Like most people in our area, I have been especially struck by the abduction and murder of Jorelys Rivera. What was especially scary to me about this case is that Jorelys was in her own neighborhood when she was taken. It got me thinking about what I should be teaching my child to keep him safe.
Naturally I went back to all of the things my parents taught me:
- Never talk to strangers
- Look for someone in uniform when you need help
- Make sure you know your phone number, address and parents’ full names
- Never get in a car with someone you don’t know
These and so many other tips like them are timeless. But our kids are growing up in a different era than we did. For example, I was only ever able to play video games on the television in the living room. Sure, there were a few handheld games, but they were nowhere near as advanced or consuming as what our kids have today. So I’ve made some adjustments to the things my parents taught me.
- Be aware of your surroundings. This means no iPhone games, no video watching and no texting when you’re out and about on your own. It is critical to pay attention to where you are, who is with you and what is happening in your surroundings.
- Don’t be scared to talk to people. We’ve all been told, and taught our kids, not to talk to strangers. But what is equally important is speaking out against something you don’t want to happen. If someone is trying to force you to leave with them, it is more than ok to say – and say loudly – “No, I don’t want to go with you. I don’t know you. Leave me alone.” In fact, by doing this kids will often attract help from adults who will help them, rather than hurt them.
- It’s ok not to trust someone you know. The suspect arrested in connection with Jorelys’ disappearance worked in the apartment complex where she lived. It is entirely possible that Jorelys knew this man, which might have made her abduction easier. It’s important for our kids to know that even if they know someone, even if they know them really well, if they aren’t comfortable with that person, they can – and should – say no. And say it loud.
As kids learn to talk it is common to hear parents and teachers say “use your words” to remind them that they have a new skill that they can use to help them express themselves or reach a goal. We need to remind our older kids of this as well. We teach our kids to respect authority figures. We also need to teach them that it is ok for them to speak up and verbally defend themselves. It could save their lives.
Sometimes an abduction is not as simple as telling someone “no, I won’t get in your car with you.” Sometimes people physically grab children. Kids who are prepared can get loose and find help. Get in touch with your local Boys and Girls Club, YMCA or other athletic organizations to see if there are self-defense and safety classes available for children.
Whenever I check into a hotel I always read the map on the room door to see where the nearest fire exit is. It’s not because I stay in terrible hotels that look like tinder boxes. It’s because I know that if there is a fire, I probably won’t think to check the map as I’m trying to hustle my family out. Knowing what to do before a crisis happens increases the odds that you’ll survive it. Knowledge truly is power. Let’s make our kids the most powerful people out there.