Guest Author - Donna Johnson
Along with teaching your kids the proper actions to take to stay away from strangers or get away from a kidnapper, there are steps you can take to help keep your child safe as well.
As discussed in the Stranger Danger article, a potential predator can attempt to gain your child’s confidence by calling her by name. He may also pretend to know her or your family by stating facts she may think aren’t public knowledge. Such information can include the school she attends, the sports or activities in which she participates or her number on the team. If a stranger has targeted your child for even a short while, he may easily obtain this information from your family’s vehicle.
Bumper stickers advertising honor student status not only display your pride in your child, but let strangers know where he goes to school. Window decals featuring stick figures for each member of the family are popular, but give a stranger a lot of information with which to convince your child that he should know the person. A predator can name drop you, your spouse, the child’s siblings or even the family pet, all from viewing these decals. Some decals feature the child playing his favorite sport, even down to his number.
With information such as this, a stranger can easily convince some children that he is not actually a stranger. He can tell the child, “I went to school with your mom Susie/your dad Joe,” “My son/daughter is friends with your brother/sister Bobby/Sally,” or “I’m your soccer coach’s brother-Anyschool Wildcats rule!” It’s best to skip the bumper stickers and decals, or at the very least use generic ones that don’t list names at all.
Predators may also target children online, often gleaning the same information from social networking sites or by chatting with the child over time. You can protect your child by keeping all computers with Internet access in family areas of the home rather than private rooms such as bedrooms. Do not allow your child to open social media accounts until they are at least the minimum age required by the site, even if all her friends have one. This can not only ensure your child is more ready to navigate the sites in a safe manner, but that your child receives consistent messages about honesty from you. After all, if you say it’s OK to lie to Facebook about her age, aren’t some other lies OK, too?
Be guarded with your own Facebook account as well. Checking in to sites with your child or posting things like, “Just dropped off Sara at the mall and she told me not to come back for 5 hours, LOL!” alert others to your location as well as that of your child. Just like you shouldn’t post when you’re leaving your home unattended, you shouldn’t post when you’re leaving your child unattended. If you feel you must share this type of information online, make sure your page is completely locked down-no public access, including that by friends of your friends-should be allowed.
Monitor your child's cell phone and text usage as well, following the tips in my Sexting article. Predators have been known to send out random texts, rather like fishing, in hopes of hooking a child.