Teaching kids to keep safe

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“What’s an example of a stranger?”

“You’re a stranger!” one kid sang out to an amused crowd of 50 parents and kids, illustrating one of the key points speaker Naomi Hupton wanted to make at a family safety seminar. She’s with the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC). She told a group of parents at Waite Park Wesleyan Church Saturday, Dec. 5 that it’s a myth that most abductions or abuse of children are by strangers.

“Reality is 90 percent of people who sexually harm children or abduct them are known to the family. ‘Stranger Danger’ does not work,” she said. New advice for parents and children focuses on “tricky people,” and the behaviors that make a properly-prepared child feel that something is wrong.

“Secrets and surprises” — Hupton described a secret as “something that feels icky, and something that you have to keep forever,” but a surprise is like agreeing to not tell someone you’re planning a birthday party for them, or a special gift for a holiday, which eventually does get shared.

“Tell kids to trust your instincts, or trust your gut” — She told parents not to force or encourage a child to kiss or hug anyone they don’t want to, even an adult that they, the parents, trust; children should develop their inner voice. At a certain age, one does have to tell a child that an uncle, a coach, or some other generic example, could be a tricky person. “Kids are so literal,” she said, focus on the behavior that might tell the child that a person might not have their best interests in mind.

Jacob Wetterling was abducted about 20 years ago and never found. Jacob’s parents formed an organization that educates families and communities to prevent the exploitation of children. Their research revealed that most abductions involve taking children for sexual purposes, and that up to 50 percent of people who sexually abuse children are under age 18. One of the signs that a child has been sexually molested, the presentation stated, is sexual behavior by that child with toys or other children.

“Children and teens are most often lured by attention and affection,” Hupton said. “We’re all so busy with our jobs and activities.” One of the best ways to protect kids from danger, she said, is to spend time with them and remind them of all the people who love and care about them.

Each child should have at least five trusted adults besides their parents, individuals a child can confide in, if the child doesn’t want to share something with parents. Neighbors, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents are good examples.

How to tell a child about keeping private parts private? “Start young. At age 2, all they need to know is your private parts are what’s covered by your swimsuit; no one should ever try to touch yours, and you shouldn’t touch anyone else’s.” As they get a little older, do tell them the names of the parts. “My seven year old daughter knows some of the slang terms,” she said.

The seminar, which included a presentation for adults, and then an interactive session with children and parents, also covered things like “check first, when changing plans; use the buddy system; if I’m lost, I’ll ask for help;” and how to use 911.

Parents are encouraged to always keep a current digital photo of their child in a safe place, and to have twice-yearly family safety meetings, covering everything from what if there’s a fire, to personal safety, and what if you got lost at a store? Order food in, so you can concentrate on the topic. The beginning of school and the beginning of summer are good times for these meetings. The “what if” conversations can also be held casually, and can naturally occur when something bad happens in the community or in the news.

Community Crime Prevention Specialist Carol Oosterhuis suggested that the most successful block clubs “are about kids. Our first thought is to talk about the problem houses, but the most successful are the ones that get together and care about the kids, have game nights, let the kids know each other and get to know those five trusted adults, neighbors are naturals.” She recalled a “grandpa” neighbor from her youth.

Hupton also discussed on-line safety, and recommended some websites that kids can go to, netsmartz.com and webwisekids.com. The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center is at jwrc.com. She also recommended two books, “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin DeBecker for adults, and “My Body Belongs to Me” for children.

For other resource organization links, go to nenorthnews.com and search for event #5629.

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