Feature Archive

Keeping Kids Safe

What parents can teach.

WebMD Feature

Sept. 18, 2000 -- My daughter is 4 years old, and I knew it was time to worry. She's beautiful and trusting and weighs 30 pounds. Would she have any idea what to do if someone tried to overpower her? Would she muster the courage to scream and kick?

Those are the kinds of questions that haunt parents these days, and I knew it was high time to do something about my concerns. But where to start? Every day, it seemed, there were "teachable moments," yet so far I'd done no conscious teaching. What about all those personal safety tips that children should be drilled in -- "Don't talk to strangers" and the like? Instead, I was worried about what I might be teaching without thinking about it -- my polite exchanges, for instance, with the male stranger in the supermarket checkout and the panhandler on the street?

What messages was my daughter taking away from such encounters?

FBI statistics indicate that last year 2,100 juveniles were reported missing every single day -- that's 750,000 for the year. Of these, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children listed more than 114,000 cases involving physical threats or harm and nearly 32,000 cases as involuntary kidnappings or abductions. Our children are at risk. And, like me, most parents worry endlessly but feel uncertain about what to teach our children and how to protect them without scaring them to death.

It's hard for parents, says Donna Chaiet, president and founder of Prepare and Impact Personal Safety, a national series of hands-on child safety programs, because they are so uncertain about their own ability to protect their children. "Parents aren't nervous about showing a child how to safely use scissors or cautiously cross the street, because we know how to do those things," she says. "But when it comes to child [personal] safety, we have enormous anxiety about how to do it right."