2020 Made Kids Feel Less Safe: Here’s What You Can Do

Jamie Greenberger
Updated May 14, 2021
5 min read

Safety feels different for everyone — locked doors may make a couple feel safe in their home, while a parent’s hand may be the answer to calming an anxious child. But whatever your personal definition, most people can agree this past year has been filled with unsafe feelings. And new statistics show that kids share our sentiment. Safety.com surveyed nearly 4,000 parents, 1,000 of whom had children under 18, and found the pandemic has left children collectively fearful. Here’s what to know about what kids are feeling, what events are contributing most to those feelings, and what parents can do about them.

 

Key Points:

 

A Year of Change

More than three-fourths of parents claimed at least one event over the past year impacted their child’s sense of safety. But just as the pandemic, political unrest, and even financial stability varied widely across demographics, so did sense of safety. Female parents were more likely to report a shift in their children’s safe feelings compared to male parents. Parents with a four-year degree and an income of more than $80,000 were also more likely to report changes in their child’s sense of safety than their respective counterparts.

Location also played a role: While nearly a quarter of parents in the Midwest reported no changes in sense of safety, 83% of parents in the Northeast noticed a difference. Of course, the Northeast acting as the COVID-19 hotspot and experiencing some of the strictest lockdowns likely played a role. On the West coast, where record-breaking fires ravaged neighborhoods, 78% of parents also saw a change in their child’s sense of safety.

A variety of events contributed to 2020 being “the worst year ever,” but COVID-19 was by far the most impactful on children’s safety sentiments. Across all demographics, two-thirds of parents named COVID-19 as the top event impacting their children — even more than political unrest, recent riots, and gun violence. Cybersecurity and natural disasters also made an impact, but only according to 14% and 12% of parents, respectively.

Spreading the News

It’s difficult to feel safe when the dangers of the world are constantly advertised. Most parents said their children were exposed to topics that made them fearful through the TV, internet, and news. Forty-one percent of parents said their children were exposed to intimidating topics through school. Friends and peers, social media, and family members were also top sources. Regardless of where their kids encountered these troubling topics, 90% of parents reported being aware of the digital content their children consumed. 

 

Helping Kids Feel Safe — Online and Off

Fortunately, knowing what content children are consuming is the first step in keeping them safe. From there, an open line of communication can ensue. Make sure to check in with your children about the news they’ve heard and how they feel about it. Be honest about the risks of the pandemic, what political unrest means to your family, and steps you can take to feel safer — together.

 

Talking about COVID-19

Medical and health talks with children aren’t always easy. But take it from the experts: transparency and reassurance go a long way.

  • Approach the subject calmly. Children pick up on anxiety you may not even realize you’re exhibiting. Take a deep breath before you begin, and know that the conversation will only help to protect them.
  • Reassure your children that you’re taking the necessary steps to stay protected. Be honest about the risks. Children are statistically less likely to experience severe side-effects, but grandma and grandpa are more at risk. And don’t forget to address precautions. Talk to them about social distancing and wearing masks, and be open to suggestions that would help ease their anxiety.

 

Talking about personal safety

Protests, riots, and gun violence are an unfortunate part of children’s lives. Help relieve fear by keeping them informed about what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to stay safe. Be sure also to show them the safety ropes appropriate for their age.

  • Teach them how to use home safety devices. If your child is home alone, they need to know how to arm and disarm security systems. They’ll also need to know how to contact emergency services by phone or through a security device in case of a fire, break-in, injury, or related event.
  • Talk to them about public safety. Inform your child to follow their instincts in uncomfortable situations, and ensure they have the tools needed to remove themselves. Talk to them about more than stranger danger — they should also know when and how to say “no” to friends and acquaintances and leave any situation that doesn’t feel right.

 

Talking about digital safety

There are very few ways to control the information shared by friends and family, but parents do have control over what information their children are exposed to online. Parental controls are a great tool to utilize if you notice your child’s anxiety increasing.

  • Start an open line of communication. Before you jump to remove all electronics, talk to your child about the content they consume and the feelings it brings up. Let them know it’s safe to come to you with any fishy feelings or topics they find upsetting. Then work with them on how to avoid certain sites and topics or manage the emotions that arise.
  • Set boundaries on devices. Whether your child has stumbled upon them or not, some sites are simply not for kids. Depending on your child’s age, consider setting parental controls to limit the sites your child can access. Be mindful of what sensitive content looks like to different age groups — adults may be used to seeing images of protests and riots on social media or the news, but graphic content can leave children feeling anxious and fearful.

 

A Part of Parenting

The world isn’t always an easy place to live in, and the past year has definitely shown its colors — even to kids. Between the pandemic, politics, and increased reliance on technology, children are being exposed to a lot of potentially frightful topics. While sheltering may be an automatic instinct for most parents, honest communication and necessary preparation will always yield better results. Sit down and talk with your child, and remind them that it won’t be like this forever.


Jamie Greenberger

Jamie is an experienced editor in home, health, and family safety. Driven by passion, she is committed to helping people feel secure — everywhere and every day.

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