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Chapter Thirteen: Educating Your Children to Protect Themselves
Teaching children to protect themselves if they were to ever be caught in dangerous situations is important for a parent to do. It is virtually impossible to be by your child’s side at all times. For this reason, parents should teach their children methods and techniques to protect themselves when no one is around.
As a parent, it is impossible to watch over your children at all times of the day. That’s why it is so important that parents teach their kids how to identify and assess potentially dangerous situations and ways to deal with them to protect themselves. By finding the right time to teach your children these skills, they will begin to understand the dangers more, and in turn, be more inclined to utilize these tactics if they had to.
Finding the right time to teach your child about the dangers they face and how to prevent them is a very delicate process that is not easy to do. Children are very vulnerable, so do these things at appropriate times and for appropriate age levels. Teaching a young child that any and all strangers are dangerous may actually be detrimental to their growth. They may become scared and traumatized by anyone who comes near them, or worse, they may be too scared to go to an adult in times of need, thinking they are all "bad" strangers.
Good stranger vs Bad stranger
A good time to teach your child what constitutes a stranger, and a good stranger vs. a bad stranger, could be when they first start grade school. During grade school, children start to understand that their teachers and school volunteers are "good people," in most cases. Parents can teach their child that these strangers are the ones that they should go to if they need help with something and when you are not available. Kids can use this understanding of strangers in comparison to the other strangers that you show them out in public or in a magazine. This can help children differentiate between the fact that strangers that can be bad can come in all shapes and sizes, and that those strangers that wear uniform or are in their schools are considered the "good" strangers. As children get older, parents can begin to have more intimate conversations with their children on what those strangers can do to them and the possible consequences. Children need to understand from an early age to set limits, and learn about the limits of others.
Teach children their parents phone numbers and addresses
Around the time that your child reaches kindergarten or above (depending on his or her own cognitive level), it can be a good idea to teach them phone numbers and addresses of their parents and/or close family and loved ones. Depending on the child’s maturity level, parents need to start teaching their children important numbers as soon as they think their child is ready. In the case that your child is lost, kidnapped, or even abducted, they will be able to call home or mail a plea for help. Most kids are scared during these encounters, and they tend to freeze up and forget their numbers. It’s for this reason that practicing number memorization every day is important to helping them protect themselves and potentially prevent harsh consequences.
Keeping children safe in public places
As children get older, they begin to venture out of the house for play dates at the park or at the arcade, and as they grow even more, they begin to go see movies with friends or go to the mall. These are public spaces that make it extremely easy for a sexual predator to attack or kidnap them. To reduce the risk of this, teach your children from a young age to always stay together, and never go off to places, especially the bathroom, alone. When children are very young, make sure to stress how important it is to remain near you and within sight at all times. Teaching them at an early age that they should never be alone in large public spaces can help them become accustomed to this mantra and follow it throughout their lives to help protect themselves. If parents teach their children this, they condition them to want to be with others in public spaces and they will begin to not "feel right" if they are left alone or walk away alone. As your children approach their preteen years, you should still stress the dangers that come with straying away from a group or going places alone. This way, by the time they become teens and adults, they know to always stay with a group, no matter what.
Keeping children safe online
When the time comes to give your child a computer, or when they start using the home computer more often, the first thing you need to do is educate them on how to protect themselves online. Provide your child with the appropriate information about social networking sites, chat rooms, sexual predators and the dangers of talking to strangers online, even if they think they are of the same sex and/or age of your child. Parents need to teach their children that the people they are speaking to may not be who they claim to be. Explain to them how anyone can sit behind a computer and disguise themselves as good-intentioned people that "just want to be friends and confide in each other."
Warning children about how predators disguise themselves as friends to "warm up" to them and eventually establish sexual relationships with them, or even hurt them, can help them avoid it online. Emphasizing the dangers of not taking these precautionary measures can help children resist the desire to disobey and communicate with strangers. Again, keeping an open dialogue with your child is the key element to helping your children protect themselves. By allowing your children to confide in you as a parent, you can then step in and help your children first-hand. You can give them the most valuable and noteworthy aspect of parenthood and protection: unconditional love and support, which can help stop children from meeting with strangers or engaging in unsafe activities.
Creating a type of "checklist" with your child is beneficial in helping save their lives. By creating a checklist with your child, you can teach them what abduction is and what the warning signs are. They will also learn the dangers of it, and how to identify if they are being groomed before being abducted or kidnapped. If they follow the checklist, they will know to never follow the strangers lead, and to alert a trusted adult of the situation. Create and establish a pact about what to do in these situations by setting up an easy to follow along checklist that can be used in many different situations. This checklist goes in accordance with the previous chapter on educating your children how to protect themselves, but provides more of a chronological, step by step order that is easier to read and understand with your children.
Use the following checklist to help prevent abductions in advance and minimize the risks of abductions:
- RESPONSE PROFILES: Set up Emergency Response Profiles with Kids Live Safe for your children, which will store the following information about them:
- Up-to-date, ID-style photos - update photo every 6 months.
- Child’s name, nickname, date-of-birth, gender, height, weight, hair and eye color, ethnicity, and many other descriptive factors that can help identify them.
- Medical information.
- DESIGNATED MEETING SPOTS: Always have emergency meeting spots predetermined when going into large public places.
- FAMILY TALKS: Talk to your children – speaking to them about the dangers of abduction and having safety conversations with them is essential. From an early age, teach your children about strangers and the risks they pose. Go beyond the statement that they have heard from you multiple times: "Don’t talk to strangers." Explain to them what these strangers may do, and what situation they might find themselves. Role-play certain situations with them and help them focus on what to do if they were ever placed in one.
- BOUNDARIES: Have boundaries set with your children – be clear about your family rules and the consequences of not following them. Don’t be too harsh if they break a rule, as all children make mistakes. Just make your rules clear with them, and never exaggerate just to make a point.
- LOVE & SUPPORT: First and foremost, like with any other intervention and precautionary measures, establish and maintain a loving, caring, and trustworthy relationship with your child. Not only will this help you convey information between you and them, but it will also lessen any urges to ever run away or talk to strangers. This is because your child will have an infinite amount of love and respect for you that will make them less inclined to go against your authority.
- MEMORIZE: As children start preschool and/or kindergarten, teachers at their schools will start to practice with them their full name, address, and phone number. To prepare your child for this, it can be helpful to integrate this kind of information in everyday settings so that having your child memorize and repeat this information doesn’t become too mundane and repetitive. Instead, by teaching your children vital information in fun and inconspicuous ways, they not only learn more, but can actually have fun while doing it!
- EXPLAIN: Although it may seem too soon, the earlier you explain what is appropriate and what is not appropriate with your children the better. Talk about appropriate and inappropriate moves, touches, or remarks by strangers and people they know. Connect the dots for them as to why and how strangers are dangerous so they can better understand why they should never talk to them and tell you if anything ever does happen with them. Teach your children about their private parts and how no one except for you or people you designate, such as their doctor, are allowed to touch or talk about them.
- PRACTICE: Teach your child how to respond in extreme situations. Some good tactics include acting out scenarios and teaching them to "go crazy," by running away and yelling "help me!" Ask them to pretend they are at the mall or the grocery store, and tell them to start knocking anything and everything they see off the shelves and out of the bins. Teach them that this usually gets peoples’ attention, and they will get help from a store manager or security guard.
- ESTABLISH RULES: As children get older and start to go out to more places with friends or even with parents, it becomes more important to establish rules of where they can and can’t go and/or do in the neighborhood. Always remind them to call you or let you know where they are so that it becomes habitual, and you always stay informed.
- DECREASE RISK ONLINE: As children get older and start to become more and more attached to their electronic devices, naturally, more and more kidnappings, abductions, and sexual assaults are happening. This is because of the increased usage of Internet chat rooms and social networking sites to arrange meet-ups. To better monitor the online activities of your child, set up a family computer in a neutral and open space of the house. Warn your children of the dangers of giving out information over the Internet. Set ground rules of what sites they can go on and what they can and cannot post on those approved sites. Set up monitoring software if necessary to block and prevent certain content to be accessed.
Precautionary measures such as these ones can help if there is ever a reason to think that your child was kidnapped or abducted by a stranger or even a family member. Check with your local police department, as many of them sponsor programs to help you and your family record your fingerprints.