Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston
Public Safety Minded Parents
It was Thursday and we were at the Houston Zoo for a school field trip. It was packed with children running and squealing. Groups of parents walked by with backpacks and strollers; teachers followed their maps and had their class coolers. Surely nothing truly bad could happen in such a kid-friendly environment? Right?
How I wish that were true...
In fact, just the day before our class was at the Zoo, our partners at KHOU shared that a 6-year-old, on a field trip similar to the one I was on, was approached by a man who allegedly tried to abduct her. He grabbed her arm, threatened her safety and held his hand over her mouth so she could not scream. At the Zoo? But it's so crowded!?! And it's a place for kids to play! and learn! Exactly. It's crowded and kids are everywhere.
So now what? Am I making a case not to go to the Zoo? Of course not. But I am making the case that in this new age, public safety and being safety minded must be a top concern for all. We've got to become Public Safety Minded (PSM) Parents and wear this hat all the time.
The PSM Parent Dealing with Public Places: Goes and has a wonderful time! Reminds kids before going that they must stay with an adult, not talk to strangers and fight/scream/kick/cause a scene if a stranger tries to grab them. Additionally, PSM Parents have a set plan in case you get separated and decides, will you meet at the ticket counter? Will they find someone who works at the location? They think through the day and have plans in case of an issue.
Just a few weeks ago, a respected Houston mom who did everything right, was grocery shopping when her son needed to use the restroom. She took him and waited right outside the door. That said, just a few moments later, a predator walked in and used his cellphone to take photos of the young boy. While we have a description of the man, he has not been caught and she has no idea what he did with the photos. The mom is wanting to make sure nothing like this ever happens to her son or to anyone else's child again.
The PSM Parent Dealing with Public Restrooms: Thinks ahead just like the mom in this case! In general, always hit the restroom at home before you leave to mitigate having to use a public bathroom. That said, our kids will have to go, of course, when we are out and about. First and foremost, look for and use a family restroom which allows only one person at a time. If that's not an option and you and your child are of the same sex, always go in with them. If you cannot go in with your child, share concerns with your child and the need for them to be consciously thinking about their safety and overly aware of the people in the restroom with them. If your restroom is overly crowded or you feel uncomfortable, ask a store manager if there's an employee who might be able to accompany the child into the restroom and, at a minimum, be the eyes and ears of the parent who is on the other side of the door.
Beyond the dangers that lurk in public places, we also have to think of the online world we live in. Just the other day, New England Patriot player Julian Edelman was alerted to the fact that one of his Instagram followers had made a threat against his Michigan school, which read: "I'm going to shoot my school up watch the news." Edelman reported the post, law enforcement got the IP address and arrived at the boy's home. There were two weapons in the home and the boy was sent to a juvenile-detention center.
The PSM Parent Navigating the Online World: Here's where we put up barriers because, quite honestly, if your child is online, you have reasons to be concerned. The PSM parent thinks about what they are posting, which social media platforms they are using, who they are connected to, what apps they have downloaded, is aware of the newest risks that come with new updates, and more. It's exhausting but necessary. Additionally, we remind our children that threats online, no matter where kids make them or whether or not they are serious, will be traced and prosecuted. In this time of school violence, we are all being overly cautious, as we should be. It follows that all students, parents and social media followers should be on the lookout for online risks and dangers and be vigilant in reporting them.
We are lucky to be living in Houston and during a time of such ingenuity and creativity and we should all be enjoying everything this wonderful life has to offer. That said, I'm simply asking that we do it all with a public safety mindset, become a PSM Parent - whatever that means for you. You'll never, ever regret having that one conversation that has saved your child's life or mitigated harm that could have come their way. I promise.