Given the state of the world, I think that children of all ages would be prudent to revisit some of the core lessons that our parents taught us when we were younger. If you were like me, you probably sloughed off much of this advice and only took it to heart when your parents’ fears were either realized or had inched too close to realization for comfort.
One of the most important things we learned was not to talk to strangers. When I was a child, I had to hear about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, that occurred before I was born, and how that infant came to a terrible end. To ward off kidnappers, my parents drummed it into me not to speak with strangers, not to accept gifts from them, and to run like my pants were on fire if a stranger ever tried to nab me or drag me into his/her car.
These days, we need to tell our children not to listen to strangers who tell them that they’ve lost their puppy and need help finding him: a common ploy with child molesters and killers. We must also tell our kids not to get into the vehicles of strangers who appear at school at 3 o’clock and lie about knowing our parents. These kidnappers and child molesters often use the tactic of telling children that one of their parents has been hospitalized, and they (the strangers) are there to ferry the kids off to the hospital.
In general, we should alert our children that if an adult ever makes them feel uncomfortable, for any reason, they are to follow their gut feelings. This includes adults who may touch them in an inappropriate manner. If in danger, it’s best to educate the child to scream “Fire!” because people will always want to see where the fire is. Unfortunately, if a child hollers, “Help!” it can be construed as a game or a ploy for attention. “Call the police!” is another helpful phrase to scream out when in danger. And if the adult tries to drag the child into the car or do something else harmful, the child should be told that it’s okay to kick and bite and scratch the adult, punch him in the eye, and/or whatever else is necessary in order to escape. All of these lessons can also be applied to adults who may be preyed upon by twisted, malicious souls.
“Look both ways when before crossing the street” was another important conversation that I used to have with my parents. Even at formal pedestrian crosswalks, we still have to pay attention to discern when it is safe to cross the street. Cars jump sidewalks; motorists run red lights and play “chicken” with the yellow lights. Some even drive backward or the wrong way down the street! I have had people just about jump out in front of me when I’m driving, especially in the parking lots of shopping malls. Parents can get distracted with thoughts of big sales, thus taking their eyes off their children for those critical few moments. So, children should be taught pedestrian safety.
“Choose your friends wisely” is yet another caveat I received from my elders. This was good advice. Think about it. How often have you thought a friend of yours could do no wrong, only to learn that they would throw you under the bus in a minute, if a need to do so arose on their part? It takes discernment that comes with maturity to determine whether or not your friend is genuine and loyal. For instance, I had been friends with one girl since the second grade, but in our sophomore year of high school, she abandoned me for another girl. They became tight because they both wanted a more lively social life, while I was not quite ready to date boys at that particular juncture in my life.
My friend’s betrayal hurt, but her behavior did not put me in jeopardy. That came later, with another friend who left me at a club without a ride home. We had gone to this club, in her car. As there was not much excitement in our little town, once a month, we’d drive about 40 miles to this little club. We weren’t big on drinking; we just enjoyed the dancing and music and maybe the chance of meeting a guy. Well, one night, my friend hooked up with a young man and they decided to go elsewhere for a while. She told me that she would return to give me a ride home.
Close to closing time, I began to get nervous. There was no sign of my friend, and because it had been cold, I had left my coat in the trunk of her car. Stranded forty miles from home, I had no choice but to call a taxi. Thank goodness he let me run into my house to get some money to pay him when we arrived, because I did not have enough cash on me. Boy, was my dad mad!
Shortly after I arrived home, my friend came to the house, crying and apologizing profusely. We are still friends today, but I was leery for a while there whenever we got together. After that incident, I always made sure that I had a couple of extra dollars in my pocket, in case of an emergency. So that’s another lesson for children: carry some extra cash and call someone responsible, if you need help. This is sound advice for adults as well.
Kids will be kids, and kids like to experiment with things they shouldn’t, including alcohol, drugs, and sex. Filching a cold beer from the fridge at home and enjoying it within your own four walls is a lot different than acquiring fake ID, buying a bottle of booze, and downing it. The only thing worse is getting behind the wheel when you do, or entering a car in which the driver is three sheets to the wind. A motor vehicle weighs a ton or more and that’s a lot to control when you’re sober; the mind and body have to be in sync, able to respond quickly to unforeseen situations. Don’t drive with a person who is a speed demon or likes to play “chicken” with other drivers!
Speaking of drinking, young people now need to be on the lookout for date rape drugs slipped into their drinks at private parties and local bars. Never go club hopping alone; take along a trusted friend who will watch your back and you do the same for her.
Smoking is another very critical choice for a young person to make, and it should be made on an individual basis, not because of peer pressure. Smoking is not cool. You’ll reek of smoke and that is simply not attractive. If you kiss someone, you’ll taste of smoke — a real turnoff to non-smokers. It’s an addiction and will cost you a lot of money, your health, and potentially, your life.
Other, illegal addictions involve recreational drugs. Please educate your children as to the associated dangers, including degenerated brain cells and even death. Kids who lie about their addictions are only lying to themselves; eventually, others will catch them in their lies.
Sex is probably the most difficult topic for a parent to broach with their children. At the age of nine, a friend of mine borrowed two books from the library: one for girls and one for boys. She wanted to be sure that the boys weren’t learning anything that she wasn’t! Both books were straightforward volumes on sex, written for young people. When her mother, who simply could not answer her questions about sex, saw the books, she let out a dramatic sigh of relief and immediately instructed my friend’s younger sister to read the exact same books!
As much as parents may drum the idea of abstinence into a child’s head, there will always be curious kids who want to see what all the fuss is about. A parent’s best bet is to be realistic and proactive. Education is key, but it won’t mean much if your kid is in a situation where he or she would be a lot more comfortable — and safer — with a condom. The best protection against an unwanted pregnancy is a prescription for birth control, but condoms should also be used to prevent STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Diseases). While parents may not be happy knowing that their children are having sex, everyone will breathe easier if they take Ben Franklin’s advice: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Girls should be told not to believe a boy who says he wants to engage in sex so that he’ll know she really does love him. Love does not apply pressure. Boys should be taught that they will be held accountable for their actions, including getting young girls pregnant. They can’t be allowed to think that they’ll “get off easy” by not marrying the girl; they or their parents might be liable for child support. And if the girl was underage, the boys — particularly 18 years of age and older — can find themselves up on charges of statutory rape.
In addition to a host of external dangers, safety within the home is also a great concern. While many children are “latchkey kids” who arrive home when their parents are working, they are still children. They should be taught to lock all doors and windows and not answer the doorbell under any circumstances, unless they ascertain that the person ringing it is someone familiar and trusted. The “familiar and trusted” category does not include utility workers or those peddling magazines or other products or services door to door. How well we remember the horrible case of several years ago, where a teenager, known to the child, was allowed into the house on the pretext of selling something for a school competition. The teenager murdered the poor, unsuspecting child!
If children must answer the door, they should never allow a stranger access to the house. They can speak to the person behind a locked door or call their parents. The best tactic is for the child not to alert the stranger that no adult is present. The kid can say that their mom or dad is in the shower and the stranger will have to come back later (meaning, when the parents are actually home).
Parents who trust their children to be home alone for short periods of time can check on them via text messages, phone calls, or emails. Or, kids who are told to not answer the telephone can have a signal; i.e., letting the phone ring three times to flag that it’s a parent calling and that they will call right back. Another alternative is for parents to leave a message on their answering machines, telling callers that they will return the calls shortly. This is a good way of not advertising that a child is home alone.
Safety is for every person, not just children. As adults, we must remember to secure all entrances and exits to our domiciles, to keep our keys and cell phones handy if we are working in the garden, and to ensure that all the doors and windows are locked even if we are in our own backyards grilling. Long Island, New York has been plagued by home burglaries over the past several years and the robbers are getting increasingly bolder and more inventive.
I know a woman who stepped out of her shower wearing only a bathrobe, who watched as two men broke into her home through the garage; it all happened in the blink of an eye. She grabbed her cell phone, ran into her baby’s room, locked the door, and called 911. The cops came immediately and caught the bastards ransacking the house, but she and her baby were lucky. These weasels broke in during broad daylight, so it pays to be extra vigilant. If, for instance, your home has a large sliding glass door, install a bar inside the door and engage it at night for extra security.
Don’t take chances when it comes to safety. While we find it tiresome to hear lectures, we have to understand they are often for our own good. It truly is better to be safe than sorry. By following a few simple and logical rules, “we’ll all sleep safe tonight,” as the song Kryptonite goes.