By Craig E. Brewer
As Child Protection week is upon us again I thought that I would revisit an issue that arises each year at this time as children and families become excited with the notion of Halloween being only a couple of months away. Each year my thoughts turn to pressing concerns that effect children in todays world, the constant bombardment of the media and the ever increasing globalisation of culture throughout the world.
One of the major concerns that I have is, what we are teaching our children and how that can conflict with the steps that we take as parents, family and friends to keep them safe. In previous years again I see little people dressed as Superheroes and scary monsters walking the streets of my neighbourhood. Although I know the children, many are difficult to identify as a result of the costumes they are wearing. Only a few are accompanied by adults with many groups of 4 or 5, 8-12 year olds moving through the neighbourhood like miniature tax collectors exacting a toll of households and going through the pickings without supervision.
At Halloween children are encouraged to go to houses they normally wouldn’t, talk to strangers and take lollies and treats from them and this is supposed to be normal. It is a phenomenon that has taken hold in Australia over the past 10 years mainly under the influence of the retail and marketing sectors as Australians assume more culture from the USA. Unlike America, the uptake is sporadic and not all houses partake, further lessening the oversight and increasing the risk. The main aim of the evening if you are being honest is to turn a profit. Although I am not against young people having fun and engaging with their communities; however, I do have concerns that we (Parents, adults and concerned citizens) we may be giving our children mixed messages.
Firstly, we tell our children that they need to be aware of concepts like stranger danger and not take things or accept rides from people that they don’t know. We tell our children to be assertive and “Just Say No!”. A message that is reinforced by the Daniel Morcombe Foundation with its public education in schools relating to the safety of children. We voice our concerns about the obesity problem developing in Australia and the Western world pointing out how it is affecting young people, telling children that they should eat healthy and exercise, refraining from the consumption of cakes, lollies, chocolates and various other foods and drinks that are high in fat, sodium and sugars but contain very little in the way of nutritional value. Then we as a society through the media and marketing of products create confusion around these issues for children by telling children that for one day a year it’s okay to forget all about being safe and healthy. We allow and encourage children to not only talk to strangers, but accept food and treats from them at their front door often at night whilst they ware costumes that make it difficult to identify either the child or in some cases the adult.
As the concept of Halloween is new to Australian society having been imported with other elements of the the American culture resulting in many people not taking part or not really understanding the need for vigilance. Some parents take their young children around from door to door and appropriately supervise their children, I would suggest that these parents should be applauded and supported for their diligence and commitment to their children. What concerns me are the many young children that are not escorted by a parental figure. These children roam the streets from house to house often supervised by an older sibling who themselves are often under 15 years of age. This is an unreasonable responsibility to place on the shoulders of one so young, after all they are really only children themselves (sorry guys, I should say Young People).
In this years Child Protection Week, it is my hope that parents who usually let their children wander the streets by themselves reflect on the possible risks that they may be exposing their children to this year by allowing them to go unsupervised. Consider the dangers and the risk of harm that they may be exposing their children to and explore other ways for your children to have fun at Halloween that is safe. It may be time for those parents to reconsider the needs of the children and accompany them to ensure they are safe, really it will only takes one to two hours of their time and your children would love your involvement.
If we want our children to grow and thrive in a society. We as a community need to take steps to ensure that where possible children feel safe and loved allowing them to develop into strong vibrant and engaged citizens of the future. This can be achieved to some extent by providing a stable and predictable environment that is more consistent with the messages that we teach our children. After all “Child Protection is Everybodys Business!”