Across the country, it’s back to school time, which means it’s time to talk to your elementary, middle, and high schoolers about back to school safety tips, including how to stay safe before, during and after school.
Tragic headlines give today’s parents a lot to worry about when it comes to school safety, but it’s important to remember the everyday safety concerns that often get overlooked. From 2008-2017, 264 students were killed making their way to and from school. It’s not just transportation concerns either, peer pressure and confrontation, safety while in school, and after school safety are also topics of discussion.
The transition period between school and home is often a rushed and loosely supervised time. It’s easy for students to forget all about safety. Instilling good habits goes a long way.
While younger kids might ride the bus, walk, bike or get dropped off by a caregiver, older kids might drive themselves. No matter what form of transportation your kids use to get back and forth to school, lay down a few rules to help them make safe choices.
School bus safety
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 264 school-aged children were killed in bus-related accidents from 2008-2017 but that 203 of these children were injured or killed while walking, waiting for the bus, riding in a vehicle, or biking rather than being on the bus. With a string of accidents at bus stops in 2018, where a 7-year-old and 9-year-old were killed waiting for or boarding their buses and several adults and kids were injured while waiting at their bus stops, safety starts at the bus stop.
Ideally, you or another trusted neighborhood parent will be able to accompany and supervise your child at the bus stop for the first few times they make the trip. If you can, continue to drive by the bus stop occasionally to keep tabs on what’s going on there. That way, you can teach good habits and observe any potential dangers unique to your specific bus stop, such as high-traffic intersections or poor lighting, and prompt your kids to act accordingly.
Teach your kids these do’s and don’t for bus stop safety:
- Stay at least five feet from the curb or roadway at all times. Or, for a more kid-friendly guideline, teach your kids to take three giant steps back from the curb or road, and to stay at least that far back while they wait for the bus. That gives drivers and cars plenty of clearance to get around.
- Stay alert at the bus stop. Consider enforcing a “no headphones/devices at the bus stop” policy, since these distractions keep kids from responding to their surroundings.
- If crossing the street to board the bus, wait until the bus driver puts the arm/stop sign out to stop the cars going in the opposite direction. Even when the stop sign is up, kids still need to look both ways before crossing the road.
- Kids should never walk behind the bus or in other places it can be hard for the bus driver to see.
- Once on the bus, kids should take a seat, face forward, and remain seated at all times.
Once the wheels on the bus are rolling, kids should listen to the bus driver. They should also be aware of the other emergency exits, such as the bus door and emergency exit windows, in the case of an accident. Many schools offer a mandatory bus safety demonstration at the beginning of each school year to help elementary kids learn bus safety – double check with your child’s school to make sure this gets done.
Walking or biking safety
If a child is walking or biking to school, make sure that they know and obey all of the traffic laws. Walkers should use a sidewalk, when available, cross in crosswalks, and never push or shove or play near the road.
Bikers should always wear a well-fitted helmet. Make sure your kids know when it’s appropriate to ride on the sidewalk, use the bike lane, or to ride with traffic while obeying the rules of the road. Kids should never use electronic devices while riding their bike but instead should pay attention to the road and traffic.
Since walkers and bike-riders are frequently unsupervised, remind them about stranger danger. Tell your children to never talk to or go anywhere with strangers, no matter what that person tells them. Consider setting a “family secret password” that they can ask for if a stranger claims that mom, dad or another family member sent them. In the event a stranger grabs them or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, kids should be prepared to yell, physically defend themselves, and escape back to school, home or a trusted adult. Encourage your kids to tell you if any non-student approaches them on the way to or from school, for any reason.
More back to school walking and biking tips for parents:
- Don’t allow kids to walk or bike to school unsupervised before they’re ready. While it’s a great way to increase their physical activity and sense of independence, it’s too risky if your children don’t remember or obey basic traffic rules.
- Have a Plan B for getting kids to school in case of inclement weather or traffic conditions. Biking in particular is more dangerous (not to mention messy) on the days that are rainy, icy or windy. If there is a detour, make sure your kids can navigate around it.
- Visibility matters. At the very least, kids should have a bright, reflective jacket or backpack that helps drivers see them and identify them as schoolchildren at just a glance.
- Wear backpacks properly, with both straps on, to help prevent back strain and entanglement (more backpack safety tips here).
- Consider leveraging technology to track your child’s location. If they have a phone, apps like Life 360 let you track their location in real time. You could also go with a GPS tracker like AngelSense to track your child’s whereabouts without them needing their own phone.
Safety while driving to school
When high schoolers get their own set of wheels, it’s often a relief for kids and parents alike. While teens love the new sense of independence, parents appreciate not being on chauffeur duty. Both parties need to be involved in keeping up safe driving standards.
Safe driving basics are covered in driver’s ed, but they bear repeating: Always maintain at least one car distance between the vehicle in front of them; always leave at least five feet between the car and bikers or walkers on the side of the road; never speed or disobey traffic laws.
Additional tips to prevent and protect against common teen driving risks:
- Curb distracted driving by using built-in phone settings like Do Not Disturb While Driving mode.
- Take advantage of location-tracking apps or devices to ensure you know your teen’s whereabouts.
- Consider buying your teen a roadside assistance plan in the event of common automobile emergencies, especially if they drive an older model car, which are more prone to breakdowns and wear-and-tear.
- Make sure their car is properly maintained to prevent accidents caused by issues like bald tires and worn-out brakes.
- Encourage your teen to be out the door early. Speeding and distracted driving often arise as a result of being late.
A new school year means new classmates and new personalities. People of all ages, not just kids, must constantly learn and grow in order to have healthy relationships with the people around them. Kids rely on us to learn how to navigate these relationships.
If your child is being physically or verbally victimized by another child at school, teach them to stand up for themselves with their words by saying, “No! Stop! I don’t like that,” while looking the bully in the eye. Tell them to then walk away from the situation and to tell an adult such as a teacher, aide, or administrator what happened.
Kidpower.org suggests you act out a scenario with your child where she is walking in the hallway or another location at school when a bully approaches her. Tell your kids that leaving a situation with confidence, awareness, and calmness is the best way to deal with a bully. That can mean veering away from them in the hallway or playground or switching seats in the classroom or on the bus.
When kids are using cell phones or other electronic devices, tell them to avoid interacting with strangers or giving out any personal information online via social media, text messaging, etc. If one of their peers or a stranger is bullying or teasing them via text messages, instant messaging, social media or email, tell your kids to log off of the site or device and ignore the cyberbully. They should also keep you informed about all of these incidents.
If your child is receiving bullying messages online, here are some actions you can take:
- Block the individual on the app, social network or device.
- Print or screenshot messages or interactions so you can share them with parents or school administration as necessary.
- Remind your child that everyone faces social problems from time to time, and it’s not something they have to deal with on their own.
- As a parent, you also have resources. Reach out to teachers, school administration and/or child development professionals to tap into expert help for your child’s challenges.
After School Safety
Getting home from school safely is just as important as getting to school safely. All of the transportation rules that apply on the way to school also apply when coming home. If your child has a cell phone, make sure they have it on them at all times so you can reach them, they can reach you, and they can call 911 in case of an emergency.
For kids that stay home unsupervised after school, make sure that they let themselves in and lock the door immediately behind them. They should never let anyone in the house, especially a stranger, so they should not open the door for anyone. If you have an alarm, they should arm the security system immediately after locking the door behind them.
When kids are home alone, they often assume they have free reign to do whatever they want. Nip that assumption in the bud by creating a list of devices or activities that are off-limits when no one’s home. For example, you might nix the use of appliances that can present a fire hazard, such as the oven or stove, or ask that they don’t play outside without adults home.
Households with on-the-go kids can also benefit from smart locks, video doorbells and security cameras:
- Smart locks allow you to give every family member or visitor customizable PIN codes to lock and unlock the door. Parents can use the accompanying smart phone app to see who comes home and when; kids will experience fewer lockouts because they won’t have to remember a key.
- Video doorbells can send you activity alerts so you receive an update whenever someone’s on the doorstep. Know when your kids get home, if they bring any friends with them, or if there’s any suspicious activity in the area.
- Security cameras extend your eyes and ears into common areas. If you select a model with two-way communication, you can even talk to your kid right through the camera.