2 Essential Tips for Kid's Solo Outings


If your child moves about on their own, to and from school or activities, there are two critical tools in the personal safety toolbox that I believe trump all others: Awareness and Avoidance

Awareness seems obvious, yet in today's world of bluetooth headsets and smartphones for kids and adults, it is something that gets lost within our culture of constant connectedness.

The cardinal rules of Awareness are:

1. Be Present. Commit to what you are doing - walking to the bus, running an errand, crossing the street. Focus on this one activity. No texts, no music, no checking your phone. This includes the inevitable downtime on everyday journeys: waiting for the light to change; the bus to come; standing in line, practice presence. Do not use that 10 seconds to check or answer a text or read something on your phone. Being aware means being in the moment. When you toggle your attention to a device even during times that feel inactive, you take your attention away from your surroundings and therefore make yourself immediately less safe.

TIP: If you need to text while you are out and about: STOP. Put your back to a wall or step out of the flow of humanity, do your text and then walk on. 

2. No Headphones. This is so simple, and yet, everyday I see adults and kids listening to music while walking about the streets. Doing this immediately puts you at a disadvantage and cuts off one of your most important senses - hearing. When you can hear, you will hear when someone is running at you from behind before you see it. You will hear the gears in a car shift or the sound of tires before you see the car. You will hear someone yelling at another person (or themselves), perhaps having a fight - signaling you want to tune in and perhaps move away. You give yourself time to avoid a situation if at all possible. 

TIP: No headphones. Ever. End of story. 

3. Have a Plan (yet be willing to change it). Know your route in advance. If it is a route your child will walk every day, to school, or an activity or a friends house, do a Safety Walk together in advance. Even if the regular solo-time is only to cross the street, watch the traffic pattern together for a few minutes and discuss crossing options. Talk about catching the Eye of the Driver. If you meet your child at the bus stop every day, discuss a plan for what to do if you are late, or don't show up. What should they do if a stranger stops them? When going to a new location, always check the route in advance of leaving home. If that is not possible, and they need to check their devices on the way, remind them to step to the side, back to a wall, in a safe, well-lit space. When needed, be prepared to Change the Plan. See below for more. 

TIP: Do a Safety Walk with your child in advance of solo outings, no matter how small. You can do a version of a Safety Walk inside your own home as a way to build up to solo outings. 

4. Play Secret Agent. When I walk down the street, or ride a bus or a subway, I always make note of those around me. I treat it like a game. I scan a subway car before deciding to enter it and I try to know who is behind me and in front of me when walking down the street or riding public transportation.  I do this quickly and constantly without obsessing, a fast mental survey. Sometimes I decide to hang back or speed up if I don't like the looks of someone.  Sometimes I am scanning for a "safety buddy" - someone who may be an ally in a tricky situation. (For a great safety buddy in action see this "Snack Man" video). For kids, good safety buddies can be mothers who have kids with them, police officers, bus drivers or conductors, ticket-takers or store workers in local businesses. Be aware of those around you. 

TIP: Look for Safety Buddies. 

Avoidance is another tactic that makes sense, yet is not always as straight-forward for kids as it is for adults. 

1. Trust your Gut. Kids get funny feelings just like adults do. Teaching them to recognize those feelings and then act on them is a key step in creating a lifelong habit of personal safety. First, acknowledge to your children they may sometimes feel unsafe. Assure them this is natural and tell them if they get that feeling, to always listen to it. Give them Permission to Act. This may seem obvious to adults, yet you need to specifically say to kids: "You have my permission to make any decision you need in order to stay safe, even if you think it is something that might make me mad." 

TIP: Give your child explicit Permission to Act. 

2. Be Willing to Change Your Plan. It is important to know where you are going, yet equally important to be willing to change the plan when you feel your personal safety is at risk. As parents,  give your child or teen permission to change the plan. They can be late, or decide not to go somewhere, or change the destination if that decision was made because they felt unsafe. This might mean waiting for another subway or bus, going down a different street or longer route, or stopping for 10 minutes inside a store to allow an unsafe person or group of people pass.  Talk to kids about deciding to turn around and walk back the way they came if they don't like the look of a block or street. Give them options to consider if they want or need to avoid a potentially unsafe situation.  Present this as a very viable and acceptable option. Let kids know it is okay to make their own decisions in the moment. 

TIP: When in doubt, AVOID. Turn around, wait for another subway, go the long way around, or stay put. Avoidance is a very mature decision to make and is not rude or weak. It is smart and safe. 

3. Share Your Safety. Sometimes kids will not tell a parent about a safety concern or issue that came up when they are on their own because they are worried they will lose the chance to be independent. Safety conversations are not "one and done". They are an on-going dialogue. Encourage kids to share decisions they make and tell you about concerns they have. Reassure them that just because something may happen that causes them to change a plan, that does not mean they will never be allowed out of the house again. Honor their choices, even if, as an adult, you may have made a different safety call. Kids are feeling out their comfort zones and it's important to build the muscles for good judgement that is grounded in self-awareness and self-advocacy.  

These tips and tools will help form a strong foundation of personal safety knowledge that will grow with your kids beyond street safety to more complex decisions involving a variety of tricky situations as teens and young adults.  

For more on Awareness, see our Blog post Cop Lesson #1 Awareness is Key written by former NYPD Captain Rita Mullaney.

Keeping Play Dates Safe

A few years ago, my daughter (then 7) declined an invitation to play at her friend’s house. A neighbor she had played with many, many times. In fact, they had just spent the day before together. I thought she was being moody, but she dug in her heels and refused to go. What I later found out was the friend had led a game of doctor the day before, complete with physical exams and my daughter as the patient. My daughter did not like it and I was proud of her for standing her ground and not returning the next day (although the true reason why didn’t come out until much later.) When I spoke to the mom about the incident she respected my daughter’s feelings but I got the sense that being naked was not such a big deal in their household. In fact, she confided that her younger son was often taking his clothes off in public places because he was so used to being naked at home. While my daughter was fine being naked in our home, she was less than pleased about nakedness at someone else’s home!

This got me thinking about how we may think we know our friends and neighbors well, but we really don’t know the intricacies of how they parent until we are faced with a real life situation....involving our own children.

Providing enough supervision to keep kids safe while also letting them have the chance to make mistakes and grow is one of our many jobs as parents. It’s not an easy one. Local non­profit Kidpower offers some advice about setting up safe playdates for our kids, I’ve forwarded their recent newsletter below.

The fact of the matter is, your parenting style will never be exactly the same as your friends ­ even your best friend. I was reminded of this just last week when my best friend visited with her three kids. While I refused to allow my kids to ride in their camper van because there were no seatbelts, she refused to let the group of kids out of sight at a small town street festival. We explained to the kids that different families have different rules. I worry about car accidents, she frets about stranger abduction. Hopefully the “It takes a village” mindset will help keep all of our kids safe, I think the advice below is a great start.

From Kidpower (www.kidpower.org)

When setting up playdates with kids who we think will enjoy spending time together, we usually think of logistics such as what time and which house. Assuming that other parents will have the same standards about safety and respect that we do because they are nice people and have great kids is normal. At Kidpower, we call these assumptions: "The Illusion of Safety," because they can lull us into believing that everything is fine ­until something suddenly goes wrong.

For each situation, make a realistic assessment of your child's ability to speak up or refuse if someone does something against your safety rules ­ and to get help if anything makes them uncomfortable. Make sure that your child knows how to reach you or another adult caregiver at all times.

Have a frank conversation with the other parents about your expectations and, before

you accept responsibility for their child, insist that they do the same with you. These conversations might be uncomfortable ­ but, as we teach in Kidpower, your children's safety is more important than anyone's discomfort.

Here are 8 questions to ask yourself and other parents as you are setting up a playdate in someone else's home:

1. What is and is NOT okay with you? Sometimes there can be an issue due to a difference in culture. For example, families with young children might have very different ideas about kids playing naked in the water on a hot day ­ or seeing each other's private areas. Sometimes there may be a difference in values ­ families have very different beliefs about teasing, for example, or what kinds of videos kids are allowed to watch. Sometimes there may be an issue due to a lack of understanding. For example, people who don't have allergies might have a hard time believing that one little bite of something your child is allergic to could cause a problem. Having a clear agreement about what is and is not okay ahead of time can prevent a great deal of unpleasantness.

2. Will my child spend any time around older children or other adults? Visiting children are sometimes harmed by their friend's older siblings, friends of those siblings, or neighbors ­ who may tease them or who do something unsafe, such as locking them in the closet, taking them out of the yard without permission, or molesting them.

3. Will you be there and available the whole time? Some people think nothing of leaving their and your kids with someone else for "just a few minutes" while they go to the store and you want to know who is going to be in charge of your children.

4. Are there places you let children go without you with them? Kids going alone to the park down the street might seem normal to this family ­ but you want to know and decide yourself if your child is ready to handle this kind of independence and be aware of the potential hazards.

5. Are there guns in your home? If so, what kinds of safeguards do you have so that children do not get hold of them? Too many tragic accidents have happened with kids playing with guns, so we want to be aware of this hazard.

6. Do you supervise all use of smart phones, computers and television so that you know what children are seeing? Letting kids go unsupervised with technology can be as dangerous as leaving them alone in any public area without adequate preparation.

7. Will you be taking the children anywhere? You want to know where your children are, who is with them, how they will get there, and what they are doing.

8. Is there a pool, hot tub or other water feature nearby? During summertime especially, many playdates involve playing in the pool, or even in cooler weather, sometimes a hot tub. Knowing if the children will be in or near a private or open body of water, and how they will be supervised around it, is important in order to avoid tragic accidents. Even children who are good swimmers can get injured or surprised and find themselves in trouble in the water ­and therefore need close supervision.

A parent's response to your questions will help you to make the decision about whether or not playdates with this family will be in the best interests of your child. Finally, check in with your child before and after each playdate to review the safety rules and find out what went well, what didn't, and how can you make things better.

Lyrics: Eye of the Driver

Coming up, crossing the street
Not a time to take my chances
In the distance
There’s a car I may meet
Just a kid and his will to survive

So many times it happens too fast
You trade your patience and step off.
You’re in the street
And you’re starting to cross
Stop and look so you will stay alive

It’s the Eye of the Driver
‘cause you’ve both got the light
and they might not be looking
‘cause they’re texting
and it just doesn’t matter if they’re wrong
and you’re right
you’ll be safe if you’re catching the eye
of the driver

Face to face, out in the street
now you have to be certain
that he sees you and he’s come to a stop
you can’t go ’til you’re totally sure

It’s the Eye of the Driver
‘cause you’ve both got the light
and they might not be looking
‘cause they’re napping
and it just doesn’t matter if they’re wrong
and you’re right
you’ll be safe if you’re catching the eye
of the driver

It’s the Eye of the Driver
‘cause you’ve both got the light
and they might not be looking
‘cause they’re eating
and it just doesn’t matter if they’re wrong
and you’re right
you’ll be safe if you’re catching the eye

Eye of the Driver

Looking Both Ways is Not Enough

Approximately 4,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured and more than 250 are killed each year in traffic crashes.

Being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second leading cause for seniors.

On average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every two hours.

Source: Vision Zero at NYC.gov

I don’t know when I got so crazy about crossing streets safely.  I grew up in Manhattan and wandered around blissfully unaware, listening to the Go-Gos on my Sony Walkman.  But, as with so many other things, it all changed when I had kids.  Then, I was in charge of making sure they learned how to cross the street safely, and every car became a potential menace.

I would extol the tenets of pedestrian safety to my kids as we crossed the streets, their little hands tightly gripped by mine . . .

“Look both ways before you cross the street.”

“Wait for the walk sign before you go.”

“Cross only at the crosswalk.”

But, a few years ago, I started to realize that the basics weren’t enough.  That there was one big area of pedestrian safety that no one was talking about, and it was killing people:  Turning cars don’t yield to pedestrians.

On February 28, 2013, six-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was walking to his East Harlem school with his older brother and was killed by a truck that turned into the crosswalk.  

On January 10, 2014, nine-year-old Cooper Stock was returning home from dinner with his Dad on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and was killed by a turning taxi.  In both these cases, the children were doing nothing wrong—they were crossing “with the light.”  Cooper was even holding his father’s hand.

You see, that taxi driver and that truck driver ALSO had the light.  In both cases, the drivers were charged with “failure to yield” and “failure to exercise due care.”  Unfortunately, Amar and Cooper are just two of many who have been victims of these types of crashes.  The streets of New York City were not designed with pedestrian safety in mind, and traffic laws alone do not solve the problem.

So, pedestrians need an extra level of vigilance when it comes to turning cars.  If you are crossing a street and there is a possibility of a turning car, you have to look behind you to know if it is safe to cross.  Not left, not right – behind you.  And, if there is a turning car, you cannot assume that the driver has seen you, unless the car has come to a full stop.  Then, and only then, is it safe to cross.

My friend, Natasha Glasser, put it best: “You are entering into a social contract every time you enter a crosswalk.”  A contract takes two people, a meeting of the minds, the lawyers say.  Yes, we all know that pedestrians have the right of way.  But, what if the driver is in a rush and thinks he can squeeze in front of you?  What if she doesn’t see you or is distracted by a phone or the radio or her kid in the back seat?  You can’t assume a turning car will stop for you, until it does.  So, you have to look for turning cars, and wait for them to stop.

I started saying to my kids, “You have to catch the eye of the driver before you walk across, to make sure he sees you.”  It eventually got shortened to “eye of the driver boys, eye of the driver,” as we crossed.  One day, my youngest son, Ezra, started singing “Eye of the Driver” to the theme song from Rocky (“Eye of the Tiger”).  My other kids loved it.  They kept singing the tune, a favorite of theirs, and it stuck.  I didn’t have to remind them so much anymore.

So, the kids came up with some lyrics (helped immensely by my friend Natasha), and shot a video!  They had a great time making it, and we all hope that it helps people be safer as they cross the street!

Video on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1RmvZDm

The Top 6 Things You Should Tell Your Kids About Crossing The Street

Looking both ways is not enough. Here are 6 things to tell your kids about crossing the street.

1. Looking both ways is not enough.
When you are crossing a street, it’s not just BOTH ways, it is also BEHIND you to look for turning cars. Don’t assume a car has seen you and will yield.

2. Eye of the Driver.
Make sure the driver has acknowledged your presence and come to a stop before crossing.

3. Every Street, Every Time.
It’s not just when convenient or you have time. It’s every street, every time.

4. No Devices.
There is no need to text, talk, play or read when crossing a street. Ever. Parents and kids.

5. Stay on the Sidewalk.
Don’t stand in the street waiting to cross. You don’t get there any faster and this is the easiest safety fix for everyone.

6. Bright Colors Pop.
Bright colored jackets are more easily seen by drivers. If you have a choice in colors, go bright and stay safe.