- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Summer is the season children long for. Freed from the constant supervision that cramps their style during the school year, they relish playing outdoors during the long, warm days. For many parents, however, summer is the season they most dread. They must scurry to find programs that can substitute for school hours, and they worry about their child's health and safety.

"Summer is a dangerous time," says Genny O'Donnell, spokeswoman for the National Safe Kids Campaign, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that tries to reduce injuries through education. "Children have more free time, and they're outside on playgrounds, in pools, on bikes and in-line skates more during the summer, and that means more injuries."

Summer's scrapes and scratches are not the only hazards of the season. Latchkey children have a lot more hours to fill without adult supervision.

"Some of these guidelines are just good common sense," says Nancy McBride, director of education for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has its headquarters in Alexandria.

But, she adds, parents need to do more than warn their children about strangers because 80 percent of all molestation and abductions are committed by people who are familiar to the child.

"We need to teach our children to be on the lookout for certain kinds of situations or actions rather than certain kinds of individuals," Mrs. McBride says. "If there's a problem, it's far more likely to be with a coach or counselor than a total stranger."

Following are some other summer safety tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as other safety experts.

• Teach your children they always must check with you or the person whom you have left in charge before they go anywhere. They should check in whenever they change locations.

• Children need to know they should never go anywhere alone. They always should have a buddy.

• Tell your children never to accept any gifts, food, treats or favors from anyone without checking with you.

• If children are going to be home alone, they need to be coached on safety rules never open the door, never tell phone callers that they are alone.

• Children never should go into a public restroom by themselves even at a community center or pool.

• Children never should be in a public place the mall, movie theater, bowling alley or parks alone.

• Go through "what if" scenarios with your children so they know what to do if they become lost or are approached by a stranger.

• Help your children map your area and even walk through the neighborhood so they not only can find their way home but know whose house they can go to for assistance.

• Never visibly label any of your children's clothes or belongings with their names. That can be used by predators to gain their confidence.

• Teach your children that they don't always have to be polite or obedient. They should know how to extricate themselves from an uncomfortable situation.

• Plan ahead when visiting a large public area, such as a theme park. Agree on a meeting place if family members become separated; wear colorful clothes so you can spot each other in a crowd; and give each family member identification and emergency phone numbers.

• Set clear guidelines at the beginning of summer about any areas that may be off-limits, such as unfenced pools, woods or unsupervised playgrounds that you have deemed unsafe.

• Make sure your children know safety rules and wear protective gear when necessary.

• Children younger than 10 never should cross a street alone.

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