By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
If you were president, what is the one thing you would do to keep children safe?
We put that question to 1,188 children and youth ages 5 to 18 in ChildFund’s U.S. programs in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas. When we take a look at their answers, the common denominator is fear.
What would they do as president? Most say they would keep children away from predators, bullies and strangers. Some would make children stay inside their homes, lock down schools, put stone walls around parks.
Some would even implant tracking devices under children’s skin and in their teeth.
More than 30 percent spoke about enforcing adult supervision, setting up alarm systems and giving children safe places to go.
Another 7.5 percent recommended keeping children isolated and restricting their movements or staying with their parents at all times. And 18 percent say they would create, change or enforce laws, mostly to keep children safer. Others would shut down the Internet or use technology to track down sex offenders and predators and keep them away from children.
Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them.
Part of this sense of danger and insecurity is likely based on real problems in their communities; the children polled are from disadvantaged and poor areas, with more than 20 percent of the population under the national poverty line. High dropout rates, domestic violence and substance abuse are documented issues, along with other hardships associated with poverty.
“While children responded overwhelmingly that they feel the safest at home, we know that many homes are not safe environments for children in these areas,” says program director Julia Campbell. “In previous surveys and consultations with children, they are reluctant to talk about what goes on at home and mainly focus on the problems outside the home. Perhaps compared to the other choices, home still feels the most safe to them. It’s still what kids know best and what they prefer.”
But children also are reacting to perceived problems, too. They’re scared of being targeted by sexual predators, kidnappers and other villains around every corner. Dangerous people exist, of course, but are they as omnipresent as some of the children’s answers suggest?
We need to pay attention, even when what they say seems a little off the wall. Children usually are reflecting the concerns — voiced or not — of the adults around them. Just read some of their answers to “If I were president …”
I would make a small town and keep them in there. There wouldn’t be no bullying, no people trying to get them.
I would keep children safe by putting the schoolhouse on lockdown.
If they are ages 6-13, they should not go places without parents guarding them.
NO Guns, NO Drugs.
Ban drugs and walking home alone from school.
I would make a stone wall around the park and only kids and their parents can go in.
I would make the parks safe 24 hours.
Make sure that the parents are good; they don’t get drunk and beat their kids.
I would keep children safe by keeping ISIS away from America.
Remove every website.
I would have a soldier at as many doors as possible, make it illegal for people to use motorcycles, make animal shelters that don’t kill animals, and make it illegal to smoke or drink.
Have an online school because a lot of children get kidnapped walking home after school.
There are a few light-hearted and optimistic answers, like the children who would ban homework on Fridays and establish four-day weekends, but the vast majority of the young people polled suggest fairly extreme solutions to the question of keeping kids safe. And as we know from working in countries with political strife and other dangers, it’s hard for children to concentrate on playing, making friends, studying and reaching their potential when they’re afraid.
But if we look back to the children’s words, we can find a few answers about how to ease their fears and help them feel safer and more confident. We just need to listen:
Make parents teach children what’s right and wrong and lead them on the right path.
Have a class where all children go and talk to a teacher to tell them anything that is going on with their lives.
Listen to what they have to say and look for the best solution for their problems.
Talk to them about all their insecurities and just tell them that everything will be all right.