Whether you go by the date on your wall calendar, the weather outside or the solstice cycle, there is no denying that summer is almost here.
With summer comes vacation, visits with friends and ventures to all variety of parks and public spaces. And while barbeques, ball games and roller coasters often represent the playfulness of youth, tragedies can and do happen.
The three women recently rescued in Cleveland were all teenagers when they were kidnapped from the same neighborhood. The tragic stories of Shawn Hornbeck, Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, among others, still resonate deeply as examples of the horrors that come at the hands of child predators.
All it takes is a few simple steps to keep your kids safe this summer.
Our research revealed a bevy of safety tips for parents looking to protect their families in public spaces. Many of the tips we found were common sense – i.e., "plan a place to meet if you get separated" and "show your kids the information desk and instruct them to ask questions there." But we identified seven tips that we deemed either extremely useful or completely original. If there is a foolproof method or technique you use, let us know in the comments below.
1. Create an identification kit for each child
The USAA Educational Foundation provides a myriad of tips for keeping kids safe in all situations but creating an identification kit – and updating it annually – seems like a no-brainer. USAA suggests the following items to be included:
- A recent color photograph of your child's face
- A detailed description (e.g. height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc.)
- A list of identifiers for your child (e.g. eyeglasses, braces, birthmarks, freckles, disabilities, permanent scars, pierced ears, etc.)
- Names and phone numbers of your pediatrician, dentist, orthodontist and other physicians
- A fingerprint card (can be obtained from your local law enforcement agency)
- A DNA sample (DNA collection kits may be available from your local pharmacy or police department)
2. Use safety tats
Referred to on its website as “the tat that brings kids back,” Safety Tats are temporary tattoos that contain a child’s contact information and all relevant details regarding allergies, special needs and medical alerts. They last between 1-5 days and are sweatproof and waterproof. The best part: Safety tats are completely customizable to include whatever information you choose.
3. In the absence of safety tats, use extra luggage tags
One user on the popular Nickelodeon blog Parents Connect suggests grabbing extra luggage tags from the airport, writing down all relevant information and attaching them to young children before entering large public places.
“I started to panic because I was worried the kids would get separated from us. Since they are little and barely know their phone numbers,” she writes. “I tied the tags to the belt loops on their shorts. This way, if they were lost, someone would be able to call us instantly on our cell phones without wasting time.”
She also reminds parents to always include a mobile phone number. “A home phone number is not useful if you’re out combing the streets.”
4. Can you see me?
Parent, writer and life coach Diana Fletcher used to use psychology to make sure her kids were always safe when they were young. “One rule I used with the kids when they were younger is they had to be able to ‘see me’ as opposed to ‘I need to be able to see you.’ It made more sense to them,” she says.
She also role-played situations with her children including how potential predators might approach them in friends’ homes.
Finally, she put a twist on the strategy of whom to approach if her children did get lost. “In a shopping mall, for example, I always told them to approach a woman for help, preferably one with kids,” she says. “A woman will not leave a child or just drop them off with a security guard.”
5. Dress intelligently for public places
First, have your children dress in brightly-colored clothing before heading out to theme parks, ball games or other large public spaces. This makes them easily identifiable in crowded spaces – both to you and potential witnesses.
Second, make sure your children don’t wear any clothing that has their name or birthday on it. According to New York Magazine, children are more likely to trust an unfamiliar adult who calls them by name.
6. Counsel your kids
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recently released a list of safety tips for amusement and theme parks. Among the most useful information is to “remind children it’s OK to say 'no' to anything that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Teach children to tell (their parents) if anything or anyone makes them feel this way.”
NCMEC also recommends teaching kids the phrase, “This person is not my mother/father” and role play hypothetical situations in which this would be an appropriate response.
7. Gain a technological advantage
Given the fact that 129.4 million Americans – 55 percent of market penetration – own smartphones, the likelihood that they’re prevalent within a family is better than average. And while downloadable apps offer the newest games, cutting-edge graphics and a plethora of ringtones, they can also be lifesavers. Here are four that every parent should have:
- Sex Offender Search – Find out how safe your community really is. This app provides immediate access to the National Sex Offender Registry.
- Family Tracker – This app uses GPS to track any Android or iOS device and has the capability to force a sound when the phone is in vibrate or silent mode. And, users can send a “stealth ping” which forces an automatic location update of the device without the holder of the phone being notified.
- Near Parent – This app allows parents to build a safe, secure network of trusted individuals around the neighborhood that are authorized to help their children in an emergency. Parents can also set locations – e.g. home, school or park – which sends an alert to parents if their children leave unexpectedly.
- Crime Push Security – This award-winning app allows users to report crime or be alerted to dangerous situations in real-time. Key functions include school/university emergency notification; discrete distress messaging; check-in notification; and shake alert.