During the summer of 1963, after I graduated from elementary school but before I began high school, my friends and I would ride our bikes from our homes in the South City to downtown St. Louis. We would leave in the morning, make the 10- to- 12-mile ride down Gravois Road to 12th street, and bum around downtown all day. We didn’t wear helmets and thought—as did our parents—that this was a great way to spend the day.
Fifty years later, we live in far different times. Few, if any, parents would allow this now. This month, with summer close at hand, I’m going to summarize some rules for safety issued by the Office of Juvenile Justice of the U. S. Department of Justice. Parents and children should review these safety tips together:
1. Parents, know where your children are at all times. Kids, tell your parents where you’re going, who you’ll be with, and how you plan to get there and back.
2. Children and adolescents should always travel in groups. Two is a group. It’s safer and more fun this way.
3. Always take a friend when using a public restroom. They don’t need to watch—just be there with you.
4. Be careful and be aware when playing outside. Be aware of the environment. Stay away from pools, open streams and canals. Children should not play near busy streets or abandoned, deserted areas or buildings. Don’t take a shortcut though an isolated area.
5. Don’t wear clothes or carry items displaying your name. Just because a person calls out your name, doesn’t mean they know you or are friendly.
6. Say no to anyone who offers you a ride or who frightens you. Parents should know who is taking their children places and kids should make their parents aware of who is driving them.
7. Be careful playing outside as it gets dark. Don’t run into the street to chase a ball without checking for cars first. It is difficult for drivers to see kids on foot or on bikes when the sun is setting or it’s dark. Wear reflectors and reflective clothing.
8. Teach your children how to identify people of authority (police or a person with a nametag working at an information booth in the mall) to seek help from if needed. When they’re away from home, identify a safe place to go if they become lost or feel threatened.
9. Some kids will be home alone during the summer months. Stay safe by keeping the doors locked and don’t open the door unless you recognize a trusted friend or relative. Don’t tell people you (or your children) are home alone. Children who are home alone should have friend or relative to call if they feel threatened and should know to call 911 in an emergency.
10. Kids should be ready to run away from any situation in which they feel scared or uncomfortable. They should always immediately report these situations to their parents.
11. Children and adolescents spend a lot of time online.Some hints for cyber-safety include:
> Don’t give out personal information online.
> Don’t respond to anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable.
> Don’t meet with anyone you’ve met only online without the permission and knowledge of a parent.
> Remember that people don’t always tell the truth online nor are they always who they claim to be. It’s a downer to think of how carefree my life was as an adolescent and how different times are now. On the other hand, for better or worse, I didn’t have an iPad or iPhone then.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services, mercy.net.