The story of the murder of 6-year-old Jenise Wright in Washington is a tragedy no parent should experience. Her family mourns, her community mourns, and parents everywhere are left wondering how, or if, it could have been prevented. Unfortunately, there is no way to know. Jenise was very young, and her murderer was someone in her circle of trust. That said, there is always room for teaching moments when a tragedy like this occurs. Here are my thoughts about how parents might take steps to keep their children safer:
- Even when you feel like your community is "safe" you should have a family rule that mandates that your children keep you informed of there whereabouts at all times. Meaning, give your child boundaries that are very strict and insist that your child check in with you before crossing any of those boundaries. Boundaries can be "you are not allowed to leave our yard unless you come and let me know where you are going" or "you can't go off our street without letting me know" and especially "you are not allowed to go into someone's home, get into a car, enter a back yard or go on a walk or bike ride with anyone unless you check with me first." Your children are always safest when you know exactly where they are. I once had a client tell me her personal story of an averted kidnap murder. When she was 7-years-old, a man approached her and asked her if she would like to go see some kittens that he had in his car. She said yes, but his car was past her boundary line so she told him she needed to go ask permission first. She left to go ask permission and of course her mother said no. Later that day, it was reported that a young girl had been kidnapped two streets over from where she lived. That girl was murdered. Black and white boundaries can go a long way in keeping your child safe.
- Never let your guard down completely, even with relatives or with people you think you know well. Jenise's murderer was a close family friend who had spent a lot of time in the home and with the children. The family had no reason to suspect that he would do anything like this. Teach your children to trust their instincts, and if someone is making them uncomfortable, even someone they know well, teach them to get out of that situation or call attention by screaming or yelling. They should always be instructed to tell a trusted adult.
- Keep very close tabs on young children. They should not be allowed to be on their own under any circumstances, and this includes within your neighborhood, at church or in your community. These poor parents never considered that their neighborhood might harbor a murderer and now they are paying a terrible price for allowing their daughter to be unsupervised. I can assume that there are many parents and others questioning the judgment used by the parents in this situation, but there are also thousands of young children all over our country who are given these same freedoms at a very young age. It's simply not safe.
- Give your children some instruction on how to respond if someone bigger and stronger tries to hurt them or take them. Teach them how to physically fight back and defend themselves. Seek out a training class if there is one available in your community. Revved Up Kids is proud to provide this training for children and teens in the Atlanta area. Visit our website at www.revvedupkids.org for more information.