Marybeth: Technology can’t compare to training when it comes to keeping kids safe
I’ve long forgotten the name that echoed inside the cement block building, but I still recall the panic in the mother’s voice as she called out for her son in the bathroom at Disney World. Simply put: it was the sound of fear.
The fear of losing a child in a busy amusement park prompts concerned parents to respond with all manner of security systems. From matching t-shirts to walkie-talkies, megaphones to baby “leashes,” moms and dads take steps to reduce the risk of a child being swept away – accidentally or worse, by a creepy stranger.
On one trip to Disney World when our kids were young, I recall making “dog tags” for each child that included our cell phone numbers and the name and number of the hotel where we were staying. More importantly, prior to our trip we spent a fair amount of time teaching the children what to do in case they were separated from us.
Stand still, look for someone wearing a Disney nametag, ask to use a phone, don’t wander around. “What is rule number one?” … “Stand STILL.”
We never had to test how well they learned the lesson, thank goodness. But preparing them to be lost was a big part of teaching them to become independent, resourceful, self-confident, and self-aware.
The assumption is that one day or another, we all get lost. You have to know what to do.
Today, gadgetry is gradually replacing resourcefulness when it comes to keeping kids safe. A recent New York Times tech article evaluates various GPS devices meant to help parents track their children (or even aging parents who may wander off), and I can certainly see the benefits of such devices on occasion.
At the very least, I can imagine the sense of relief that Disney World mom would have had if she’d been able to press a button and find her little guy rather than scream his name through a throat full of tears. (She found him, BTW.)
And certainly, if a GPS device on a lanyard around your kid’s neck gives you the confidence to let him go trick or treating on his own in the neighborhood, by all means get one. It’s your money.
But dollar for dollar, I think the better bet is to invest in training and character development. Kids who are taught the skills of self-reliance will demonstrate those skills when the need arises, whereas kids who are taught to rely on a GPS system to rescue them may be less safe than peers who aren’t being electronically tracked.
Thanks to our media, we’re bombarded with horror stories about the terrible things that can and do happen to children in our society. But according to my friend Lenore Skenazy, author and blogger at FreeRangeKids.com, the odds of something happening to our children are shockingly low, while the belief that our kids are at risk is unreasonably high. Read her book, “Free Range Kids: How to raise safe, self-reliant kids (without going nuts with worry),” to learn more about the real risks children face, as well as the important skills you can teach them to keep themselves safe.
Technology is great, but a cell phone or a GPS tracker won’t repell a creeper who wants to hurt a child and they won’t do you any good after you’ve run them through the washing machine.
Better is a kid who knows that being lost is just the first step to getting found, and that’s something she can definitely facilitate if she uses the best technology ever invented: her brain.