When you have a family, keeping them physically and emotionally safe and is at the top of your priority list. We interviewed Dr. Deborah Gilboa (also known as “Dr. G”), a Board Certified Family Physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting speaker, about her experience and perspective on family safety and home security.
LifeShield: How important is safety and security to a child?
Dr. G: All children need a safe and secure home to feel confident and make developmental strides. If a child’s home is unsafe, they won’t take risks, such as raising a hand in class, or trying out for a sports team.
Between the ages of 3 and 7, children begin to realize that their family is not immortal, and bad things really do happen to people. As parents, we need to reassure our children, without making guarantees. If we make promises we can’t keep, we lose credibility and trust.
LS: How should a parent explain the concept of an alarm system and home security, if a child asks?
Dr. G: Don’t add the element of fear. We don’t frighten children with malnutrition, instead we explain that we take care of our bodies and eat good food to stay healthy and strong. The same thing applies to home security – an alarm system lets parents to know every time the door opens. This allows parent to know if a door or window breaks or opens for any reason, including natural causes, such animals, weather, and tree branches.
You should also tell children that if the alarm is triggered, they need to stay in their rooms until you get them, and explain that the police may come to check that everyone is ok.
LS: How should a parent deal with a child who gets upset by a crime story in the news?
Dr. G: Sometimes children latch onto a story, and one way to deal with it is go on the internet and find out what happened the next day. Reporters cover scary news events, but not the rest of the story. You can find out of the burglar was caught, if the family is safe, and if the police came to help. Most of the time, people are ok and recover from crime.
Depending on your family’s values, you can encourage your child to pray for the family, write them a card, or make a donation to a charity for the victims of violent crimes.
LS: Any specific home safety measures you recommend?
Dr. G: You should always lock your doors, even when you are home. Burglars will walk into a house grab a purse, and leave while the family is eating dinner. If you have a security system, you use door chimes on every door. As a parent, I use the door chimes on my door all the time. Once I was in the bathroom and heard the door chime. I got out in a hurry to discover my toddler running down the sidewalk after a dump truck!
When your children are outside, keep them within earshot or in your line of sight, depending on your neighborhood. I recommend using a “verbal hand-off” as well. Don’t assume someone else is watching them, instead say “I need to go, can you watch the kids?” Make sure that the other person responds “Yes” and takes over the responsibility.
LS: What about home security with teenagers?
Dr. G: Leaving a child home alone is a parental decision. If you feel your child is mature and old enough, establish rules about who can come in the house when you are not home. If untrustworthy friends come over, and bring alcohol or act inappropriately, your child may not be able to throw their friends out.
The safest thing to do is to say that no one can come in without your permission, not even friends. Your child can tell their friends, “My parents won’t let anyone come in when they’re not home. I’ll be grounded,” and defer the blame to you. You’ll allow them to save face and stay safe.
When your child stays home alone, explain that the home security system is there to protect them. If someone breaks in, it’s ok to hide. The police will be called immediately and check on their safety.
You should also have a house rule that teenagers are not allowed to put their home address anywhere on the internet, ever, unless a parent checks out the website and gives approval. Explain that giving a home address is “like giving someone a key to your home”. Teach teenagers how to be internet savvy and protect their personal information.
LS: What would you say to parents who want to get a gun for home protection?
Dr. G: A gun is not good for home protection, unless you have been a gun owner and a gun user for your entire life. You should not own a gun unless you have intensive gun training. During home invasions where an untrained homeowner pulls out a gun, the homeowner runs the serious risk of being shot by their own gun. If you do have a gun in your home, make sure it has a fingerprint trigger lock so only trained adults can use it.
LS: If your home is robbed, what can or should you say to your children to make them feel safe?
Dr. G: You should show empathy, and model resilience. You can explain what happened, and let them know that everyone will be ok. You should let children describe their own feelings, whatever they are. But the only way to get through a traumatic event is to be resilient, so parents need to be role models and show children that they can survive and thrive.
If you have additional security, safety, and general parenting questions, you can ask Dr. G through her website, www.AskDoctorG.com