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Child Safety

At Home Alone: A Parent's Guide

Your ten-year-old comes home from school at 3:00, but you don't get home from work until 5:00. He's at home alone for those two hours every weekday. What does he do until you arrive? Most likely, he gets a snack or talks on the phone. Maybe he watched TV. But since you're not there, you worry.

Just like the majority of American parents who work and have to leave their children on their own after school every day, you are anxious about your child's safety.

But by following the safeguards listed below, you can help ease some of this worry and take measures that will protect your kids even when you're not around.

What You Can Do:

  • Make sure your children are old enough and mature enough to care for themselves.
  • Teach them the basic safety rules.
  • Know the three "W's": Where your kids are, What they're doing, and Who they're with.

Are They Ready? Can your children...

  • Be trusted to go straight home after school?
  • Easily use the telephone, locks, and kitchen appliances?
  • Following rules and instructions well?
  • Handle unexpected situations without panicking?
  • Stay alone without being afraid?

A Word About Curiosity:

Are there things you don't want your children to get into? Take the time to talk to them about the deadly consequences of guns, medicines, power tools, drugs, alcohol, cleaning products, and inhalants. Make sure you keep these items in a secure place out of sight and locked up, if possible.

Teach Your "Home Alone" Children...

  • To check in with you or a neighbor immediately after arriving home.
  • How to call 9-1-1, or your area's emergency number, or call the operator.
  • How to give directions to your home, in case of emergency.
  • To never accept gifts or rides from people they don't know well.
  • How to use the door and window locks, and the alarm system if you have one.
  • To never let anyone into your home without asking your permission.
  • To never let a called at the door or on the phone know that they're alone. Teach them to say "Mom can't come to the phone (or door) right now."
  • To carry a house key with them in a safe place (inside a shirt pocket or sock). Don't leave it under the mat or on a ledge outside the house.
  • How to escape in case of fire.
  • To not go into an empty house or apartment if things don't look right - a broken window, ripped screen, or opened door.
  • To let you know about anything that frightens them or makes them feel uncomfortable.

Take a Stand!

  • Work with schools, religious institutions, libraries, recreational and community center, and local youth organizations to create program that give children ages 10 and older a place to go and something to do after school - a "homework haven,"; with sports, crafts, classes and tutoring. Don't forget that kids of this age can also get involved in their communities. Help them design and carry out an improvement project!
  • Ask your workplace to sponsor a Survival Skills class for employees' children. You can kick it off with a parent breakfast or lunch.
  • Ask your community to develop a homework hotline latchkey kids can call for help or just to talk.
  • Join or start a McGruff House or other black parent program in your community to offer children help in emergencies or frightening situations.

Cyber-safety for Kids Online: A Parents' Guide

The Internet has opened up a world of information for anyone with a computer and a connection! Your children will learn about computers. But just as you wouldn't send children near a busy road without some safety rules, you shouldn't send them on to the information superhighway without rules of the road. Too many dangers from pedophiles to con artists and reach children (and adults) through the Internet.

Getting Started:

  • Explain that although a person may be alone in a room using the computer, once logged on to the Internet, he or she is no longer alone. People skilled in using the Internet can find out who you are and where you are. They can even tap into information on your computer.
  • Set aside time to explore the Internet together. If your child has some computer experience, let him or her take the lead. Visit areas of the World Wide Web that have special site for children.

Controlling Access

  • The best tool a child has for screening material found on the Internet is his or her brain. Teach child about exploitation, pornography, hate literature, excessive violence and other issues that concern you, so they know how to respond when they see this material.
  • Choose a commercial online service that offers parental control features. These features can block content that is not clearly marked as appropriate for children; chat rooms, bulletin boards, newsgroups, and discussion groups; or access to the Internet entirely.
  • Purchase blocking software and design your own safety system. Different packages can black sites by name, search for unacceptable words and black access to sites containing those words, block entire categories of material, and prevent children from giving out personal information.
  • Monitor your children when they're online and monitor the time they spend online. If a child becomes uneasy or defensive when you walk into the room or when you linger, this could be a sign that he or she is up to something unusual or even forbidden.

Tell Your Children...

  • To always let you know immediately if they find something scary or threatening on the Internet.
  • Never to give out their name, address, telephone number, password, school name, parent's name or any other personal information.
  • Never to agree to meet face to face with someone they've met online.
  • Never to respond to messages that have bad words or seem scary or just weird.
  • Never to enter an area that charges for services without asking you first.
  • Never send a picture of themselves to anyone without your permission.

What You Can Do In The Community:

  • Make sure that access to the Internet at your children's school is monitored by adults.
  • Know your children's friends and their parents. If your child's friend has Internet access at home, talk to the parent about the rules they have established. Find out if the children are monitored while they are online.
  • Make sure that your child's school has an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). This policy should include a list of acceptable and unacceptable activities or resources, information on "netiquette" (etiquette on the Internet), consequences for violations and a place for you and your child to sign. Your family can design its own AUP for the home computer.
  • If your child receives threatening e-mails or pornographic material, save the offensive material and contact that user's Internet Service Provider and your local law enforcement agency.
  • If you come across sites that are inappropriate for children when you are surfing the Net, send the addresses to online services that offer parental control features or to sites advertising protection software to add to their list to be reviewed for inclusion or exclusion. Even if you don't subscribe to the service or own the protection software, you can help protect other children.

Don't Let Your Family Go Down the Tube - Use Television Wisely

  • Set limits on what children can watch. Homework and meals with the family take priority.
  • Watch TV with your children and talk about what each of you liked an didn't like.
  • Set an example. Carefully choose your own programs and the amount of time you watch television.
  • Make one room a TV-Free Zone - a comfortable place to read, talk, and listen, with no television set.
  • Don't use TV as a babysitter.
  • Encourage your children to spend their free time in activities such as sports, hobbies, playing with friends, or reading rather than sitting in front of the tube.
  • Limit video games to a half-hour a day. Use a kitchen timer.
  • Look for TV Programs that encourage kids to do something positive - build a playhouse, start a hobby, help out at home, volunteer to help someone. Look for TV programs that relate to a book, something your child is studying, or an experience from your own childhood or that of a relative.
  • Don't use TV as a reward or punishment.
  • If you find a TV ad or program offensive, write or call the sponsor and the station.

Raising Streetwise Kids: A Parent's Guide

Would your child know what to do if...

  • He got lost at a shopping mall?
  • A nice-looking, friendly stranger offered her a ride home after school?
  • A friend dared him to drink some beer or smoke a joint?
  • A babysitter or a neighbor wanted to play a "secret game?"
  • A great thing about kids is their natural trust in people, especially in adults. It's sometimes hard for parents to teach children to balance this trust with caution. But kids today need to know common-sense rules that can help keep them safe -- and build the self-confidence they need to handle emergencies.

Start with The Basics...

  • Make sure your children know their full name, address (city and state), and phone number with area code.
  • Be sure kids know to call 9-1-1 or "0" in emergencies and how to use a public phone. Practice making emergency calls with a make-believe phone.
  • Tell them never to accept rides or gifts from someone they and you don't know well.
  • Teach children to go to a store clerk, security guard, or police officer for help in lost in a mall or on the street.
  • Set a good example with your own actions -- lock doors and windows and see who's there before opening the door.
  • Take time to listen carefully to your children's fears and feelings about people or places that scare them or make them fee uneasy. Tell them to trust their instincts.

At School and Play...

  • Encourage your children to walk and play with friends, not alone. Tell them to avoid places that could be dangerous -- vacant buildings, alleys, playgrounds or parks with broken equipment and litter.
  • Teach children to settle arguments with words, not fists, and to walk away when others are arguing. Remind them that taunting and teasing can hurt friends and make enemies.
  • Make sure your children are taking the safest routes to and from school, stores, and friends' houses. Walk the routes together and point out places they could go for help.
  • Encourage kids to be alert in the neighborhood, and tell an adult -- you, a teacher, a neighbor, a police officer -- about anything they see that doesn't seem quite right.
  • Check out the school's policies on absent children -- are parents called when a child is absent?
  • Check out daycare and after-school programs -- look at certifications, staff qualifications, rules on parent permission for field trips, reputation in the community, parent participation, and policies on parent visits.
  • Check babysitter references.

At Home Alone...

  • Leave a phone number where you can be reached. Post it by the phone, along with numbers for a neighbor and emergencies -- police and fire departments, paramedics, and the poison control center.
  • Have your child check in with you or a neighbor when he or she gets home. Agree on rules for having friends over and going to a friend's house when no adult is home.
  • Make sure your child knows how to use the window and door locks.
  • Tell your child not to let anyone into the home without your permission, and never to let a caller at the door or on the phone know there's no adult home. Kids can always say their parents are busy and take a message.
  • Work out an escape plan in case of fire or other emergencies. Rehearse with your children.

Protecting Your Child Against Sexual Abuse...

  • Let your child know that he or she can tell you anything, and that you'll be supportive.
  • Teach your child that no one -- not even a teacher of a close relative -- has the right to touch him or her in away that feels uncomfortable, and that it's okay to say no, get away, and tell a trusted adult.
  • Don't force kids to kiss or hug or sit on a grownup's lap if they don't want to. This gives them control and teaches them that they have the right to refuse.
  • Always know where your child is and who he or she is with.
  • Tell your child to stay away from strangers who hang around playgrounds, public restrooms, and schools.
  • Be alert for changes in your child's behavior that could signal sexual abuse such as sudden secretiveness, withdrawal from activities, refusal to go to school, unexplained hostility toward a favorite babysitter or relative, or increased anxiety. Some physical signs of abuse include bed-wetting, loss of appetite, venereal disease, nightmares, and complaints of pain or irritation around the genitals.
  • If your child has been sexually abused, report it to the police or a child protection agency immediately.
  • If your child is a victim of any crime, from stolen lunch money to sexual abuse, don't blame him or her. Listen and offer sympathy.

Take a Stand!

  • Work with schools and recreation centers to offer study time, activities, tutoring, and recreation before and after school.
  • Start a school callback program. When a student -- elementary, middle or high school age -- doesn't arrive as scheduled, volunteers at the school call the parents to make sure the absence is excused.
  • Volunteer to help with a McGruff House or other block parent program. If you can't offer your home as a haven for children in emergencies, you can help in other ways -- telephoning, fundraising or public relations.

Talking with Children About Violence

Violence-no one wants to see children victimized by it. No one wants to see kids hurt others.

Many things today-TV and movies, words and actions that adults learned when they were children, and the daily news-send the message that violent behavior or being a victim of violence is okay, even commonplace.

What Can Parents and Other Concerned Adult Do?

Start early. Talk about effective ways to handle frustration, anger, and arguments during a child's youngest years and continue through the teen years. Stress respect for self and others, describe how you have settled arguments and other conflicts without violence, and teach children not to use words that hurt. These valuable skills can last a lifetime.

For very young children, some physical acts such as hitting, kicking and biting may be a part of their development. But by age three, most can understand non-violent ways to deal with anger and frustration, even if they are not perfect at using these skills.

When You Talk with Children and Teens About Violence:

  • Make clear that you do not approve of violence as a way to solve problems. Explain the difference between feeling angry and frustrated and acting out these feelings violently.
  • Ask about the child's ideas on violence. Listen carefully and encourage him or her to talk about worries, questions and fears.
  • Try not to lecture. Instead, take advantage of "teachable moments." For example, when there's a violent scene on television, talk about what happened and how people could have prevented it. When something violent and freighting happens at school or in the neighborhood, talk about what other choices besides violence might have been available.
  • Make sure other adults in the child's life- a grandparent, a cousin, a neighbor-know and respect your teachings about violence, It confuses children when adults they trust send contradictory messages about the ways people should act.
  • Know who the child's friends are and know how they feel about violence. Always know where your children and their friends are.
  • Set a good example. Don't let yourself resort to violence to settle conflicts or let off steam. Even in tense or very annoying situations, calm down, walk away and talk it out.

Some Basic Tips to Teach Children

Children need to learn to take care of themselves when they are school, with friends, or just out and about. There are many ways young people can reduce their risk of being involved in violence.

Teach them to:

  • Play, walk, bike, or skate with a friends rather than alone, and always let a responsible adult know where they are.
  • Never go anywhere with someone they and you do not know and trust.
  • Not let an argument grow into a fight-cool off, talk it out, even walk away if they have to. Settle the problem with words, not weapons or fists.
  • Never carry a knife, gun or other weapon. It is against the law and a sure way to turn a simple argument into a fight where someone gets badly hurt or killed.
  • Not use alcohol or other drugs. the effects they have on people's minds often encourage violence.
  • Stay away from kids who think fighting and other forms of violence are "cool" and from places where fights often break out.
  • Become a conflict solver for brothers and sisters, friends, and classmates by getting training in mediation skills to help others work out problems without violence.
  • Tell a police officer or other trusted adult if they see a violent crime, and talk about it to you or another caring adult.

Take a Stand

  • Find out about conflict management and mediation training for adults and children. Work with schools and parent organizations to teach these skills in all grades.
  • Help develop recreational and educational programs for all young people in the community, so they will have better things to do than fight and can benefit from adult supervision and mentoring.
  • Make sure your schools are safe places to learn. Many Children feel safer after school than when they are on school property or traveling back and forth to school. Work with educators, local government, law enforcement and others in the community to solve problems involving crime, drugs, harassment, and bullying.
  • Get youth, from grade-schoolers to teens, involved in helping the community. Some ideas include cleaning up a playground, starting a garden, tutoring younger children, escorting elderly residents to stores, producing a newsletter. When young people have an important role in building up the community, they are far less likely to turn to violent actions that tear it down.

Talking With Your Kids About Drugs

Don't put off talking to your children about alcohol and other drugs. As early as fourth grade, kids worry about pressures to try drugs. School programs alone aren't enough. Parents must become involved, but most parents aren't sure how to tell their children about drugs.

Open communication is one of the most effective tools you can use in helping your child avoid drug use. Talking freely and really listening shows children that they mean a great deal to you.

What do you say?

  • Tell them that you love them and you want them to be healthy and happy.
  • Say you do not find alcohol and other illegal drugs acceptable. Many parents never state this simple principle.
  • Explain how this use hurts people. Physical harm - for example, AIDS, slowed growth, impaired coordination, accidents. Emotional harm - sense of not belonging, isolation, paranoia. Educational harm - difficulties remembering and paying attention.
  • Discuss the legal issues. A conviction for a drug offense can lead to time in prison or cost someone a job, driver's license, or college loan.
  • Talk about positive, drug-free alternatives, and how you can explore them together. Some ideas include sports, reading, movies, bike rides, hikes, camping, cooking, games, and concerts. Involve your kids' friends.

How Do You Say It?

  • Calmly and openly - don't exaggerate. The facts speak for themselves.
  • Face to face - exchange information and try to understand each others point of view. Be an active listener and let your child talk about fears and concerns. Don't interrupt and don't preach.
  • Through "teachable moments" - in contrast to a formal lecture, use a variety of situations - television news, TV dramas, books, newspaper.
  • Establish an ongoing conversation rather than giving a one-time speech.
  • Remember that you set the example. Avoid contradictions between your words and your actions. And don't use illegal drugs, period!
  • Be creative! You and your child might act out various situation in which one person tries to pressure another to take a drug. Figure out two or three ways to handle each situation and talk about which works best.
  • Exchange ideas with other parents.

How Can I Tell if a Child Is Using Drugs?

Identifying illegal drug use may help prevent further abuse. Possible signs include:
  • Change in moods - more irritable, secretive, withdrawn, overly sensitive, inappropriately angry, euphoric.
  • Less responsible - late coming home, late for school or class, dishonest.
  • Changing friends or changing lifestyles - new interests, unexplained cash.
  • Physical deterioration - difficulty in concentration, loss of coordination, loss of weight, unhealthy appearance.
  • Why do kids use drugs?
Young people say they turn to alcohol and other drugs for one or more of the following reasons:
  • To do what their friends are doing.
  • To escape pain in their lives.
  • To fit in.
  • Boredom.
  • For fun.
  • Curiosity.
  • To take risks.

Take A Stand!

  • Educate yourself about the facts surrounding alcohol and other drug use. You will lose credibility with your child if your information is not correct.
  • Establish clear family rules against drug use and enforce them consistently.
  • Develop your parenting skills through seminars, networking with other parents, reading, counseling, and support groups.
  • Work with other parents to set community standards - you don't raise a child alone. Volunteer at schools, youth centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, or other activities in your community.

For More Information:

  • State and local government drug use prevention, intervention, and treatment agencies.
  • State and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Private drug use treatment service listed in the telephone book Yellow Pages.

The Smart Route to Bicycle Safety

Riding a bicycle is more than just basic transportation ? it can be a fun and exciting hobby. When your children ride, remember that they're not alone. They share the road with cars, trucks, pedestrians, and other cyclists. Since accidents can turn a bicycle adventure into a bicycling tragedy, here are some tips to help make your children's ride a safe one.

What You Can Do:

  • Tell children to wear helmets. Studies have shown that using a bicycle helmet can reduce head injuries by up to 85 percent. Select a helmet that has a snug, but comfortable fit. Look for the helmet labels that show they are recommended by either the American National Standards Institute, www.ansi.org, or the Snell Memorial Foundation, www.smf.org.
  • Make sure children wear proper clothing. Clothing should be light in color and close fitting to avoid being caught in the bicycle's moving parts. Also, be sure books and other loose items are carried in a backpack.
  • Teach children to obey the rules of the road. These include all traffic signs, signals, and road markings. Teach children to ride on the right side of the street in single file and to use proper hand signals. Tell children never to hitch rides by grabbing onto moving cars or trucks.
  • Teach children that before entering a street or intersection to check for traffic and always look left-right-left. Walk the bike across busy streets at corners or crosswalks.
  • Children's bikes should display both front and rear reflectors. They should ride only in familiar areas and only during the daylight hours.
  • Make sure children's bikes are adjusted properly. Check to make sure that all parts are secure and working. The handlebars should be firmly in place and turn easily. The wheels should be straight and secure. Check tires for pressure, bulges, and cracks.
  • Teach children to always lock up their bike. A U-lock should be used, securing both the front wheel and the frame to a stationary object such as bike rack. Help children practice locking up their bike.
  • Be sure children do not show off on their bikes. Hands should be kept on the handlebars, only one person should be on the bike at a time, and jumping curbs should not be allowed.
  • Record the serial numbers of your children's bikes and keep them with the sales receipt and a photograph of the bike. Check with local police or the National Bike Registry (NBR) at 800-848-BIKE about bike registration programs. NBR recently partnered with NCPC to help return stolen bikes to their rightful owners.
  • Mark children's bikes with an engraver to deter thieves and to help in identifying and returning a stolen bike. Use a unique number, such as your driver's license number.

Crime Prevention Tips Provided by: National Crime Prevention Council