Oct 12, 201211:13 AMEducation Matters
How to Stay Safe After School
Once my two daughters were old enough to stay home alone after school, we laid out the ground rules for keeping them safe.
Rule Number One: If someone comes to the door who you don’t know, don’t answer it. Pretend that you are not home.
Montgomery County Police Community Services Officer Joy Patil says that’s actually really bad advice.
That’s because 90 percent of home burglaries occur during the day and the person knocking on the front door may be checking to see if anyone is home before heading around to the back door to break in, she said.
If kids hide or pretend they’re not home, burglars are more likely to break in, thinking the house is empty. “We have had situations where kids have called us from locked bathrooms” while an intruder was in the house, Patil said.
So she recommends that you teach your kids to let a stranger at the door know that they are at home. Never should they open the door or let people know they are alone, but they can pretend to be on the phone or say that a parent can’t come to the door right now, she said. Knowing that someone is home is likely to persuade a would-be burglar to move on.
That’s just one piece of advice that Patil offered this week to a group of middle-schoolers during a session on how to be safe when they’re on their own. Parent Sallie Buck of Silver Spring organized the meeting at the Silver Spring fire station to help educate her seventh-grader and other kids who may be heading home to an empty house after school.
Patil urged students to be aware of their surroundings at all times, whether they’re walking home from school or approaching an empty house. Kids should know where they can go—which neighbors are home during the day, for example—if they sense something is wrong and to never hesitate to call 911 for help.
“Things aren’t always ok and I need you to understand that and make those judgments calls,” she told the students. “Now it’s your responsibility to take charge because no one is there to take responsibility for you.”
Here are some of Patil’s other safety tips:
When walking home from school, kids should try to stay in groups or in sight of other walkers. Even if kids don’t walk home side by side, they should make sure to keep an eye out for each other.
Students should always walk closer to the street so other people can see them and never take short cuts through yards, alleys or other isolated areas.
Remind your kids not to text, email or talk on the phone while walking because those activities will distract them from someone who may be approaching.
If someone does approach, whether in a car or on foot, kids should move away as quickly as possible and try to note any information they can, such as a car’s license plate, what the driver looked like, and which way the car was headed.
If someone does try to grab or touch them, kids must forget rules about not fighting with others. That’s the time to “kick, scream, bite and scratch” to get away and run to a safe place, Patil said.
When your kids arrive home, if something seems wrong—maybe the house seems too cold because a window is open—make sure they know to leave immediately and to call 911 from outside the house, or to go to a neighbor’s where they will be safe.
And, lastly, make sure your children carry a house key with them and have it in hand as they approach the front door.
“Don’t hide the spare key in the garden because everybody is going to know where it is,” Patil said.