Personal Safety

What If Games

Safety conversation starters with children and teens

“What-if” games are a great way to help children and teens think about how to handle potentially dangerous situations. Adults can use what-if questions to spark conversation with children and teenagers while they are in the car, at the store or during any other shared time.

“What-if” games are most effective when they are used often and in non-threatening situations. Keep the tone positive and provide lots of encouragement. Ask your kids the “what if” questions below and listen carefully to their answers. While there is no single correct answer, we’ve provided some key talking points you can share with your kids during your discussion. But don’t stop here. Keep the conversations going with some creative scenarios of your own – it’s a great way to keep the dialogue going at home.

What would you do if...

You should never be asked to keep a secret from your parent(s). If someone asks you to keep any kind of secret from your parents, tell an adult you trust right away. It may be helpful to talk with your children about the big difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises are kept quiet for a short time and when everyone find out about the surprise, they are happy — like a surprise birthday party. Secrets are something you are asked to keep quiet about for a long time, maybe even forever. Surprises are okay and secrets are not.
Don’t delete the email or chat, just turn off your monitor and tell your parent or caregiver about what you’ve seen. Never respond to offensive or dangerous online message. Depending on the kind of photo you were sent, an adult can tell law enforcement about the situation, or report to CyberTipline at (800) 843-5678 which also takes reports of illegal images/online crimes against children and youth.
You should always check first with your parent or caregiver before going anywhere with anyone — even if you know them. You can even make a special code word that only your family knows, like “popcorn.” Don’t go with anyone who doesn’t know the code word.
Not all adults, even people who care about you and want to help, always know what to do to keep kids safe and happy. You deserve to be safe and to share your feelings with trusted adults. Tell as many people as you need to, like your teacher or youth group counselor, until someone understands and helps.
Always trust your feelings or your gut instinct. Leave the park right away, remembering to use the buddy system. Check back in with your parent or caregiver and tell them what happened. Your friends should also check back in with their parent/caregiver about why you left and where you are playing now.
As a kid, your job isn’t to make or enforce the rules—that’s for the adults. Check in with a parent or trusted adult and talk with them about what to do. You can delete the comments and block the person making the comments so they can no longer see what your profile. It may also make sense to report them to the social media platform you’re using. As an added safety precaution, set profiles to “private.”
No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, and we’re sorry that happened. Reach out to a trusted adult in your life to tell them about what happened. Remember that it’s not your fault that you saw that video, and brainstorm ways you can let someone know in the future that you’re not comfortable seeing that kind of content. Here are some examples:
  • “Can you turn that off? I’m not comfortable watching this.” “Please turn that off. I don’t want to see videos like this.”
  • “I’m not allowed to watch these kinds of videos. Let’s do something else.”
  • “I’m done watching this. Can I show you a different video I saw on YouTube recently?”
This person is trying to break your body boundaries and that is not okay. Stop, take a deep breath, and check in with your parent or a trusted adult in your life. Share with them what the person is asking you. An adult can tell law enforcement about the situation, or report to Cyber Tipline at (800) 843-5678 which also takes reports of illegal images/online crimes against children and youth.
No one should ever make you feel uncomfortable, no matter who it is. Find a trusted adult in your life and let them know what’s going on and how it made you feel. As a kid, it’s your job to feel safe and the adults’ job to do the work to ensure that you feel safe. Know that it’s not on your shoulders to figure out what’s going on, it’s only your job to tell. If someone you tell doesn’t know what to do or tells you not to worry about it, find another adult you trust, and tell as many people as you need to until an adult you trust helps you.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable with this request, it doesn’t mean that you have something to hide–it simply means that it’s setting off your “uh oh” feeling. A healthy relationship is built on mutual trust and respect, and if your partner is insisting on reading your text messages, it sounds like something might be off with how they’re trusting and respecting you. You are allowed to have privacy in a relationship, whether that’s space of your own or having what’s in your phone for your eyes only. This is called setting a boundary. If you feel safe to do so, try starting a conversation by enforcing your boundary: “I hear that you want to read my text messages, but I don’t feel comfortable with you doing so. I don’t have anything to hide from you, however I want what’s on my phone to be for your eyes only and it’s important to me that you respect that. Is there something on your mind that’s prompting this request?” Remember that you don’t owe your partner an explanation for setting this boundary and it could be a red flag if they demand one or break this boundary.
Cyber bullying is never okay, and the hurt you may be feeling is valid and real. As hard as it might be, try not to respond or retaliate. The bully is looking for a reaction, and by not giving them that reaction, you are the bigger person in this tough situation. Make sure to save the evidence with screenshots and tell a trusted adult, like a parent, teacher, or school counselor, about what’s been going on and how it made you feel. Work with them to report the bully to the social media platform and block them from seeing your profile. Stay in contact with the adult who helped you and know you have an ally on your side who is ready to help you if it ever happens again.

How to Talk to Strangers

Not all strangers mean danger

If your child got separated from you in public, would they know how to seek out a stranger for help or would they wait until they were approached? Children should be taught how to talk to strangers so that they know how to get help when they need it. Teach your child to seek out an employee with a name tag or mother with other children as someone who can help them if they are alone or afraid. Children should be taught how to flag down a helping adult without ever leaving their lost-spot.
  • Children often have a specific mental image of what a “stranger” looks like and if the person they meet does not fit that image, (i.e. coming out of an alley wearing a black trench coat) they may not connect that lesson to the person.
  • Children who are abducted or abused are almost always hurt by someone that they already know – either a relative or acquaintance.
  • Children are confused when they are told not to talk to strangers and then are expected to communicate with people they don’t know (school bus driver on the first day of school, parents new friends, etc.)
  • Talk to children about how a person might make them feel, instead of how children might know the person. If someone gives you that “uh-oh” feeling for any reason, get out of the situation and go talk to another adult. Keeping telling until someone helps you.
  • Certain behaviors – getting in a car, accepting gifts, leaving with someone, having someone take your picture – are behaviors that should always be checked first with the person taking care of you. Children should also be taught that adults ask other adults for help. If the person offering a ride or asking for help will not allow the child to check first, the child should be taught that it is okay to say no to an adult. If this happens, they should say no, get away and tell someone.
  • Teach children the difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises are fun – a surprise party, a surprise gift; these things are okay to not talk about for a while. Secrets are different. Children should also be taught that there is never a good reason to keep a secret from their parent. If you are ever asked to keep a secret from your parent, that is a signal to talk to your parent immediately about that person.
  • Remind children that most people in the world are good people who want them to grow up safe and strong. They should be prepared, not scared, to talk to strangers when they need help, feel scared or are lost.

Age Appropriate Conversations

It’s important to talk to your children often and consistently about how to stay safe. But how you do have effective conversations, from which children absorb valuable information that they may need later? Make sure the information you deliver is easily understood for your child’s stage of development.

Teach your toddler:

  • Their name and guardian’s name
  • Stay within sight
  • Proper names for body parts and how private parts are different than the rest of their body
  • When it comes to his/her body, no means no.
  • Uh-oh feeling – always tell a caregiver when you are feeling scared or confused about something

Challenges at this age: As this is an age where “no” seemingly can be the only word the child knows, it is important to remember there is a difference between saying no to feel safe and protect boundaries and saying no to defy authority. It’s important at this age to be consistent and repetitive.

Having the conversation: This is an age when using real-life teachable moments are so important, because toddlers do not understand hypothetical situations. Children at this stage have no concept of right and wrong, only what is normal in their lives. Therefore, it is inherent that caregivers state clearly what is right and wrong to help children develop appropriate morals and boundaries.

It is also important at this stage, to teach children how to ask for help if they need it. Children should be told that they should find their caregiver if they need help. On those occasions when they may get separated from a caregiver, teach your child to not leave that spot and look for a mom with children as a first possible helper.

Conversation Starter: “Ouch! Hitting isn’t ok because it hurts.”

Teach your child:

  • How to use 911– your child should know their address, phone number and be able to describe the emergency
  • Check first before going anywhere or getting into a car
  • Say “no!”to uncomfortable or confusing touch
  • How to yell for help – “Call 911! I need a grown up!”
  • Adults don’t ask kids for help.

Challenges at this age: Children begin to be social at child care settings, play groups and with friends. Appropriate interactions need to be demonstrated and reinforced as you supervise their play time. As children connect with new people, they need to learn what is okay and not okay when it comes to touching. As they learn about the difference between genders, they should be told that even though the parts are different, the rules are the same when it comes to boundaries and saying no.

Children can be confused about touches as touching can feel pleasurable even if it is a “bad touch”or inappropriate contact. Children should be taught that if anyone touches or tries to touch their private parts, they should tell their caregiver or a safe person immediately to get help.

Have the conversation: Knowing that almost all adults who abuse/abduct children are known to the child, teach them to make a lot of noise, get away and tell someone if any person acts in a way that makes their “uh-oh feeling” go off or tries to take them somewhere without letting them check first. Do not focus on if the child knows the adult or not, but instead focus on how the person makes the child feel.

Use “what if”scenarios at this age, but keep it simple and use a variety of settings. Kids this age can’t generalize information to different scenarios on their own, so these discussion and games should be played in many different locations with different people.

Conversation starter: “What if right now while you were playing in the park, someone came up to you and asked you to help get their cat out of a tree?”or “What if while you were home, someone knocked on the door and asked you to help them find their dog?”

Teach your child:

  • Family password – in case someone is sent to pick up child
  • Create a list of five trusted adults to call about any problem
  • Buddy system – safer and more fun to stay with a friend
  • Online safety
  • It’s not okay to keep secrets from a parent
  • Correct, age-appropriate information about sex

Challenges at this age: Children will begin learning about sex from their peers, so it is important to give them proper understanding early on. Books may be used to help begin conversations, but it should not replace discussions. Approach the topic with concrete explanations and use proper terms. As uncomfortable as it may be, providing correct information will help them understand that they should go to their parents with their questions about sex instead of the kids on the school bus. Tell your children that they can tell you anything or ask about anything and you will still love them.

Have the conversation: When your child is around five or six it is important to inform him/her in a non-threatening manner that some people do hurt children. This is not intended to make your child afraid of everyone, but instead make them aware so they listen to their feelings and make safe choices. Do make sure they know that the good guys outnumber the bad guys – most adults want them to grow up healthy, safe and strong.

Involve your child in creating “what if” scenarios to help get an idea of the situations that make them uncomfortable or nervous. Above all, reinforce that they can always leave a situation that causes their uh-oh feeling to go off and find a parent/caregiver to help. This is a great age to begin having twice-a-year family safety nights to go over rules for your home.

Conversation starter: “What do you do on the playground? Can you think of something that might happen there that would make your uh-oh feeling go off? How about if older kids showed up and started playing a game that doesn’t feel right?”

Teach your child:

  • Don’t put personal or emotional information online
  • Difference between a mentor vs. relationship
  • Cell phone (texting) guidelines – think before you send
  • Responsibilities and rules for being home alone
  • Respect is a basic right in all relationships

Challenges at this age: With the physical and emotional changes your child faces at this age, many conflicts may arise. This is the age where perpetrators attempt to use the attention and affection lure both online and in person. This lure involves the adult grooming the pre-teen to believe that the adult is the only one who understands how special they are and what they are going through. Teach your pre-teen about this lure and explain that adults who really do care about them would not accept or expect sex. Talk to your child about the difference between mentors and adults trying to create a sexual relationship. If a mentor ever begins to act in a way that a significant other would, talk to a different trusted adult right away. This is a very important age to update and maintain the list of five trusted adults so that your pre-teen is hearing positive messages from adults that you both trust. Be aware of who’s on the list, and be understanding and supportive if the list does not include you.

Have the conversation: Sex becomes a hot topic at this age. It is important to discuss the emotional implications of sexual activity, as most of the media messages may portray sex only in a popular, positive way. As children age through this stage they should learn about precautions such as abstinence and protection (for older teens). This is a good time to discuss more in depth your family’s personal or faith-based beliefs regarding sexual activity. Parents should discuss self-esteem linked with sexual activity, especially in terms of having control over one’s body and not letting peer pressure influence bad decisions.

Conversation starter: “What if you had a friend who told you that an adult chaperone from a school trip was pressuring her to spend time at his house alone? How could you help her?”

Teach your child:

  • Review cell phone and internet expectations
  • The importance of respecting others boundaries
  • Listen to your gut instinct – leave situations or people that feel wrong
  • The power of the bystander to get involved and help others
  • “No” is a complete sentence

Challenges at this age: Teenagers push limits as they work to get enough information to live and work independently from their parents. Parents are working to help stay connected to their teen, set boundaries and help their teen make safe and healthy decisions. These two very separate job descriptions can create conflict as the teen and parents attempt to navigate the changes that come with teens’ added freedom and responsibilities.

Have the conversation: A teen should be reminded that sexual activity should not be done out of fear, guilt or in hopes of increasing popularity. Discuss with your teen their choices, their friend’s choices and the outcomes of these choices. Having a discussion about sex an consequences does not mean that parents are encouraging their child to have sex, instead they are preparing that teen to be healthy and safe whatever his/her choices may be. This is an age where peer pressure can override the teen’s gut instinct. Remind them the importance of listening to their gut.

Conversation starter: “What if you showed up at a party and your gut instinct told you things were getting out of control?”