Van Beek: Keeping Your Children Safe Part 4

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In Part I of our child safety series, we covered the importance of School Resource Officers (SRO) and their passion for connecting, engaging, and protecting children. 


Part II covered issues of mental health, substance abuse, social media, and other essential concerns, as our young ones grow, to make the journey through childhood a safe and happy one.


In Part III, we covered, staying home alone.  With more households needing dual incomes to make ends meet, and fewer childcare resources becoming available, many children come home to an empty house, for at least a few hours per week.  This reality requires additional safeguards.


In Part IV, our final segment of the series, we will cover two specific issues relating to child safety in schools: bullying and social media influence.


As parents, we all experience the normal stresses of seeing our children grow up and meet new challenges.  That process can be more difficult for some kids than for others.  Given the added concerns that developed during the pandemic, we may face more intense reactions to change than what we would commonly expect. 


BULLYING.  We all remember our childhood and some of our most unpleasant moments were those that involved the kid who just couldn’t stop physically and/or mentally beating up on others… usually those who were in much weaker positions. 


Bullying has been around forever.  Responses varied, but the anxiety caused by their actions and uncertainty of outcome is universal.


Oftentimes, we learn that the bully, is actually a victim of bullying themselves… you learn what you live.  Yet, that perspective escaped us as we attempted to avoid the inevitable confrontation.  What we remember is the stress, and to some, the terror, of going to school and facing the hostility that awaited us.  


Because aggressive bullying behavior is sparked by different things, there is no single approach to addressing it.  As safety officers, we naturally attempt to seek solutions that address the core behavior (to avoid repetition) and will diffuse the situation. 


This is where the presence of SROs (School Resource Officers) is of great help.  As we discussed in Part I of our series, they get to know their students from an entirely different perspective than the teachers or administrators.  They notice the subtle shifts in individual behavior, and overall social and cultural changes within the school community.  They frequently become a child’s safe adult confidant. 


The thing about childhood is that young people don’t have the experience of handling these issues or the maturity of knowing that it is not as bad as they may feel at the time.  To them, everything is all-encompassing and will last forever, because they can’t see an ending.  That’s when we need an adult in the room.


If a child is under duress, they will often hide their true feelings and deepest fears, thinking that there must be something wrong with them, or that they might be in trouble.  It places the parent in the undesirable position of being an investigator.  There are clues.


Child anxiety symptoms include:


Increased defiance, irritability, or aggressiveness

Disturbances in sleep patterns

Loss of appetite

Lack of concentration

Less energy

Physical symptoms like nausea, muscle tension, headaches, or dizziness

Refusal to go to school

Unprovoked sadness or crying

Temper tantrums


Low motivation  


Some symptoms are age related:


*  Preschoolers: Thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, unusual fear of the dark, regressive behavior, and withdrawal from family

*  Elementary school children: clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, and withdrawal from activities and friends

*  Adolescents: agitation, increased conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, substance abuse


One or a couple of these reactions may simply be a normal response to the usual ups and downs of daily life; however, if several of these are occurring at the same time, or over an extended period, it may be cause for a meeting with school officials or a mental health professional.  If it’s bully related, a simple meeting between the kids can often bring an end to the misunderstanding.  If it continues, more direct intervention may be required.


SOCIAL MEDIA.  We have written much about the effects of social media on teens, the addictive qualities built into those platforms, and their influence on a young person’s mental health.  Children with emotional vulnerabilities can even be triggered into deadly scenarios. 


The effects of social media are expansive, including the endless pursuit of “likes” on posts.  This results in reduced time for sleep, academics, or other usual activities.  The amount of interaction received on a post often has a huge influence on a child’s self-esteem. 


If a post doesn’t receive sufficient positive reactions, a child will often push things to the extreme, to get the desired response.  Sometimes those extreme measures can result in physical or emotional danger to the child.  And if a child is promoting tragedy to get a response, the actions that take things to the next level may create dire outcomes.


CHALLENGES.  Platforms like TikTok, create “challenges” that generate huge responses.  Promoted as harmless but daring fun, many of these challenges are very dangerous and some have resulted in death. 


As an example, one challenge that keeps resurfacing and has caused numerous fatalities is, The Chocking Game (aka, The Fainting Game, Seven Minutes to Heaven, Tapping Out, or Sleeper Hold).  This game involves cutting off oxygen and blood flow to the brain to achieve a “high”, using belts, ropes, shoelaces, etc.  The child plans on doing it for just a few minutes, but often passes out, and if the strangulation is tight, it can result in brain damage, stroke, or death.   This is only one of many challenges that teens encounter.


PREDATORS.  As mentioned before, we must teach our children that online “friends” are not necessarily real… some are predators posing as a child.  They are trained in extracting information and appealing to youth.  The dangers of abduction, rape, drug dealing (including deadly Fentanyl), and other serious dangers, lurk on that innocent-looking phone or video game.  Instruct your children that they can come to you if they begin to feel uncomfortable about their interaction with anyone online.


The dangers children face today are much more invasive and dangerous than during our childhood.  Please be safe and know that we are here to help in any way we can, and our SROs are on the frontline, creating a barrier of protection between your precious little ones and danger. 


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