Soon kids will be out of school with hours of daytime to fill. Sure, some may spend it cooped up inside playing video games and surfing the net, but most parents would rather see their kids outside, getting some fresh air, exercise and a little adventure.
Yet letting your children play outside in your neighborhood invites some risks. And parents must establish some clear neighborhood safety rules to ensure that their children aren’t putting themselves in peril.
For instance, local mom of four Karen Rupert only allows her two oldest children (ages 10 and 8) to walk, run or ride bikes about four houses in front of her. If they are riding bikes around the block, her children know that they must stop at the corner or at the curve of that path and wait for her to catch up. "They have to stay visible to me. Always in view is my general rule of thumb," she explains.
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Parents have to enforce whatever rules make them feel comfortable, but Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard offers four tips that he says should be on every parent’s list of safety musts. Consider it the foundation for summer neighborhood safety.
1. The buddy system. One child walking down the street: It’s not a good idea, says Bouchard. In fact, he says the "best rule" to ensure the safety of your child while he or she is playing in your neighborhood is to insist that your child buddy up with a friend or sibling. He explains that it is always preferred to have two or three people walking together, for all ages. If your kids want to spend the day having an outdoor adventure on your block, have them invite a friend over for the day. Then they can walk or ride bikes together.
2. Set clear expectations. It’s important that you and your children communicate about two very important expectations – where they’ll be and when they’ll be home.
- Location: Tell your children that you expect them to be exactly where you’ve agreed they’ll be, whether that’s biking around in circles in your cul-de-sac or walking to a friend’s house a block away. If something comes up that would change what you expect, then you need to stress to your children that you should be notified before they take it upon themselves to deviate from the plan.
- Set a specific time with your child to be home. Make sure your child understands that you expect him or her to arrive at home at that time or before – not a minute later.
These rules are important to help ensure your children’s safety, but also are critical in the unfortunate event of your child not coming home on time. This information will help you act fast and accurately.
3. Carry a cell phone. If your child has a cell phone, he should take it with him at all times, says Bouchard. If your child doesn’t have a cell phone, then you can give him an old, inactive one (though fully charged) to carry with him when he heads outside to play. Bouchard says that even old, inactive cell phones can dial 9-1-1 for free. You don’t need to have the phone registered with a plan.
4. Pick a safe route. If your child is traveling (either by foot or bike) from point A (your house) to point B (a friend’s house, the park, etc.), Bouchard suggests parents plan a specific route for him or her to take. If possible, he says to have your child pass a house occupied by someone that you know and trust.
"This way, if the child were to be in danger, he or she knows that it is safe to knock on that door," he explains.
Inform a friend who lives down the street that you have told your child he can go to that house if necessary. Show your child the house and have him walk there, to make sure he remembers where to go.
To make sure the route you have chosen is safe, Bouchard says to visit the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry, where you can enter your ZIP code and find where registered sex offenders live in your area. "Tell your child to avoid these routes," he says.