Growing up, the holidays were definitely our favourite time of the year. There was so much to do, and none of it involved early morning rides on the school bus or doing homework. In the teen years, you had the pick of your mom’s fridge; and after three months of githeri and R ‘n’ B (if you know, you know) this was a welcome opportunity to replenish lost weight. It was also the time all your friends are home as well.
However, the holidays are also a period in which children are probably most vulnerable to various security risks. In the build-up to this year’s national examinations for instance, teenage pregnancy became a nationwide phenomenon and was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. This past week, gender-based violence targeting children dominated public debate, particularly in Embu and Kakamega counties. It emerged that bodaboda riders in Embu were targeting young ones commuting to and from school, and while schools are now closed, the threat still looms large.
Elsewhere, tales of cultural rites of passage gone wrong have begun to surface. A 15-year old boy died during such a ceremony in Murang’a, prompting conversations around what really goes on under the veil of secrecy that the initiates swear to keep. Meanwhile, in the same county, reports of 12-19 year old boys being arrested for their suspected involvement in organized crime also came to the fore.
In light of all this, our children’s safety needs to be top-of-mind right now. What activities do our young ones get up to during the holidays, and how can we keep them safe while at it?
- Baby’s day out:
Back in the day, there was only a finite number of outings you could have with family. Today, however, things are different. Trips to malls have become field excursions, there’s cinema theatres and the beach life, and everything in between. For younger kids, discuss the concept of ‘safe strangers’ with them before leaving the house. This would be someone in uniform, like the security guard in a mall, or a mother with children.
Teach your children not to leave your side without asking you. Wherever they are, you should be able to see them, and them, you.
For older children, perhaps agree on a designated point within the premises where you should meet at if you get separated. You might be tempted to leave your child unattended in a movie theatre or gaming arcade, but remember that criminal elements might be on the look-out for unsupervised children.
- Around the home:
The festive cheer brings with it Christmas traditions like holiday cards, family retreats and of course, the Christmas tree. However, with younger kids in the house, special precautions should be taken. Be wary of cards with button batteries (also popular with success cards) as these can easily be swallowed. If decorating the Christmas tree is a family tradition for you, be sure to have the more delicate ornaments towards the top so that your young ones don’t have to overreach or handle anything that can easily break and hurt them.
Fire safety should also not be forgotten. Candles and other potential hazards should be well out of the reach of children. Even for older kids, teach them to put out candles when leaving a room or when going to bed for the night. During family get-togethers, the kitchen and any other cooking areas (like the barbeque grill) should remain out of bounds to children.
- Beware the internet:
Speaking of pastimes we had not growing up, the age at which young ones are introduced to the internet continues to drop. Conversely, the vices that our youth today can be exposed to online increase with every click.
Over the past few years, the war on terror (and radicalism) has gone digital, with online radicalism increasingly being employed as a recruitment tactic by terror cells across the world. Not to mention the immoral content that is easier to find now than it has ever been.
Consider monitoring and moderating your child’s online activity. You can do this by limiting the time they spend online every day, or by limiting their daily data bundle allocation. Teach them not to engage with strangers on social media, and definitely not to disclose personal information about who they are, where they go to school and other sensitive details.
- Peer Pressure:
The internet might have brought on fads like the selfie stick and hover boards, but peer pressure probably made them cool. The other side of peer pressure is probably not as fun though. In Bomet, 30 students were arrested after they were caught participating in immoral activity. This in itself isn’t new, but occasions such as exam after-parties, Christmas and New Year offer up several opportunities for teenagers to misbehave. Consider having discussions with your child on the risks they might be exposing themselves to if they joined in on such activities.