Back-to-school is a harried time for parents, with supplies to buy, plans to make and carpools to schedule.

Back-to-school is a harried time for parents, with supplies to buy, plans to make and carpools to schedule.

Awareness campaigns such as The Bully Project and news stories recounting tales of technology gone awry in young hands let parents know they must prepare children with information on personal safety before they head out to hit the books. Now is the perfect time to talk with kids about how to handle the types of sticky safety situations that may come their way this year.

Bullying

Shooting straight with kids about bullying is the best approach, according to Irene van der Zande, executive director and founder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a global nonprofit focused on personal safety and violence prevention. “Tell kids being mean is being mean, whether people do it with words or gestures, by leaving someone out, by teasing, by scaring or hurting someone, making others think less of someone or by electrons,” says van der Zande, who founded the organization in 1985 following a kidnapping attempt on her own children.

Social networking

With today’s changing technology, it’s difficult to know the best way to handle social networking safety. "Parents need to stay aware of what their kids are doing and how they are doing it,” van der Zande says. “This means that you need to insist that your child does not do anything with technology that you don’t know about.” Consider a contract with your children about social networking boundaries and make sure they uphold their end of the bargain. Check out the sample contract at www.kidpower.org.

Texting

Mobile phones are a symbol of status, but can also be a safety tool. Let kids know that mobile phones are not a right, that expectations must be met for them to keep one, and   create rules of responsible usage so kids know what constitutes safe texting. This means no texting that involves bullying or unsafe behavior. “Remind kids not to put anything out onto the Internet that they don’t want the world to see,” van der Zande urges.  The same advice goes for texting; clearly convey the boundaries so there are no misunderstandings.

Keeping safety top of mind

According to van der Zande, whatever the topic, parents should ensure that children understand it’s their right to be safe and feel safe, and that as parents you’re always available to talk and listen when it comes to matters of personal safety. “Instead of dwelling on the bad things that might happen, teach kids to navigate their world with safety and confidence,” adds van der Zande, who says Kidpower promotes positive safety instead of highlighting frightening situations.

“Safety is an ongoing conversation, not a one-time event,” says van der Zande, whose book “The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence and Advocacy for Young People provides vivid stories, hands-on activities and clear explanations that put Kidpower’s experience in the hands of caring adults in any setting.