Today’s Delaware County Times headline, State police report 4th luring attempt in county, reflects some scary situations that Delco children recently faced.
But it’s not all bad news. We also know:
- Kids sought help when they felt unsafe.
- A neighbor provided a safe haven for a scared child, instead of looking the other way when that child needed help.
- Parents recognized a potential risk, acted logically in the moment, and then alerted the authorities.
- Law enforcement officers from multiple jurisdictions took the reports seriously and responded quickly to protect our children from predators.
- School officials and the media took important steps to communicate critical information that can help keep kids safe in our communities.
These positives underscore how important it is to educate and empower kids and adults so that they can respond quickly and effectively when facing scary situations.
Every year, FAMILY SUPPORT LINE does this through more than 250 classroom-based presentations about sexual abuse, bullying, cybersafety, and healthy relationships. Our staff teach more than 5,000 Delco youth about real-life risks and steps they can take to be safer.
Help us by sharing the following with kids in your life:
- Don’t talk to strangers unless you are with a parent or other safe adult who says it’s okay. If a stranger starts talking to you, you don’t have to talk to them to be “polite.”
- Pay attention whenever you have that “uh-oh” feeling. You may feel like you have butterflies in your belly or are going to throw up. Your body may feel like it wants to run or make itself invisible, but can’t. These feelings are your body’s way of saying that it doesn’t feel safe. Don’t ignore them!
- If someone tells you to do something that makes you feel scared, unsafe, or uncomfortable, say “NO!” Get away from them as soon as you can.
- If anyone does something that makes you scared or uncomfortable, tell a grown-up you trust as soon as possible.
Also, keep in mind:
- It’s important to talk with kids about how they should respond to common luring tricks (e.g., telling them to get in a car because there’s a “family emergency”; asking them to help look for a lost pet or go somewhere to help with an errand/earn money).
- Too often, safety conversations with kids focus on “Stranger-Danger” because it’s hard to imagine a child being hurt by someone close to them. (As an added bonus, it rhymes nicely). In reality, children usually know their abusers. They need to know that it’s okay to speak up any time someone makes them feel unsafe or tries to trick them – even if that person is a friend, authority figure, or member of the family.
- Abusers sometimes back down when they realize a kid is able to speak up, recognize boundary violations, and report what’s happening to authorities. That’s why it’s important to let them know that there are some times when it’s okay to say “No” – even to an adult.
- Kids need to know that they should still tell an adult they trust if something happened that made them feel unsafe, even if they did something they weren’t supposed to – like sneaking out of the house, drinking at a party communicating with someone they don’t know via social media. Tell them that their safety is the highest priority and act accordingly – even if what they did really scares and infuriates you.
- Let kids know that it’s never their fault if they couldn’t “say no,” fight, or run away before something bad happened. The human body is wired to “freeze” under threat. When in this happens, it may not be possible to speak, move, or even think about escape. Freezing is not a sign of weakness. It’s the body’s survival strategy that automatically kicks in – especially if the abuser is stronger or might have a weapon.
Please do your part to make sure that important conversations about children’s safety continue long after today’s headline fades. If you need help getting started, call 610.268.9145 ext. 14 or email Kelly@FamilySupportLine.org to learn more about our programs for parents, professionals, and the community.
Kelly J. Ace, PhD, JD has served as Family Support Line’s Program Director since 2013. She oversees our Abuse Prevention Education, Treatment, and Mental Health Professional Training Program.