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Staying Safe for Girls
A Proactive Approach to Teaching Girls Personal Safety Skills

Photo of two younger Girl Scouts on the beach. © GSUSA. All rights reserved. (Photographer: Lori Adamski-Peek)Anyone responsible for children—be it in a school, institution, youth serving agency, after-school program, faith-based program, or other child-care setting—knows that keeping those children protected and safe is a top concern. And in an increasingly unsafe world, shielding kids from harm may seem like a daunting task.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 2 million reports of alleged child abuse or neglect were investigated by child protective service agencies, representing more than 2.7 million children who were alleged victims of maltreatment. Another study, conducted by Sabol, Polousky, and Billing, estimated that nearly 17% of children could be expected to have substantiated reports of maltreatment before reaching age eight.

Top Safety Concerns for Teens

  • Being attacked with a weapon (35%)
  • Being forced to do something sexual (34%)
  • Getting a disease (32%)
  • Getting into a car accident (29%)

Source: Feeling Safe: What Girls Say (Girl Scout Research Institute)

New Challenges

The Internet, for all of its incredible benefits, is a potentially hazardous territory for children and cause for worry among concerned adults. A Girl Scout Research Institute study called The Net Effect: Girls and New Media, over 30% of girls reported being sexually harassed in a chat room, though only 7% reported the incident to a parent or caregiver.

The effects of feeling unsafe are widespread and damaging. In the study Feeling Safe: What Girls Say, the Girl Scout Research Institute found that girls who feel physically unsafe are more likely to cope with emotionally dangerous situations by using alcohol or drugs, than girls who feel safe (13% vs. 1%), and are nearly three times as likely as those who feel safe to spend time with people who use drugs or alcohol (26% vs. 9%).

Empowering through Education

Though these statistics may seem overwhelming, there is hope. Through research-based education and activities, adults can help children gain more knowledge and build more skills than ever to feel safe and secure.

Eight Tips to Help Girls Stay Safe

  1. Know your kids' friends—and their parents and siblings. Make sure that they know who you are. Be an obvious presence in their lives, not just in the vague form of "Lydia's mom." Let them know you care.

  2. Make a habit of asking, "What happened today?" Don't settle for "Nothing." Take advantage of any brief moment when your child opens up—in the car, making dinner, over homework. Know when to just listen and curb your desire to give advice. Sometimes just being available for your child to vent is just what they need—not the story of how you handled the same situation when you were their age.

  3. Allow them to use you as the excuse. "My mom said 'No'" gives them a graceful way out of any situation even if they don't acknowledge that you've helped them.

  4. Come up with a word or code that they can use to bail themselves out any situation. Even if they are in a situation that you wouldn't approve of, you will bail them out, question-free at that time with discussion tabled for a later time.

  5. Discuss the hard issues. Find moments when you can share your values and family rules. For example, a TV news clip on a famous singer arrested for drunk driving can start a conversation. Music offers another wonderful opportunity to discuss life issues.

  6. Be prepared for the answers, even if they were not what you expected or wanted to hear—this becomes the opportunity to support your child.

  7. Identify "safe havens" for children and youth who walk to and from school or take the bus (the bus should also be a place where kids feel safe). Make sure that everyone involved knows what to do in case a problem occurs.