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Keeping Your Tween Safe

Protecting Preteens From Injuries

As our children grow, we allow them more and more freedom. It's all a part of becoming independent. But are we preparing our preteens for all the responsibility that goes along with this freedom?

As parents we know there comes a time when we must let go just a little and allow our kids to partake in various activities on their own. It can be easy to acquire a false sense of security in regards to the safety of our preteens. Haven't we already spent the last 10 years going over and over the safety rules? Unfortunately, many preteens may not know how to follow these rules once they are out in the world exploring their new liberation.

Rules of the Road

"This is the perfect age to begin introducing traffic safety to a young rider," says Preston Tyree, education director for the Texas Bicycle Coalition in Austin, Texas. "They are physically and developmentally capable of handling a bike and understanding the complexity of traffic situations."

At this age, kids are usually riding on busy roads outside the neighborhood, and they need to know the rules of the road. "Approach this discussion as the 'first driver's ed,'" says Tyree. "Everything a bicycle rider learns is exactly what a motor vehicle driver needs to know. We will have better drivers and drivers who are more aware of cyclists."

The single most important thing that parents can stress to their preteen when talking to them about bicycle safety is to wear a helmet. This single rule, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 88 percent. As kids get older, they often become reluctant to wear helmets, which increases their risk factor dramatically for injury or even death related to a crash. They feel it doesn't look "cool" to wear the helmet. As a parent, it's your job to give them all the information and stress to them that if they ride, they wear a helmet.

"If my son was caught without a helmet, he knew he wouldn't have a bike to use for a very long time," says Jane Simpson of Ontario, Canada. "I am adamant about the use of helmets. My older son does not ride a bike any more because he refuses to wear one. My 10-year-old knows the rules; I tell him every time he leaves the house."

When your child is given the freedom to ride the roads on his own, you need to ensure that he is mature enough to handle the risks. Many of the accidents are caused by a child's behavior, things like not following the road signs, swerving into traffic, goofing around and showing off and not following the rules of the road.

Tyree says that over half of cyclist-caused crashes can be prevented by three simple actions:

  1. Ride to the right, in the same direction as other traffic.
  2. Look over your shoulder before swerving or turning left.
  3. Stop and look before riding into crossing traffic.

"Kids need to know that a head injury can happen to them. It can change the way they look, think and feel and impact their lives forever," says Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director for the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. "We encourage parents to sit down with their children and discuss the long-term consequences and risks associated with not wearing a helmet. Parents can empower their children to wear a helmet on every ride."

It never hurts to go over the safety rules again with your preteen. Better yet, post them somewhere – like on the door to the garage – where he can be consistently reminded.

On Wheels

When your child is involved in any type of physical activity, there is always the chance of injury. Even preteens are often unable to assess the risks involved with a particular activity or sport they are participating in.

Does that mean you should shelter your children? Absolutely not – but you do need to continually educate and remind them about the safe ways to play. It's unrealistic to expect your children to be by your side at all times so that they remain safe. It is the ultimate goal of parents to raise independent and safe adults.

There are training programs available that can aid parents in teaching safe play for kids. Information can be found online that is a great resource for parents to use when discussing the safety issues with preteens. When talking with your child, state the facts. This age group can be told actual statistics. It may add impact to know that there is truly a risk for serious injury or death if they don't follow the rules when on wheels.

Firearm Safety

You don't have to look far to see why children in the United States are dying from gun injuries. The statistics on gun availability are staggering, and most parents who own guns believe that the weapon is safely stored, yet kids are finding them and using them.

When trying to demystify the use of firearms, it is important to be aware of the kinds of programs your preteen is watching. "Some shows romanticize the use of guns," says Simpson. "At this impressionable age, they don't need to see all that violence."

It is also advisable for parents to talk to their kids about the danger of guns, as well as talk to your child's friend's parents about whether they have a gun in their home.

"I am not embarrassed to ask anyone if they have a weapon in their home if my son is going to be playing there," says Simpson. "Accidents happen – even when you have the most educated child. Curiosity wins sometimes."

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