Teaching Children Safety and Security (First of Two Parts)

My brothers and I ‘grew up’ in the streets. Grew up in the sense that we knew what it was like to freely play patintero, tumbang preso, or taguan pung with our relatives and neighbors in abandoned, unguarded spaces and streets without our parents having to worry much about our security and safety. Since our first house was very close to the town plaza, we also knew what it was like to loiter there without having to worry about any other thing except our grumbling stomachs or being labeled ‘plaza boy’ or ‘plaza girl.’

I remember we would only go home from play when our Nanay would call out our names, or when we would hear that loud whistle from our Tatay reverberating from a distance, signaling it’s time to go home before dusk sets in. We were never scared before of dark, evil men—yes, like those who grab little ones and corrupt their innocence these days. In fact, we never knew about them. We were rather scared of tales by our elders about dark, evil forces or spirits allegedly inhabiting the decades-old, humongous tree standing in our neighborhood.

But now, times have changed. Indeed, it has changed things significantly in so many ways that we, now parents ourselves, somehow would no longer let our children play with their friends out in the streets by themselves without having to worry that a stranger might snatch them and be lost in our sight forever. Similarly, we can no longer depend on ourselves alone to safeguard our children from various threatening elements whether inside or outside the home. Because truth is, as times have indeed changed, so do threats, hence the need to empower our children.

Ben Lichtenberg, an experienced and professional Security Consultant, in fact shares the same sentiment. “I think that the world is much different now than when I was a child and the threats are different. When I was growing up (that was 50 years ago) you didn’t have to worry too much about some stranger grabbing your kid, or some deranged person with a gun or knife killing your kid, things like that were very rare instances, now you hear about something like that almost on a daily basis. However, back then most mothers were housewives who didn’t work but whose job it was to look after and protect the kids.”

Since times and threats have both evolved, when and how do parents then begin to teach their children the concepts of safety and security? Lichtenberg, who is also a former Red Cell providing Diplomatic Security in Iraq for 3 years, says it all begins “when they are old enough to walk” or “starts from the earliest age possible and continues throughout their lives,” and “wherever they are.” Besides he adds, “We do it all the time anyway by telling them not to climb the stairs, don’t put your hand on something hot….”

Beyond simply imparting the knowledge, he also cites that experience can help in the process of teaching. “Sometimes the best teacher is experience, example, you’re at MOA [Mall of Asia] on the boardwalk and there is a gap in the walkway, the child starts running and trips over the gap, the parent tells the child, ‘See you shouldn’t be running here and you should watch where you are going.’”

An early introduction could be an issue to some parents, however. For one, to those who believe that children should be spared from negative impressions of the world until they’re old and mature enough to understand. Second, to parents who think that teaching them these delicate matters may corrupt the innocence of the little ones. But Lichtenberg believes otherwise, “Not at all, in fact, it is my belief that not teaching them about security and safety at the earliest is negligence on the part of the parent. These are just basic duties of a responsible parent.”

Another concern is that some parents sometimes get confused and interchange these two different concepts. If such is the case, Lichtenberg says then “there is a problem,” so he suggests that parents will have to “learn the differences” first.

So he differentiates the two. “Security is protecting against outside threats…Safety is keeping them safe from injury.” He says security threats are “strangers, bad influences, dangerous situations.” In terms of safety, he enumerates usual reminders like “don’t touch the fire, be careful on the stairs, don’t put marbles in your nose.”

Although security encompasses several areas, he clarifies that, “For kids security is all personal security issues, protecting themselves from bad people or bad situations….Safety is safety, the common sense things to not injure one’s self as stated above.”

Besides taking experience as a learning curve, could role-playing be used as well in educating children of these concepts? He replies, “To a limited extent yes, role playing can be helpful to say, teach your kids what to do if a stranger grabs them. But I would make it a fun thing and would have the whole family involved.” But he gives a heads-up as well. “The problem with role-playing and kids is that it can make them paranoid of the real world, so limit the role-playing until they are old enough to understand what it means.”

He also thinks that “safety and security should be taught in school from kindergarten to college.” And he explains why. “We as humans lose focus quickly, we become complacent. Part of that is human nature but also it is because we spend little to no time learning and teaching about personal security expecting the government to provide for our security. The earlier we can start teaching about personal security the better. Personal security will become a habit.”

Now a retired Navy SEAL Chief after 20 years in service and a parent himself, Lichtenberg concludes with this thought: “The world is safe for kids, but, it is even more the responsibility of the parent to protect them from the bad that is out there. It is not the responsibility of the government, police, military, teachers, or anyone else to teach your children right from wrong, how to be safe and secure, it is the sole responsibility of the parent to do that. If the parent does not know how or what to teach about safety and security then they need to learn.”

(Next: TIPS ON HOW TO TEACH CHILDREN SAFETY AND SECURITY)

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