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It’s that time of year again. Parents scurry to shop for school supplies, find a high-quality daycare, fill out medical forms, and arrange carpools. When making these important arrangements, don’t forget the ultimate goal…school safety. Nothing is foolproof, but before walking that kiddo to the bus stop, consider the following five ways to reduce the likelihood of your child becoming a victim of predators, or getting involved in a bullying situation this school year:

Teach boundaries  Kids need to know that no one (including classmates, relatives, teachers, coaches, and clergy) has the right to touch them, take pictures of them, or make them feel uncomfortable. They should understand the reverse, too…they should know to avoid touching others who do not want to be touched.  No adult or child has the right to ask your child to keep secrets from you!

Stay involved Sure, it’s nice to collect supplies and bake cupcakes for the school fundraiser. But more important is physically spending time with your children and their friends, to facilitate an open dialogue about their daily activities and concerns. Parents should get to know their child’s friends, coaches, teachers, and caregivers. Moms and dads who handle the carpools (and stay inconspicuous enough to eavesdrop) often have their fingers on the pulse of their children’s lives. Which kids party too much? Which families have unsecured guns in the home? Which coaches or teachers are the subject of rumors or accusations? Which friends are sexually active or using drugs? Is anyone getting picked on or bullied? Involved parents are more likely to receive helpful information about possible risks, and those tidbits can prove invaluable during later, more meaningful conversations with your child.

Offer safe communication Because many predators use threats to silence kids, be sure to remind your child that you will never punish him or her for being honest. “It is always OK to talk to me about anything that’s on your mind…I won’t get mad” is a great jumping off point. The goal is for your child to feel comfortable voicing concerns to you, and a child who enjoys unconditional love is much more likely to share. One way to encourage dialogue is to share your own concerns, dilemmas, and challenges with your spouse in front of the family: “I had a tough situation at work today…” If parents themselves model vulnerability by sharing experiences and seeking advice, their children may be more likely to seek input when confronting their own challenges.

Hit the pause button  Sometimes television shows and movies offer great teaching opportunities. When watching a show as a family, look out for chances to hit “pause” and point out both admirable actions (generosity, leadership, independence) as well as inappropriate behavior like bullying, unwanted touching, or general unkindness. Seeing others engage in both healthy and unhealthy activities reminds kids to look out for certain things and also provides yet another opportunity for your child to say “Hey Mom, something like that happened to me once…” Even daily experiences like grocery shopping with the family can provide teachable moments if parents pause to point out issues: “That man was walking too close to me, so I turned around and walked away.” “That was nice of the lady to offer you candy, but we don’t take gifts from strangers.” Use your precious family time wisely by multi-tasking and finding teaching tools in ordinary, everyday activities.

Do your homework  You’ve heard it before – most sexual predators are people that the victims know and trust. Before sending your child to a neighbor’s house, a sitter, a daycare, a camp, or a church group, get to know the caregiver. The North Carolina Sex Offender Registry is a great place to start. You can search by name and even by neighborhood to identify potential predators. Ask around and make sure the facility has a stellar reputation and the staff members have a clean record. Most public schools in North Carolina already have top-notch security procedures in place, but if your child attends a private or charter school, review its safety policy to make sure it has adequate protections to ensure that adult staff and volunteers are properly screened and that a child is never left alone out of view with just one adult.  Similarly, places of worship, sports clubs, and camps should have protective measures in place to screen employees and to ensure safe pick-up and drop-off procedures.

Sadly, bad things happen to good kids, even when parents take all the right precautions. The above steps may not protect your child from all harm, but they may lessen the risks and equip your child with the tools to identify, report, and defend himself against peril.

If your child does have a bad experience, and we hope that never happens, a good resource is a book called The Well-Armored Child, by Joelle Casteix.  If you are interested in a copy, please call the firm.

Leto Copeley and the lawyers of Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC are here for you when you have a question about a civil case, if you are a victim of a crime, or if you have been injured by the negligence or intentional conduct of other people.  Call or Email us today at 919-240-4054.

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