As a child growing up in South Africa, I have wonderful memories of vacation times filled with adventures to faraway places like Cape Town, Durban, and the Kruger National Park; as well as hiking, picnicking, cave hunting and swimming close to home. Decades later, and living halfway across the world in Utah, kids can have just as much fun and be as safe as I was, with a tweak here and there to help.
Protect Yourself from the Sun. It’s important when planning any outdoor activities this summer to be sure to have appropriate clothing, lots of water to drink, and sunblock and hats available to protect you and your child from the sun. As you travel to each activity, buckle-up and NEVER leave any of your children and/or pets in a car while you “run into the store to pick up something you forgot.”
Put Away the Electronics and Talk. A new law in Utah outlaws manipulating a cellphone and/or other electronic devices by hand while driving. If you can, put away your cellphone and talk and laugh with your kids while you have them in the car with you. On our travels, my parents would often ask us what we looked forward to at our destination. This helped them introduce rules for safety such as: The buddy system with a sibling or an invited friend (often works well with teenagers), and regular check-in times, so no-one was gone from the main group for too long.
Establish Routines and Stick to Them. Keeping to a routine and setting a summer curfew for kids, even teenagers, can be helpful. Having routines and rules keeps our kids safe. A child who consistently stays up late is going to be miserable after a few nights of too little sleep. Encouraging kids to do their chores, and rewarding them with the opportunity to learn a new skill or hobby can be a great way to strengthen relationships with them.
Know Your Kids’ Friends. Know who your child’s friends are and be sure to have the contact numbers for the parents of those friends. Call the parents and meet them if possible so you know more about who your children are hanging out with.
Teach Children How to Deal with Strangers. Lots of children spend time outdoors during the summer so it’s a good idea to have a code-word that each family member knows in case they encounter “stranger danger.” You may have seen the news report a few weeks ago of a young boy in Salt Lake who, at a scout activity, was able to protect himself when a stranger tried to lure him away from the group. He asked the stranger what the family code-word was, and when he didn’t hear it, he ran back to his troop as fast as he could, thus avoiding a potentially dangerous situation.
Establish Internet Use Guidelines. Some parents may not be able to be with their children throughout the summer, due to work and other responsibilities. It’s important to teach children, even teens, about not only physical risks, but also the risks of cyber space. Set limits on Internet contacts and know what your child is doing online. As a single mom years ago, I was extremely busy in school and at work. One evening my 14-year-old son informed me of a new friend he’d made while playing a particular online game. As he described some of the questions his friend was asking him, my ‘red-flag’ antennas began to beep! I am not very tech-savvy so I found someone who could help with my concerns. I discovered, to my horror, that the “friend” was a convicted pedophile involved in child-pornography. Another safety measure: keep your computer in a public place… everyone in the family will get into less trouble that way.
Summer is a wonderful time for creating happy moments and memories with our children. One of the best ways to do this is to develop strong and connected relationships with them. Plan activities together, be spontaneous, ask questions and offer suggestions that will keep them safe, and best of all, have fun!