Today we continue our blog series on the 5 MBF Child Safety Matters© Safety Rules. Safety Rule #4 – Talk It Up teaches children to tell someone if they spot a Red Flag that they or another child may be in danger of being harmed (Red Flags). This Safety Rule teaches many concepts regarding how to keep children safe. Let’s look at each of the ways this rule is used.
First, learning to Talk It Up helps children understand the importance of telling someone if they are being harmed, or if they know someone else is being harmed. The rule teaches children to use their voice:
- to say “No” in unsafe situations (for example, if someone is hurting you);
- to tell a person to stop hurting someone else; and
- to talk to a Safe Adult.
The second concept taught in Safety Rule #4 – Talk It Up is to identify Safe Adults. These are individuals who the child trusts, who is older and can help, who will take care of the child and keep him/her safe, and someone who is a good listener; someone easy to talk to about difficult or unsafe things. We encourage children to identify at least two Safe Adults, one living in the home and one living outside of the home. A child should tell a Safe Adult if they spot Red Flags for themselves or someone else. If a child tells a Safe Adult, but they aren’t sure if they are getting help, they should tell another Safe Adult. In addition to a Safe Adult, it is helpful for children to identify a Safety Buddy or Safety Friend. We know that sometimes it’s easier to talk to a Safe Adult if a child has a friend with him/her, and a Safety Buddy or Friend can fill that role.
Another important concept children need to understand in Safety Rule #4 is that telling is not tattling or snitching. Telling a Safe Adult about an unsafe situation is the same as reporting and is very important, unlike tattling or snitching, which is done to annoy someone and get them in trouble.
In addition to the important concepts already addressed, Safety Rule #4 – Talk It Up introduces children to the importance of being an Upstander and not a Bystander if they see someone else being harmed. Bystanders are those who witness or know of abuse, bullying, or cyberbullying, and stand by and watch, let it happen, or even video and share it, but do or say nothing to intervene. Very often bystanders don’t know what to do. They’re afraid of retaliation or fear that their own peers will exclude them for helping an outsider.
As a Bystander, it’s important for children to know that by doing nothing they are sending a message to the bully or abuser that their behavior is acceptable. However, when someone intervenes in a bullying situation, 57% of the time the bullying will stop within 10 seconds.
Whether or not a child knows the person being bullied, there are things they can safely do to be an Upstander and support them:
- Don’t laugh
- Don’t encourage the bully in any way
- Don’t participate
- Stay at a safe distance and help the target get away
- Don’t become an “audience” for the bully
- Reach out in friendship
- Help the target in any way you can
- Support the target in private
- If you notice someone being isolated from others, invite them to join you
- Include the target in some of your activities
- Tell a Safe Adult
As adults, it is important to understand Safety Rule #4 – Talk It Up and consider how you can support and encourage the use of this rule. Talk to children and other adults about safety, unsafe situations, and the 5 Safety Rules. Let children know they can talk to you about safety when the need arises. It is very possible that you may be identified as a Safe Adult by your child or someone else’s child, and in that role, you have some critical responsibilities, including taking the time to listen, reassuring the child that you will help as best you can, and following through by seeking help and reporting suspicious behaviors to the proper authorities.
Disclosure of Abuse/Neglect
If a child discloses abuse or neglect, please act responsibly.
- Recognize that hints may be the start of a disclosure (children often test you before disclosing abuse)
- Tell the child you believe them
- Remain calm and supportive
- Listen and allow the child to tell you what happened in their own words
- Tell the child that you are glad they told you
- Tell the child that it was not their fault
- Use the child’s vocabulary when addressing them and when reporting
- Document direct quotes
- Show shock or disgust
- Make promises (ex. “I won’t tell” or “abuse will stop”)
- Ask WHY! Use open-ended, reflective questions, such as “tell me more”
- Be critical or judgmental of the offender; children are protective of people they care about, even if they are abusive
- Try and “rescue” or “cure” the family on your own, especially in lieu of reporting
- Rely on any other person or agency to report
If you witness abuse or neglect, there are effective ways to respond.
- Remain calm and supportive
- Try to distract the child
- Empathize with the parent and/or offer help
- Notify the store manager if you are in public
- Make a report to DCF if you have a license plate number or any other identifying information Call 911 & report the location if the child is in immediate danger
- Show shock or disgust
- Stare at the parent or give dirty looks
- Belittle the parent
- Assume it’s “none of your business”
- Rely on someone else to intervene
- Intervene in a hostile situation which may be dangerous to you
We know most abuse is not reported. People are often afraid to get involved in others’ business and might ask themselves, “What if I am wrong?” or “What if it is not abuse?” They are often afraid of the consequences of reporting. There may also be denial involved, a lack of education about what abuse is, fear, or there may be an economic reason for a family member not reporting.
Emotional abuse is almost never reported because people are not sure emotional abuse is technically abuse; in general people are not certain what constitutes abuse. It is important to note all forms of abuse are underreported. Sexual abuse is also considered a form frequently underreported because of the shame and feelings of guilt and secrecy associated with it. Male victims especially may not want to report the crime, and older victims may not want to report a crime that happened years or decades ago. Also, some individuals or families do not report due to privacy and/or cultural issues.
However, in most states, either all adults, or at a minimum, certain professionals, are required by law to report child abuse and neglect. Whether required or not, every adult should report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to their state child welfare agency. Parents, guardians, teachers, professionals, and bystanders all have a responsibility to keep children safe. By observing the behaviors and interactions of children at home, at school, and with their friends, knowing the warning signs and possible indicators of abuse, and reporting any suspicions of abuse or neglect, you can help keep children safe.
To find your state’s agency and contact information, visit www.childwelfare.gov/organizations. In Florida, every citizen is a mandatory reporter. If you suspect abuse, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline to make a report at 1-800-96-Abuse/22873.
For more information about the reporting process visit Florida Department of Child and Family Services at http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/abuse/
Disclosures of Bullying/Cyberbullying
Although bullying is often defined by state statute, many parties involved in a bullying incident see things very differently which may cause miscommunication and problems with how incidents are handled. Adults need to recognize the indicators of bullying because children often do not report (see indicators of bullying in March 8 blog). In fact, both bullied children and witnesses to bullying incidents rarely report such behavior. Children are reluctant to report because they fear embarrassment, escalation, or being seen as a snitch. However, remember as previously mentioned, when someone intervenes in a bullying situation, 57% of the time the bullying will stop within 10 seconds.
It is important for adults to recognize bullying; however, it is also important to understand what is not bullying. Bullying is not: rough play with friends, a one-time fight with a peer, mutual teasing or teasing that is not repeated or is done by someone of equal power. While social interaction and conflict are a natural part of growing up and being around others, all behaviors should be addressed, whether bullying or not.
The following list can be of great help if you suspect that a child is being bullied:
- Listen, document details, and take reports of bullying seriously.
- Understand that with suspicions of bullying, children will often deny it because they fear adult intervention will escalate the situation.
- Be supportive while seeking details; do not accuse the target of bullying of any wrongdoing such as, “you should stand up for yourself,” or “you should have told someone sooner.”
- Do not deny or minimize the problem; respond with a firm but kind response that bullying is not tolerated.
- Check the facts for yourself; do not believe everything the bully says or everything the target says.
- Help the target brainstorm strategies to deal with bullies effectively such as using resistance strategies (saying “stop” confidently, buddying up with a friend, using humor), or seeking out a safe adult who will intervene. Ignoring the bully or allowing the bullying to continue will not make it stop; this usually has the opposite effect.
- If the bullying involves a physical assault, document injuries, seek medical care, and contact law enforcement.
- Remember, some social experiences, such as teasing and choosing certain friends over others, are developmentally normal behaviors for school-aged children and are not necessarily bad experiences. Group settings are not only for academic learning, but also for learning about social relationships and choosing friends wisely.
- Encourage the targeted child to get involved in activities they enjoy to meet new people, both within and outside of school.
Every school and school district should have a policy on bullying. This typically includes detailed procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of bullying, as well as procedures for disciplinary action, parent notification, counseling referral, and law enforcement referral. This information should be easily accessible from the school and/or district website.
Cyberbullying should also be reported to school authorities and local law enforcement. If an incident involves online exploitation or inappropriate images, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cybertipline at 800-843-5678.
It is important for children and youth to learn prevention strategies to help protect themselves. Check with your child’s school to see what type of prevention/safety program they may be using. If they are not using a program, encourage them to learn more and use MBF Child Safety Matters® for elementary schools, MBF Teen Safety Matters® for middle schools, and MBF After School Safety Matters® for after-school and other youth-serving organizations. MBF also offers parents, professionals, and concerned community members a variety of resources to help protect children:
- Visit our websites, and www.polyvictimization.org to learn more about child victimization and how to better protect the children in your life.
- Download the “Child Safety Matters” app at no cost from the App Store or Google Play to learn about the 5 Safety Rules and how to become a champion for children.
- Visit to take any of our free, one-hour online courses to learn more about pertinent topics related to child safety:
- Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse/Neglect
- Real World Safety: Protecting Children Online and Off from Bullying, cyberbullying, and Digital Abuse
- Protecting Children from Child Sexual Abuse
As a concerned parent, professional, or community member, it is important to know the 5 Safety Rules that will help you protect children. Stay tuned next week to learn about our final Safety Rule, Safety Rule #5 – No Blame | No Shame.
Tags: Child Abuse, Child Safety, Child Sexual Abuse, Prevention education, Programs, Safety Rules