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Child Safety


Bernd (Bernie) Weiss, Ph.D.

Safety in the Home

Approximately 3500 children under the age of 5 die by accident each year. A touch over 4000 children between the age of 5 and 15 die accidentally each year. In other words the accidental deaths of children in the U.S., hovers around 7500 each year. About 1000 of the under-5 infants die in car accidents, 800 by drowning, roughly 300 through ingestion, about 200 are poisoned, close to 1000 are burned, about 150 fall to their deaths, and about 50 die via firearms. Between 60% and 70% of these children are boys and the vast majority of these accidents occurs in or around the victim's home.

The average home is so full of hazards for children-especially small children-that the safest rule to follow is never to leave children unattended. Children can exercise incredible ingenuity in finding dangerous material to play with. Responsible adult intervention is therefore often necessary.

Your medicine cabinet, for instance, probably has dangerous poisons and cutting instruments which fascinate your youngsters. Be sure such cabinets are out of the reach of small children. The medicine cabinets should have difficult to open doors which curious youngsters cannot open. Medicine and poisons should be kept in the newer type of childproof containers. These containers have special lids that must be positioned in a particular way before they can be removed. Children (and some adults) have great difficulty opening such containers.

If there are stairs in your house, you can prevent small children from climbing them by placing barriers across them. You can use a piece of large flat board across the top of stairs to block children from climbing or falling. Wooden folding gates are also available from children's stores. Carpeting on your stairs helps cushion any accidental fall.

Keep sharp instruments/tools away from children. Tweezers, paper clips, scissors, knives, needles, forks, etc., are all potential hazards. Such items should be placed in cabinets or drawers that are either out of your child's reach or securely locked.

against an attempt to get into them. A series of drawers with loop-type handles can be easily secured by placing a stick through all the handles simultaneously Knobbed drawers or handles can be somewhat secured by using plastic strips with slits through which the knobs can be pushed. In these ways the attempt to open one drawer means pulling against the others as well, making it difficult to open any of them. Check at your local market for other childproof safety devices.

Don't leave unsafe electric cords lying around. It's quite easy for a child to plug one end into an outlet and electrocute him/herself on the other end. Make sure all appliances are either turned off or placed out of reach so the youngsters can't burn themselves.

Never leave children unattended near a swimming pool and always abide by the rules that should be posted near the pool. A life saver (or any floating, safety item) should also be handy in case of an emergency. Drained pools should be completely covered with (semi-) solid material to prevent anyone from falling in. Fence your pool area whenever possible to keep out neighboring youngsters that want to use it without your knowledge. Many communities have ordinances which legally require you to enclose your pool.

Don't leave seldom or unused refrigerators standing around without removing the locking devices. Better still, remove the doors completely. All too often children have playfully locked themselves into such ice boxes and suffocated to death.

If you have an accident or medical emergency, call the Fire/Sheriff/Police Department's paramedic unit. For ready access to emergency numbers list them and keep copies of the list near your telephones as well as in your car. In an emergency you can dial 911 (or "O" for operator) to get the appropriate help. Also be sure that your children and other household members (including the baby-sitter) know how to call for emergency assistance should the need arise.

Although only about 50 infants die each year because of firearm accidents (a small number compared with other causes of accidental deaths), this type of accident is particularly vexing because it is so easily preventable. Don't just tell your children not to touch any firearms you may have in your house because firearms hold too strong an attraction for youngsters to merely respond to such directives. Instead exercise other, more effective options.

If you have children, you may want to get rid of your guns until your kids are mature enough to be educated in gun safety. However, given the high crime rates in many areas, you may opt to keep guns in the house for protection. There are trigger-guard locks or special gun cabinets you can buy to render the firearms safe from children. Check with the local chapter of the National Rifle Association or a nearby, reputable gun dealer for more detailed information about such security items.

Child Molesting

Child molesting is one of the major problems experienced by children and their families. The molester's impact upon the child can vary from being mild to very extreme depending on the actual act of molestation as well as on the reactions of the people around the victim. There is no known way to identify a child molester until he or she actually begins to molest children. The molester looks like anyone you might know and trust. Like rapists, molesters are often family members who frequently enjoy good relations with their own sons and daughters. Often the child has previously been acquainted with the offender. The majority of the victims are under 8 years of age, but some of them are as old as 16.

About one-sixth of the victims resist and tell their parents. But others, perhaps due to lack of appropriate attention at home, keep returning to the offender. Children have strong love, attention and affectional needs. If these needs are not reasonably met at home, the youngsters will be more receptive to such attention coming from outside the home. Molesters are very good at picking victims who are emotionally hungry. They use the child's needs to manipulate the child into cooperating with them. Children in stable, loving homes tend to have greater emotional security to resist/survive molestations with less psychological trauma.

The actual molestation can sometimes have a less disturbing impact upon the child than the reactions of people after the incident(s). Parents, relatives, and friends should remain calm and warm. Home life should continue as normally as possible, and the child should be helped, as much as possible, to understand the experience and why it might have happened. Try to help the victim feel accepted and loved in order to survive the molestation with a minimum of long-term, mental/emotional damage. Above all be cognizant of the fact that the molestation is not the child's fault. The victim is completely free of culpability but by your behavior/attitude may feel guilty and responsible which can lead to mental problems.

Teach your children as early as possible safety precautions to minimize the risk of being molested. Local police departments, social service agencies and schools/colleges often offer safety classes. Call your local agency for the times and locations of these classes.

For example, teach your children to never accept automobile rides from strangers. The youngster should be taught to keep his or her distance from a stranger's car while giving directions or to avoid giving directions entirely. You can have your child point strangers to a gas station or store for directions. If someone tries to force the child into a vehicle, screaming and running toward the nearest populated area is a recommended strategy.

If the child is active in selling such items as Girl Scout cookies, lemonade, magazines, etc., s/he should be accompanied by others. Halloween trick-or-treating should also be done in groups accompanied by adults. Furthermore the treats should be carefully examined. There have been incidences where food items contained needles, tacks and razor blades.

Children should be taught to never play near public restrooms, back alleys or any desolate place. Neither should they take short cuts through or past such places. When going to movie theaters, they should go in groups. Teach them to report anyone attempting to touch them inappropriately to the theater manager or usher.

It is also very important to teach your children never to let anyone into the home when they are alone. As soon as the youngster is old enough, teach him/her to dial 911 (or "O" for operator) to get emergency help. When parents are out of the house, they should always leave phone numbers where they can be reached by the children or their baby-sitters.

Instruct baby-sitters never to let the children out of their sight. Nor should baby-sitters allow their friends into the house except with the clear permission of the child's parents. Instruct baby-sitters not to allow strangers into the house regardless of the plausible-sounding reasons such strangers may give. Furthermore, the baby-sitter should always be left with phone numbers where parents can be reached.

Choose baby-sitters with the greatest of care. If the sitter is a stranger to you, get references and check them out thoroughly. An irresponsible sitter can bring tragedy into your home. Baby-sitters have been known to expose their employers and wards to molesters, drugs, kidnappers, burglars and dangerous neglect.


Child molestation is a major concern of many parents. According to Coleman, Butcher and Carson, most pedophiliacs (Pedophilia is a condition in which an adult wishes to have, or actually has, sex with children) are men, although women also occasionally molest children. The definition of adult versus child can vary from state to state, country to country, and culture to culture. Some countries/cultures make no, or few, distinctions between children and adults with respect to sex (e.g., France). Contact with the victim usually involves fondling the genitals. At times the child is manipulated into fondling the pedophiliac's sex organ or into mouth-genital contacts. It is relatively rare for the pedophiliac to attempt coitus.

The work of Revitch and Weiss suggests that older molesters prefer immature children and younger offenders seek adolescent girls 12-15 years of age. There are about twice as many female as there are male victims.

The offender usually knows the victim, and the sexual behavior may continue over time. Usually physical force is not used. Swanson found that only 3 out of the 25 cases he studied involved the active participation of the victim.

The reader should be cautioned about having too much faith in these data because most researchers end up with a convenience or incidental sample of people for their study. Such samples are risky in the sense that they may not be representative of the population of victims we might be interested in. Sgroi, for example, makes the point that many cases of sexual assaults on youngsters probably go unreported because the parents want to protect the child against further ordeal.

Cohen, Seghorn and Calmas found that the most common type of pedophiliac is one who was not able to have satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers throughout his life. Sexually he is comfortable only with children and usually knows the victim.

A less common type is the man who has feelings of masculine inadequacy and responds to rejection by his spouse or girlfriend by molesting immature girls, often strangers.

Another common type of child molester is the pedophiliac whose primary aim is aggression. These are hostile psychopaths who often injure the child.

Regardless of the type of offender, prevention by carefully observing adults who interact with your children and stopping any relationships which look suspicious is, unfortunately, a necessary part of modern parenthood.

© 1998 Bernd Weiss

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