Besides ensuring that we keep our children well nourished and healthy, as parents we want our children to grow up to be independent and self-sufficient. In today’s fast paced and -dangerous’ world, parents are often very reluctant to allow children to experience independence but when kids are not exposed to the real world, they are never taught how to become independent and are never able to develop the fundamental skills that will help them to become self-sufficient adults.
Certainly independence is linked to age and it is unrealistic to assume that a three-year old is capable of looking after themselves, but an eight-year old should be able enjoy some level of independence, such as staying with a friend for an afternoon, or staying over at a friend’s home etc.
One of the most important roles of parents is to keep their children safe and protected at all times, however it is possible for kids to be independent and at the same time safe.
Stranger Danger – It is vital for kids to be taught that not all adults are friendly and not all grownups are helpful. In the same vein, it is not beneficial to teach kids to be cynical of each and every adult, but the golden rules of stranger danger are:
- Never accept a lift from a stranger (no matter what they say)! South Africa is known for its high crime rate and city dwellers are certainly a lot more vigilant when it comes to teaching kids about stranger danger. Kids need to be made aware of the dangers and it should be made perfectly clear that getting into a stranger’s car is a definite no-no! Unsavoury adults will often play on a child’s emotions (such as stating their parents were involved in an accident, etc). Accepting a lift from a stranger is a rule that has been passed down through the generations.
- Opening the door to a stranger – there are many families in South Africa where parents have no alternative but for school-going children to come home to an empty house after school (these kids are often referred to as latch-key kids). When home alone, the rule of opening the door for a stranger (or even a family friend) should be strictly enforced. Parents should also never arrange for kids to oversee or coordinate household repairs, etc, as the fact that they are home alone will be emphasised.
- Friends – during school holidays, parents may feel that having a friend over is a great form of entertainment for their stay at home child. Parents are urged to get to know their kid’s friends and it may also be a good idea to limit the number of friends who are invited over.
Access to information is critical for a child who is learning their way around the big-world. One way to keep kids safe and sound is to inform them how they should react in a situation that is dangerous or unsafe.
- Help kids to memorise phone numbers or give children a list of all important contact numbers. Besides having mom and dad’s cell numbers and work telephone numbers, kids should also have a list of all alternative phone numbers, such as that of an aunt or neighbour.
- Children also need to be taught how to contact emergency services, such as the South African Police Services, an ambulance, or the fire department, if necessary. Even children who are cared for by a nanny should be shown how to contact the relevant emergency services.
- Cell phones! It may not seem like a good idea to purchase a cell phone for a seven-year old, but often a programmed cell phone that has all the important numbers may be helpful and it may also give parents the assurance that, if needed, they are able to contact their kids. On the flip side of the coin, it’s then vital that parents educate their kids on the possible dangers that cell phones may pose and ensure that they are educated on cell phone safety.
- Parents need to know where their kids are at any given time. This may seem obvious for parents who have toddlers or preschoolers but tracking the movements of a sociable school-going child is not always that easy. If play dates have been arranged after school, parents need to know where the child lives, etc. and it may be a good idea to meet the parents before the play date, or to find out who will be supervising!
By the time a child has reached the age of 10, their peripheral vision and their ability to judge distances should be suitably developed to allow them to cross a street safely. With so many kids being driven to school, a large number of kids (many in their teens) have never been taught how to cross a road. To an adult this may seem like a relatively simple process but for a child who has never been provided with the opportunity to judge distances, and taught how to look left and right – this may seem to be a rather overwhelming task.
Road safety is an essential skill and parents are urged to provide their kids with the opportunity to develop this skill. Certainly this skill should be linked to age and the first attempts will require the assistance of mom or dad and will involve teaching their kids how to look left and right and how to correctly use the demarcated pedestrian crossings.
Parents these days are often quick to say that kids today are not allowed to enjoy the same freedom as in years gone by – the fact is that kids can enjoy a certain level of independence and parents are able to have a certain amount of control over their kids, to allow them to grow independently, while ensuring they are safe! Even though SA, especially in the metropolitan cities, has undergone dozens of changes in the last twenty years, parents can keep their child’s childhood as normal and as carefree as possible by having effective safety measures in place.