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Sunday Mornings With Rania: Back-to-School Safety Reminders, Protecting your Kids from Risks

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious is executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston(Photo: lawellphoto.com)

As a kid, I loved going back-to-school. It marked a time of new beginnings filled with new pencils, erasers, books, and clothes. For most, the top concerns revolved around which teacher and what classmates you’d be stuck with from Labor Day to Memorial Day.

Times have changed . . . and the realities of the new world we live in (a world of instant access social media, cyber-schooling, cyber-bullying and more) require tremendous thought. And parents, a lot of it starts with us. This week, I highlight the risks associated with three things many of us do as our kids go back to school. My goal isn’t to get us to stop doing these things, it’s to get us to do them wisely. Let’s take a look.

To Monogram or Not to Monogram.

Monogramming everything was not a “thing” in the ’70s and ’80. In today’s world, kids have their shirts, backpacks, hair bows, sneakers, Yeti cups, keychains and more personalized. And it’s cute! That said, it opens the door for strangers to start conversations with our kids.

Is it okay to monogram? Yes! But think it through.

If possible, stick to initials only.

If using a full name or nickname, simply talk to your children: “Remember, your name is literally written here in plain sight. If a stranger calls you by your name or nickname, it means nothing, other than the fact that s/he read it on your backpack.” This requires that you’re talking to a child old enough to understand the point you’re making, of course. And guess what, when talked about without emotion or fear, it becomes a simple reminder that your kids appreciate. 

That Inevitable Back-to-School Social Media Post.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking and seeing those incredibly sweet social media posts: Hi everyone! Billy is ready to conquer 3rd grade! Parents are so proud and love him so much! We love sharing these photos and our close friends and family love seeing them. Just remember other people search social media platforms specifically to gain information on children.  

Is it okay to post? Yes! But think it through. This one picture unlocks the door to your child’s world and shares a great deal of information you may not have thought about:

  • Your child’s image. Now we all know exactly what s/he looks like.
  • Your child’s full name. You gave us the first name and we’ll assume with 90 percent accuracy that the last name is identical to yours.
  • Your child’s school. The school uniform and/or colors say it all. If it’s a public school and I know your general area, it won’t take long for someone to figure out which school.
  • Your child’s age and grade. And think about this, how many 3rd grade classes are there in your school? Probably not too many to have to sift through.
  • Your child’s interests. Backpacks, lunch boxes and folders with characters and/or store names create very specific identifiers that share your child's interests.

We savvy parents are active online, and it’s great! The reality is, the social networks we have built contain many people we do not know well or even at all. But simple changes can make a big difference. Try posting the photo of your child not in uniform or leaving off first names or grade. It’s not about living in fear, it’s about not giving away all the information at once. Being careful and cautious, especially when it comes to our kids, is always worth it.            

Your Car Speaks Volumes.

We live in a city where going from point A to B requires a vehicle and usually a lot of traffic. Some of us are in our cars more than we are in our homes… they are a part of our image and a way to share more information about our families. Every day, I find myself stuck behind a driver who has used an array of bumper stickers to tell me everything there is to know about their child’s accomplishments.

Is it ok to use these types of bumper stickers? Yes! But think it through.

  • Caricature stickers that show a mom, dad, two kids (boys, girls or boy and girl) with a dog (there are many different variations) tell people how many kids you have and their gender.
  • The school-related and/or interest-related bumper stickers. My daughter is a star cheerleader for INSERT NAME cheer team or My student is an honor roll student at INSERT NAME Middle School or High School. The list of these types of stickers is endless. Furthermore, they provide a wealth of information about your child including gender, relative age, school location and areas of interest, which might be of interest to the wrong person as you cruise all over town.
  • And let’s not forget, your car itself gives an idea of your economic status.

Let’s face it, as parents, we could not be prouder of our kids. We put a lot of time and energy into making them who they are and, as a result, we want to highlight and share their milestones and achievements. I really get it and agree it’s wonderful to do. We just ask that you know the facts, talk to your kids and do everything with their safety in mind.

Read more from Rania on safety tips for kids in last year’s Safety Tool Box: Back-to-school guide for families and find out more about Crime Stoppers of Houston’s Safe School program, and its app, in Playing it Safe: Preventing crime on campus by Andria Frankfort. 

For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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