If you think you'll be the one to break the news about Sandy Hook or high-profile abductions to your kids once they're old enough, think again. Family psychologist Rebecca Bailey says media-savvy children are exposed to tragedy sooner than we assume.
A culture of avoidance at home can keep kids from learning the skills they need to avoid dangers like kidnapping and abuse. Bailey explains on Think how parents can shift the focus from “stranger danger” or fear to empowering children.
1. Make awareness a game for younger kiddos.
“Be alert. The world needs more Lerts,” Woody Allen once said. Bailey has taken that phrase and made a way for kids to snap into their surroundings at the mall or the grocery store. Before you go out, tell your child to create a mythical character called “a Lert” with a few basic prompts. The Lert should have an obvious way to see everything at once – many eyes, maybe, or eyes in multiple places, Bailey explains in Safe Kids, Smart Parents: What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Children Safe.
Then ask the child, while you’re in public, to become a Lert – which, you explain, also likes to talk about everything they see and all that happens.
2. Keep tabs on social media without overstepping boundaries.
Bailey says to hand off passwords to social media accounts or related watch-duties to a trusted relative. She does that with her own 17-year old daughter, who’s friends on Facebook with Bailey’s sister (and Safe Kids co-author).
“I made a decision to let my sister Lisa do that as opposed to me… while my daughter was developing her own sense of self,” Bailey says.
3. If you think something happened to your kid, like sexual or physical abuse, giving an example of the incident might help them talk.
Even kids with solid connections to their parents can keep secrets from them, Bailey says. But by providing an out for them through a fabricated story – if there’s a strong suspicion that something happened to the child – more than one child in Bailey’s practice opened up.
“When you use a story and say, ‘this happened to a friend of mine’s child,’ sometimes they’re more likely to say, ‘this happened to me too.”