Jessica Ridgeway’s disappearance and what every parent needs to know about teaching kids to be safe
“Mom, when can I just be by myself?”
My 8-year-old daughter asked me this question last summer as we sat by a stream near our house. I knew what she meant. She’s independent like me and would love nothing better than to leave the house and explore her environs on her own terms. And I want that for her, too. My childhood was brimming with solo adventures that are the foundation of how I still live my life. I’d like nothing better than to set her loose.
But then I think of Jessica Ridgeway, the 10-year-old Westminster girl who went missing while walking to a park three blocks from home on her way to school.
As a mom, I’ve struggled with a balance of being a free-range parent versus a helicopter one. In my heart, I’m the former and believe happiness and self-confidence are borne out of self-sufficiency. In reality, I am often the latter. I don’t let my 6- and 8-year-olds play in the front yard of our sometimes-busy street unsupervised. I walk them to and from the bus stop while parents of similar-aged kids let them go it alone.
My husband sometimes harps on me to loosen the reigns and I wish I could but then I remember all those Dateline specials about kids who get kidnapped walking to school. And I usually err on the side of caution.
My kids and I are openly discussing Jessica Ridgeway’s disappearance and my hope is they will be extra cautious yet not live in fear. National Safety Director Nancy McBride has these tips on teaching kids personal safety:
*Speak to your child in a calm and reassuring way. Fear is not an effective teaching tool; confidence is.
*Speak openly about safety issues. If you approach child safety openly, your children will be more likely to come to you with problems or concerns.
*Don’t confuse children by warning against “strangers.” Danger to children is much greater from someone you or they know than from a “stranger.”
*Teach children that no one has the right to force, trick, or pressure them into doing things they don’t want to do.
*Practice safety skills by creating “what if” scenarios. An outing to a mall or the park can serve as a chance for children to practice safety skills, such as checking with you before they go anywhere or do anything, and locating adults who can help if they need assistance.
*Supervise your children. It is vital to their protection and safety. Children should not be put in the position of making safety choices if they are not old enough or skilled enough to make those choices.
*Check out adults who have access to your children. The more involved you are in your child’s life, the less likely it is that your child will seek attention from other, potentially dangerous adults.
Are you more of a free-range or helicopter parent? Have you discussed Jessica Ridgeway’s kidnapping with your kids?