In light of the “Momo Challenge” becoming a big click-et item on social media lately, we at Military Moms Blog want to take the opportunity to talk safety and your children. Hoax or not, it is always a good idea to assess your family’s response to danger.
While razors in apples at Halloween might be an urban legend, and abductions are extremely rare, adults who set out to harm children do exist.
Here are our tips for online safety with kids.
1. Have A Family Password
Growing up, we always had a family password. Two actually. I can’t remember a time in my life that those two words weren’t completely etched on my soul. And no, I won’t tell you … they’re completely private. Only seven people in the whole world knew this password. It was a secret that was extremely important to keep, and my brother and I did not take that edict lightly.
The point of the password was simple. If someone came to pick us up from school, knocked on the front door, asked us to roll down the window of the car we were waiting in alone (this was the 80s, and you know it was OK back then), that person HAD to know the password. If he or she didn’t know it, it was a hard no. The password also served as a great reminder about the importance of “stranger danger” and to proceed with caution (or stop) if we didn’t know the person.
On that same note, make sure that your child knows your phone number by heart. They can learn this when they are little and it can be useful. My 5-year-old was put on the wrong bus on the way home from his first day of kindergarten. I just about had a heart attack when he didn’t get off the correct bus in front of our house. He simply gave my number to the other bus driver and she called me to pick him up. Crisis averted.
2. Monitor Your Child’s Screen Content, Not Just Screen Time
This one is kind of a gimme, but is it?
As a mom I feel the constant pressure about my kids’ screen time. How much TV time do they have? Do you limit tablet time? What’s their ratio of screen time to outside play? Time, time, time. But what are they doing on those devices? Is it video games? Kid YouTube? App games? What kinds of advertisements are they seeing? What’s the rating for the games? Is there content that isn’t bad or scary but just needs some extra explanation?
When my oldest started using an electronic device, he discovered YouTube. Oh my goodness, he could watch videos of Lego toys being put together (slowly, with a monotone narrator) forevvvvvver. So yeah, I totally gave him the phone and did something else fun like load a dishwasher. At the time, I didn’t realize that with each video ending a slew of “suggested videos” popped up. He could just keep clicking and watching. While I thought he was watching one long video, I soon realized he had clicked through almost three videos back to back. I felt like a bad mom because the time had gone over, but I had barely glanced at the videos. The first one was fine, so I assumed the others had been as well.
We continued to allow YouTube scrolling as long as, of course, he didn’t go past his allotted time. But then he used a rude word that we don’t use at home … it was like, Lame-O, or something which we can all agree is lame-o!
Wait! where on earth did he hear that? It turned out he had learned it from some bratty kid that does toy reviews. At that point, I realized I had no idea what he was watching.
When did he stop watching Lego builds? Why is my budding engineer talking like a tween I don’t know?
Well, we tightened up significantly on content! Then as he got older and the years went by, we loosened and taught him how to better discern content for himself. We still watch and have parameters and are pretty darn on top of things. But my end goal is to teach my kids how to decide to watch things that will grow and better them. The best way to do that is to monitor what they are watching. Start early and do it frequently, so it is a normal part of their digital lives.
3. Adults Don’t Need a Child’s Help
A friend recently said this to me and it blew my mind.
An adult may in fact need help finding a lost puppy, or help getting something out of his or her car, but no adult anywhere needs my 5-year-old’s help.
Insert any age you want in there, but an adult stranger (or even acquaintance without your parental knowledge and permission) DOES NOT EVER need your child’s help. Boom. Mind blown. I’m going to sit my kids down and tell them this.
4. Start Early on Privacy Talk
Every pediatrician we have ever had has spoken to my children about their private parts, starting at an early age. I never had to be the first one to find the right age appropriate words because our doctor always did. However, their early conversations opened the door, so it is not a taboo conversation topic. “Do you know what areas on your body are private? Who is allowed to touch them?” If you are not comfortable with this, solicit your pediatrician at the next visit to help you find the right words.
A couple times a year during bath time for the kiddos who are still little enough to bathe, we reiterate this conversation. I want it reinforced often and casually.
I want them to be confident in this information and feel they have ownership and agency of their bodies.
Make sure they know that no one is ever allowed to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. And if someone does make them uncomfortable, let them know they can come to you without judgment.
5. Take Away the Power of a Predator
Adults who intend to harm children tend to bank on a couple things. They assume that kids will scare easily and are dumb or naive. They bet on this because there is some truth to it. Children are innocent and want to believe adults. However, it may be valuable to explain (as their age allows) that there are mean grown-ups who might try to trick children.
We recently sat down with our 8-year-old and explained to him, in the context of a larger conversation about safety, that if an adult ever threatened to harm him or us for whatever reason, it is a lie. It was tough to talk about the idea of a grown-up threatening him and him realizing that it could happen. It is an extremely remote possibility, but up to this point, he had no reason to believe that adults would ever be anything but good.
Maybe that’s half the battle, just making him aware that not every single adult is good. By teaching him that an adult who ever talked that way is lying, we were able to take away the power of that lie right away.
6. Adults Are Fallible
In our house we try to model apologies. When I mess up as a mother, when I overreact, when I’m careless with their feelings, I apologize.
I apologize to my children a lot. In doing so, I hope that they learn not just how to apologize in earnest, but also that it’s OK to make mistakes as long as you try to rectify them.
Another big benefit to this is that I’m teaching my children that adults are not infallible authoritarians. We make mistakes; we are not always right. I don’t ever want my child to follow an adult’s directions, if he knows it to be wrong. I want my child to have the confidence and understanding that adults don’t always make the correct decisions. He does not have to cheerfully say, “how high?!” when told to jump.
How does this look at six, seven, or eight years old? It looks like a call home because my son refused to let a substitute call a leopard a jaguar. He was right, and we had to have a talk about how to be right respectfully. But honestly I’m proud. Not proud to raise a rebel (though a part of me actually is) but proud to have a kid who was comfortable speaking up to an adult who was wrong. It makes me feel more secure about his physical safety and that someone is less likely to take advantage of him.
These are just a few of my hot tips on safety, but teaching your kids about security can be a highly personal thing. It may look very different from household to household and that’s OK. The end goal is that we communicate with our children about these issues and put the boundaries in place that best protect our families. Across the country, we are all advocating for the safety of children.
If you are looking for a great book to help teach kids about safety, try Super Duper Safety School by Pattie Fitzgerald.