April 20, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Safety Tips for Tweens and Teens

I’m the type of person who talks to strangers on the street, at the grocery store…wherever. So, warning my daughter about “Stranger Danger†a popular public service salve won’t work in our household. “Mom, WTF…†I imagined my tween asking as I tell her to “do as I say not as I do†… constantly… and often to her embarrassment.

Then, I read about the salvation of the three women who had been held captive for a decade in the home of a deranged Cleveland criminal and I thought about the 10 years of horror their mothers endured.

I needed real, practical tips to share with my nine year old so that she does not become a statistic. Enter Pattie Fitzgerald, an assuager of privileged parents’ paranoia, verifiable safety expert and mother. Fitzgerald is just the person to provide techniques to share with my tween so that she is not tormented like Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight—victims, who merely thought they were getting a ride home instead of hitching a ride to a decade of hell. I’ve been to Fitzgerald’s presentations and used her verbiage to warn my tween and her younger brother to listen to their ‘Uh, Oh’ feelings about ‘Tricky People’ but the Cleveland victims were in their teens when they were abducted so how can my paranoia-projecting-self fend off another potential nightmare?

“Statistically, teens and tweens are more vulnerable to abduction simply by virtue of the fact that they have more independence. 10 -14 years old are at the greatest risk,†explained Fitzgerald, using a statistic from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Tweens and teens are usually allowed to walk or ride their bikes to school, friends’ houses and as a result they develop a false sense of security in their familiar surroundings. Parents mistakenly assume a child’s danger-radar will kick in if they’re approached but this is not necessarily the case as teens are, by nature, more impulsive.â€

Now, before I continue, please don’t take this piece as even a hint that there is any blame to be placed on Berry, DeJesus or Knight—they are victims of Ariel Castro, a truly evil man. But, if we can use this story as a reminder that we must constantly inoculate our children perhaps we can prevent another tragedy.

“Tweens and teens need lots of reminders! Parents and guardians must keep up the dialogue about staying safe constantly,†Fitzgerald reminded me again before giving me a list of points that should be a part of this ongoing chat. They are:

1. Under no circumstance should a child ever get into a car unless that child has already received permission from a parent or guardian. No exceptions. Even if that person is an acquaintance, this is the age of cell phones, call a parent and get permission before getting in to that vehicle.

2. Children should stay away from any person on the street or in a car who tries to engage them in conversation. There is no need to be polite to random strangers, or help people you don’t know. Safety trumps politeness.

3. Help your child to understand that a predator is going to be friendly and outgoing. Teens are especially vulnerable to ‘tricky people’ because they’re nice and engaging.

3. No shortcuts. Never. Always stay on the parent-approved route, and have safe-stops along the way in case of an emergency (a store, local business, etc.).

4. Buddy system whenever possible. You’re less likely to be victimized if there are two of you, and if your child and their friend are approached, one child may be able to remind the other of what NOT to do.

5. If your child is being followed or feels unsafe in anyway, they should cross the street or turn and go in the opposite direction. If grabbed: MAKE A SCENE. Yell, kick, scream, and call attention to yourself. ‘Tricky people’ hate being noticed so don’t worry about being embarrassed, better foolish than victimized.

6. Stay alert. No walking with headphones on, don’t text or talk on the phone. A distracted child is an easier target.

7. Don’t assume your child will remember any of these points. You must remind them a lot. Yes, they’ll likely roll their eyes and say, “I know, I know”. That’s okay… your words are still getting through.

8. Report anything that seems suspicious or unusual. Tell a trusted adult immediately.

As we learn more about Ariel Castro’s reign of terror, we are sure to shudder at his depravity and marvel at the heroic efforts of the three victims. While we pray that these women can recover from their abuse and move on with their lives let’s try to eke out a tiny bit of good and talk to our children about safety.

For more information on Pattie Fitzgerald: www.safelyeverafter.com

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