, this is now a product worth considering. There are many options available in various price ranges, including inserts for any regular backpack. Teach your child how to use it, but explain that it’s like fire insurance; we buy it even though the odds of needing it are very low.
By following these tips, you can help keep your kids safe at school. Above all, keep communication open and model safe behavior. By working together, you can help create a safe and positive school year for your child!