As a family medicine doctor, I try to emphasize the importance of personal safety for each family member. As you open yourself up to people you don’t know, whether in person or online, you make yourself vulnerable to harm, both physically and psychologically. Here are strategies you can use to protect you and your children.
First and Foremost, Know Your Children
- Is your child someone who would easily be lured away or fooled by a stranger?
- How savvy are your children about interpersonal relationships among their friends or adults?
- Learn what your children’s environments are like so you can help them anticipate problems.
Know Your Community and Neighbors
- Your neighbors can help keep an eye out for your kids when you cannot.
Teach Your Children Not to Talk to Strangers
- Remind them never to get in a car with a stranger.
- Create a family password or “secret word” with your children. Teach them that this password must be used by anyone other than yourself who picks them up from school or an activity.
- Tell children not to fall for a sympathetic story, and use examples. If a stranger asks them to “help me find my puppy” or “come with me, your mom is in the hospital,” tell them to politely say “no” and walk away immediately.
Monitor Technology Use
- Set guidelines for using the Internet. Agree to specific privacy settings with your children, and then set them.
- Use Internet-blocking software when appropriate.
- Have a discussion with your children about talking to strangers online. Some families may decide this is allowed, while others may allow only older children to proceed with caution.
- Instruct children never to share personal information — real name, cell number, school name, address — with someone they meet online.
- Teach children how to filter and process inappropriate information they may come across online.
Do Not Keep Abuse a Secret!
- Remember that it’s never OK to hit or be hit by someone.
- Report abuse to the police and tell your doctor.
- Get help any way you can.
- Teach children that no matter what an abuser may say, a child must have the courage to tell someone if they’re being hurt or inappropriately touched. It’s the only way the abuse will stop.
- Abuse is never acceptable. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Let Your Children Know They Can Talk to You
- Tell your children to tell you right away if they ever need help or feel unsafe.
- If they aren’t with you when they feel unsafe, tell them to tell a teacher, counselor, doctor or other trusted adult.
Last Reviewed: December 2019