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Strangers on the Playground

Sat, 10/01/2005 - 1:00pm
Last updated
6 months ago
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What children need to know to stay safe

There’s an elephant in the room, and nobody’s really talking about it. We all know it’s there, but sometimes nobody really wants to acknowledge its presence. Some would like to just leave it alone and hope it leaves them alone. It’s a stranger on the playground. The truth is, it’s an unpleasant and scary subject. We would like to believe we can take our children to any playground and enjoy a safe atmosphere.

It seems schools have taken steps to keep our children safe from strangers. A lot of schools have fenced yards, not only to keep children in but to keep unwanted elements out. Some even have gates that are locked like clockwork each morning after the first bell rings to prevent the uninvited from accessing the playground.

We hopefully have plenty of people out there who are concerned with this and are on the lookout for anything that might constitute an unsafe situation on the playground and who are keeping these issues away from our playgrounds. We have to applaud these efforts because this is an important issue, important to the well being of our children. These people, such as teachers, parents and playground supervisors have been educated in one form or another to watch for and aid in removing unsafe elements.

They are there because of safety concerns such as child abductions, and you may have had some of these same thoughts…the playground you and your siblings used to play on, possibly even without supervision, isn’t a place you feel comfortable sending your children to alone. You know that your children shouldn’t be sent to play anywhere alone anyway, but the risks seem even greater these days. Is it because as adults we have been exposed to or read or heard more about child abduction than we paid attention to as children? Are there more children being abducted these days than there were when we were children? It’s certainly not a fad, abduction. It’s an ongoing problem, and in some cases, it’s someone the child knows.

You’ve seen commercials where children are asked what a stranger looks like. They say a stranger is scary looking or maybe a mean looking guy even. That’s not always the case. A stranger is a stranger…an unknown person. They don’t look like monsters. They look like the lady or the guy down the street. It seems that someone who might be looking to abduct or hurt a child might want to look as normal as possible so they arouse the least suspicion and appear trustworthy to lure a victim in. Your children need to know this and be aware that they don’t have to live their lives in fear but they do have to be cautious and report strange visitors on the playground to an adult.

Children need to know that they have the right to safe play and know what to look for. Here are some things that can help drive that point home. Let them know that they should make the following from the Garner, N.C. Police Department website part of their safety habits:

  1. Know that a stranger is anyone you or your parents do not know very well or at all. Strange behavior by someone you know is something to report as well.
  2. Stand tall and walk confidently – know where you are going.
  3. Be alert to surroundings at play and in general by keeping their ears open for unknown people or strange or unsafe situations. Always know what is happening around.
  4. Don’t take shortcuts through alleys to the playground or anywhere else. Stay in busy areas.
  5. Walk and play with friends. Always use the buddy system.
  6. Never let a stranger photograph you. If approached, tell a trusted adult.
  7. Never walk away with someone you just met on the playground …even if they tell you they need your help finding a lost animal or object. Leave that area to tell a trusted adult.
  8. Never take candy, money or any other object from someone you do not know. Bad strangers can be very sly and might try to lure you away from a safe area. Do not ever take a stranger to show them where something is. Tell a trusted adult about this.
  9. Avoid strangers who are hanging around public restrooms, schoolyards, playgrounds, etc.
  10. Stay away from suspicious areas.
  11. Do not ever give out your name, address or phone number to a stranger.
  12. Don’t be fooled into thinking you know someone just because they call you by your name. It could be that they saw your name on your shirt or backpack and don’t really know you. A stranger could try to gain your trust this way.
  13. If you feel scared or uncertain, tell a trusted adult: Parent, teacher/principal, police officer, neighbor/friend, etc.
  14. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, know that you have the right to yell NO loud and clear. Remember that a  stranger can be someone you know who is now acting strange, and you have the right to be safe.
  15. If you think you are in danger, yell and run to the nearest safe place home, friend’s house, your home, school office, or store.

This brings us to another important resource for safety, Project Safe Place. In answer to the need to provide more resources for safety for children, this project was started. This program helps to offer a network of safe sites, which are hosted by qualified agencies with trained volunteers. It began as an outreach program of the YMCA Center for Youth Alternatives. This program has spread throughout the United States, and these locations are known by the yellow diamond-shaped signs hung in windows of designated safe places. Children are being educated to know where these locations are in case of crisis. For more information on this, log on to www.safeplaceservices.org.

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