Back-to-school is an important event every year in my home. It represents so much more than just back-to-school. It means my kids are getting older and naturally that I am getting older as well. There will be new teachers, new clothes, new school supplies! Summer wanes, fall creeps in and life takes on a familiar routine. Of course, for me another topic on my mind when school rolls around is safety. Even when our girls were young my husband and I spoke openly and frequently about safety rules and guidelines. We have had these talks so often over the years that our girls are now able to mimic our “discussions” verbatim any chance they can.
Talking about safety at school has been one of the newer additions to our list of safety conversations. After losing my oldest daughter Emilie to a school shooting, how could it not? This year, our safety conversation was initiated by my youngest daughter Samantha, a soon to be 3rd grader, while shopping for new school clothes. “Mom, can I tell you something,” she began. “Did you know there are drills at our school where we have to go outside?!” I smiled and asked her if she could tell me why they would need to go out of the school for a drill. She explained to me not only why they would need to evacuate their school, but how all the other drills at her school work. Samantha loves an audience and I love seeing her repeat all the safety information she has learned both at home and at school.
When we talk to children about school safety, it can often feel intimidating. However, like most things, the more we practice the better we get. In that one conversation while shopping, my daughters covered not only safety drills but also discussions about bullying and what to do if you find yourself surrounded by strangers. Seeing Samantha take our safety talks to another level and become the teacher herself was amazing. Safety is an empowering tool for children. Having safety rules and boundaries gives them a sense of security and control. So, if you haven’t already started those conversations with your kids, start now! You will be amazed with the ideas they will share with you and the questions and conversations that will follow. Hopefully, someday soon they will become your teacher as well!
Alissa Parker, Co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools
Many of our Safe and Sound Schools are already out for summer and my kids are literally counting the days until school ends here. I have just about finalized our summer trips, camps, and activities, but there is one thing that still has me panicked a little.
Yes, I said it. And I’m not the only one thinking it. Our lives are highly structured during the school year between school, sports, music, art, church, family and social obligations. What will my family do with the gift of their free time this summer?
I am picturing berry picking, swimming, reading (actual books), and playing games together. But the reality is that each one of us is likely to spend a great deal of this newfound free time with our smartphones, laptops, and gaming devices. So how do I help my family make the most of their free time, balancing time online and off? And how do I ensure that the time they spend online is safe as well as fun?
We reached out to one of our favorite online safety resources, the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) for a list of tips and helpful resources for fun and safe summer online…
1. Develop a family contract for online and electronic use. While a safety contract is great for kids, it’s also helpful for parents. In fact, for each set of rules, parents will have to make a set of promises, too. We believe online safety is a partnership, and it works better when parents and their children are in it together.
2. Monitor online usage and contacts. It’s good practice to friend and follow your kids on social media, but don’t stalk them. You can still protect your kids from the harms of the Internet while respecting their online space.
3. Be a good digital role model. Kids learn a lot from their parents, so model the type of behaviors you’d like to see your kids pick up. Curb you own bad digital habits, know when to unplug and show your kids how to collaborate and create online.
4. Share the screen. Spend time online together learning what interests your child and talking about what you discover and want to avoid along the way.
5. Spot trolls and temptations. We are in trying times online. Bad behavior such as cyberbullying, doxing, swatting and online harassment have made headlines. Fake news stories are in the forefront and online trolls have become increasingly more popular. It is important to teach your kids how to spot these trolls and instances of fake news. Educate them on reliable news sources and have them understand that just because something is on the internet, doesn’t necessarily make it true.
Some resources to check out…
Learn more about FOSI
FOSI offers a range of resources including the 7 Steps to Good Digital Parenting, Three Teachable Moments and Cleaning Up Your Digital Footprint tools.
Now that we are well into Spring and warmer days are upon us, more kids will be playing outdoors. Parents and guardians will find themselves frequenting public parks while teachers and administrators will find themselves keeping watchful eyes as students actively spend recess and/or lunch on the playground.
Since this week is National Playground Safety Week, it’s a good time to review safety tips, assess playground equipment, and talk to children about playground safety.
Although playgrounds have certainly improved since our days, a recent study by the CDC found that emergency departments still see more than 20,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related traumatic brain injury each year. Below are some tips and suggestions schools can consider.
Tips for playground safety:
- Actively supervise children at all times.
- Encourage children to follow playground rules and play safely with other children. Shoving, crowding, and pushing should be discouraged. And although playfully wrestling may be fun for some children, these types of activities should be avoided while on top of a play structure.
- Dress children appropriately for playground play. Avoid items that can cause strangulation like scarves, necklaces, purses.
- Use playgrounds that are age-appropriate. Having separate age-appropriate areas can help prevent accidental injuries.
- Take children to playgrounds with shock-absorbing surfaces like rubber, grass, sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf.
- Conduct periodical assessments of playgrounds by following the S.A.F.E framework.
If you feel a playground is unsafe, report your concerns to the owner, park district, or school district. And remember to always keep a watchful eye on children.
What inspired you to write and share your story?
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School affected so many people, and I felt like there was this whole other side to the story no one even knows about. Losing my daughter Emilie completely paralyzed me. I felt such a great loss. In my search to find and understand my daughter’s “new life,” if you will, I was able to also find forgiveness and peace. Sharing that journey with the world was not an easy decision, but I felt like it was the right thing to do.
This book is incredibly personal, filled with private, painful, but also very precious memories of you and your family. Throughout the process of writing this book, what did you learn about yourself?
I learned a lot actually. When I began writing, I had no idea what story I was going to tell through my experiences. I knew that we had had many unique experiences that were important our family and I wanted to record them for my young daughters. But as the story began to unfold on paper and I began to connect the dots, I saw for the first time the whole story. I was stunned. The picture before me was so beautiful! To see how all the pieces connected together was amazing. I felt very humbled by the many blessings our family had been given and how far we had come in the years following Emilie’s death.
In the book, we learn from Emilie that “Everything is connected!” This is one of the themes in your book. Can you talk about the connection between forgiveness and healing? What role has forgiveness played in your journey of healing?
In the beginning, forgiveness wasn’t even something I was thinking about. I wanted to focus on my family and our healing, and the forgiveness part would come later. But, of course that is not what happened. I found that healing and forgiveness went hand and hand and I couldn’t do one without the other.
After Sandy Hook, you reveal that you struggled with your identity, the idea of being defined by tragedy. How important has this book been in helping you own your story, in helping you define you and/or your family’s identity?
Emilie was so much more than the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Her life was full of color and light! I did not want her identity to be defined by someone else’s actions. This story gives people a look at the whole picture of what her life looked like, before and after.
You share many sweet stories of Emilie. It paints a colorful picture of Emilie’s personality. We learn that she was and continues to be a source of inspiration for many. How do you want your daughter to be remembered?
I guess I would want her remembered the way our family remembers her. As a chatty, colorful, messy, caring, emotionally sensitive little girl that always put others before her. She was a loving leader and playmate to her sisters, and an example of Christ-like love to my husband and me.
How did you decide what stories you wanted to share and what stories you wanted to keep private for you and your family?
Oh, there is a whole additional book of stories we didn’t end up using for the book. Some were by choice and some just didn’t fit the main thesis of the book. This is Emilie’s story and we had to use that as a guide to decided what stories needed to be told.
For those who haven’t read the book, what are some of the themes readers can look forward to?
I hope people walk away understanding how connected we all are to the ones we love and that those connections are never truly lost. There is a lot of hope in knowing that. In the darkest of times, it can be hard to see the light. I learned through this experience that the light is all around us, we just have to choose to let it in.
What do you hope people will take away from An Unseen Angel ?
There is so much despair and darkness associated with the shooting at Sandy Hook and I hope this story will show people the other side. The side that can inspire us to look at the world in a different way… the way Emilie saw it. It’s a world full of color and hope and above all else, goodness.
Alissa Parker is the mother of one of the 20 children who died tragically in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. After Emilie’s death, Alissa began TheParkerFive blog as a tool to express the emotions she and her family experienced throughout the grieving process. She is also the cofounder of the Emilie Parker Art Connection, a charity helping local community arts programs for children, and Safe and Sound Schools, a touring national advocacy group that helps people take action to make schools safe.