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Van Beek: Keeping your children safe | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a series on school safety.

In the first part of this series on school safety, we covered the importance of school resource officers and their passion for connecting, engaging, and protecting the children that are assigned to them. It is a calling — and one that is taken very seriously.

When asked about some of the most important issues regarding a child’s well-being, they list the traditional concerns that we all faced in childhood: navigating challenging academics, engaging in appropriate social behavior, making distinctions between having fun and participating in destructive behavior, balancing time requirements between responsibilities, sports, family activities, community involvement, and planning for a wonderful future, which includes college or career preparation.

Naturally, drinking and substance abuse remain concerns. However, in recent years, we’ve seen increased concern about the use of “study drugs” (for keeping awake) like Adderall or Ritalin because of the rise in fatalities from Fentanyl-laced drugs. A student who never drinks or takes drugs may consume “just one pill” to finish studying for an exam before bed. The consequences are swift and deadly and Fentanyl does not discriminate between a partier or a serious student … dead is dead. 

Another area of concern is mental health. With an increase in youth suicides, we, like every community member, seek to provide the help needed to get a child through a mental crisis. 

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We develop a strong bond with the kids so that if they are in crisis, they can come to us so that we can direct them to needed professionals at times of crisis. It helps that we have a regular and trusting relationship with those on campus so that between all of the teachers, administrators, and the school resource officer, working closely with parents and mental health professionals, we can help a child make it through the emotional trauma they are experiencing.

To young people, the passage of time can feel like an eternity, making the problems seem never-ending.  If you add social media to the equation, the pain can feel insurmountable, and they just want the pain to end. It’s critical that they have somewhere to turn during the crisis so that they can envision other options that will offer a happier outcome.

First, we have to know the child well enough to recognize the discord they are experiencing so that we can connect them with the appropriate professional who can give them the critical help they need at precisely the time they need it.

Another area of increasing concern is the influence of social media on a child’s mental health as well as their physical safety.

As most parents remember, there was always academic stress and social pressure, which upon leaving school would diminish. Such is not the case any longer. Cell phones and social media follow the child 24/7, leaving little time for respite, and things can “go viral” within minutes with little time or ability to control it. Thus, kids feel a need to constantly monitor what is happening to make sure they aren’t being swept up in a scary digital frenzy.

Of course, that impacts sleep and concentration. With little reprieve, it will distort perspective. As we grow, we learn skills for handling these issues, but a child has not yet achieved that level of maturity — and the pressure to conform or respond can become immense.

We have written several articles on online safety and will be including additional parent strategies in the next part of our child safety series. What we must remember is that young people are naïve when it comes to online “friends.” They confuse friendly with friends. Child predators are experts at being friendly. They engage children and gain trust … with the scariest part being that your child takes these predators home and to their bedroom, via their phones and other digital devices.

School resource officers overhear things being said between kids in the hallways, and children will also confide in them some of their insecurities, fears, and uncertainties. They say that one of the greatest causes of distress that students express is the overwhelming control social media has on their lives. It is truly a love-hate relationship with their phones … they can’t live with it, and they won’t live without it.  They crave parental involvement but worry about the restrictions that might cause them a social disconnect. It’s a balance that all parents live with … how much “monitoring” is invasive and too much?

While we will be covering this issue further in the next article, parents may want to begin discussions about “stranger danger” and how it can creep into the safety of their chats, online games, and social media platforms. 

Part of protecting our children now includes monitoring these helpful yet also highly intrusive devices (cell phones, tablets, gaming systems, computer apps, etc.) There are many parent monitoring apps available, with the best ones requiring a minimal monthly maintenance fee. These apps can be adjusted to restrict usage times and alert if a child is on a dangerous website.

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It might also be helpful to move gaming systems and computers out of the child’s bedroom and into a family area like the den or living room where inappropriate conversations are more difficult to conceal.  Parents might also consider purchasing a family phone lock box, where phones are kept overnight, allowing children an opportunity to be away from the device and get some sleep.

Parent Magazine listed their top picks for parental control and monitoring apps of 2023:

  • For Social Media: Bark
  • For Customization: Screen Time
  • For Real-Time Monitoring: Qustodio
  • For Location Tracking: Norton Family
  • For Older Kids: Canopy
  • For Younger Kids: Net Nanny
  • For Time Management: Kaspersky Safe Kids
  • For Large Families: OurPact
  • For Teen Drivers: Life 360
  • For Text Monitoring: MMGuardian
  • For a Free Option: Google Family Link

Fall is an exciting time, offering all sorts of new beginnings. Let’s make it a safe and happy time. 

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at [email protected].

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