It's about that time of year when winter doldrums set in. The weather's been cold and damp for too long, and kids have gotten bored with indoor games. Seeking interesting new activities in the same old house could lead your kids to explore places where they don't belong - and could even put them in contact with dangerous items like guns.
"Children and teenagers are naturally curious and have always tested the limits adults set for them," says Victoria Reggie Kennedy, president and co-founder of Common Sense about Kids and Guns, an organization dedicated to reducing gun deaths and injuries to children and teens by promoting common sense safety measures and personal and community responsibility for preventing unsupervised access to guns. The organization believes that all adults have a responsibility to ensure that no child or teen in their home ever encounters a loaded or improperly secured firearm.
"The risks to our children of unsafe firearm-storage practices are significant," Kennedy says. "Without any exaggeration, the way a gun is stored can be a matter of life and death for our children. Tragedies occur daily involving unlocked firearms easily accessible to young people, either at their own homes or the home of a relative or neighbor. These tragedies might very well never have happened if the adults in these children's lives had unloaded and locked their firearms and ammunition, so that the children could not have such easy access to them."
Talking to kids
Making sure that all firearms are appropriately stored is only part of the puzzle, though. Kids need to be educated as well. "It is vital that parents talk to their children about guns, but this can be a difficult conversation to have," says Paul Marchione, chief of staff for Common Sense. "It is typically up to the parents to initiate the conversations, but it does not have to be a formal 'talk' - use everyday opportunities and situations to communicate values and concerns."
The discussion about guns must be age-appropriate and offer children clear instructions about avoiding guns without adult supervision. CSKG offers the following tips:
Young children: Reassure and repeat
Experts advise parents to reassure children that, as parents, they are doing their best to keep children safe. Children can be exposed to a good amount of violence in the media, especially from TV and movies. It is important to teach children that TV violence is not real and that guns cause real injuries. Emphasize to young children that they should never touch a gun and should always tell an adult if they come across one. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends repeating this message periodically to keep children from forgetting.
Pre-teens: Emphasize non-violence
This is a good time to begin talking with children about ways to solve problems that do not involve violence. With older children, explain to them the consequences of violence and the dangers inherent in the mishandling of guns. Continue to emphasize to children that they should never touch a gun without adult supervision.
Teens: Keep communication lines open
This can be a difficult time to maintain open communication with kids as they become more independent and rebellious. However, maintaining dialogue with your children can help you spot any potential problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that, at this point in a child's life, it is easier to keep guns away from teens than to keep teens away from guns, which are often glamorized in the media. It is important that parents watch for signs of depression or changes in behavior, as teens feeling this way are at an increased risk for suicide.
The most important thing a parent can do is to create an open environment and listen to a child's concerns. Not talking about the problem will not make it go away.
Combining talk and action
Both steps - the proper storage of firearms and discussions with children, are important in order to ensure kids' safety. According to Common Sense about Kids and Guns, parents often operate under the false assumption that "My kid will never find my gun" or "I've told my child not to touch my gun. That's enough."
"A responsible adult cannot rely on children or teenagers not to touch a gun, merely because they have been told not to do so," Kennedy says. "It is impossible to predict what children, teenagers, and their friends will do. And the risks of mishandling a gun are too great to place the burden of responsibility on anyone other the adult bringing the gun into the home. The ultimate responsibility for safety is always on the adult, and not on the child."
Diverse organizations come together
Another common concern is that "Guns are such a political issue. Nobody agrees on what to do." But, because of the common sense nature of its message, Common Sense about Kids and Guns has been able to bring together an unprecedented, diverse coalition of organizations, including both child safety advocates and members of the gun industry. All of the members of the Common Sense coalition agree that adults share the responsibility to protect children from the dangers of unsupervised access to guns. Members may disagree about gun control legislation, but all are committed to protecting children from gun injuries. Working with their coalition, Common Sense about Kids and Guns developed six simple safety tips that they encourage all adults to follow to protect kids from gun deaths and injuries.
Simple Safety Tips
All gun owners must:
- Unload and lock up guns.
- Lock and store ammunition separately.
- Keep keys and combinations where kids are unable to find them.
All parents must:
- Ask if guns are safely stored at places their kids visit or play.
- Talk with their kids about guns.
- Teach young children not to touch guns and to tell an adult if they find one.
Receive These Safety Tips As A Free Refrigerator Magnet
Common Sense about Kids and Guns is making these safety tips available as a free refrigerator magnet. To receive one, email your address to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a self-addressed, 34¢ stamped envelope to: Common Sense about Kids and Guns, 418 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002. (Quantities are limited.)
For more information
Common Sense about Kids and Guns serves as a clearinghouse for information on the issue of kids and guns through its website, www.kidsandguns.org and toll-free information line, 877/955-KIDS.
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