Parents in Wheaton have been on the right track in teaching their kids about stranger danger.
District 200 and local law enforcement officials met with 85 parents Tuesday, after repeated reports of abduction attempts and suspicious adults near bus stops and students in the district.
Assistant Superintendent of Operations Bob Rammer said district officials assured parents they've been shrewd in training their children to report perceived dangers and uncomfortable situations.
“Children are doing what we hoped they would do—reporting uncomfortable and unusual situations to responsible adults, who are forwarding (the message) to police,” he said.
Rammer said that while there hasn't been an increase in dangerous incidents in the area, police have gotten reports from children that has quickened communication of potential situations.
Wheaton Police Chief Mark Field said Thursday the number of reports is up. "So, hopefully, awareness is up," he said.
Rammer said a district safety committee meets regularly to discuss school safety issues, helping the district and police communicate for stronger and faster investigations.
Still, parents should continue to educate their children.
“Have those conversations frequently, role play with children—depending on age—about what to do in those situations… Help your children be confident and know it’s OK to say, ‘No,’ and where to go (to be safe),” Rammer said.
Natalie Eichenberger, mother of a second grader and preschooler in Wheaton said that while she reminds her kids how to be safe, she worries for their safety.
“Kids are kids. They are easy victims and that is why predators seek them out,” she said.
“I’ve gone over stranger danger many times with my 7-year-old, and I've got to say, he never passes. I think I can teach him ‘til I’m blue in the face, but I know he can be convinced and tempted,” she said. “Criminals and predators are good at what they do, so I am realistic when it comes to how easily the bad guy can win.”
“I will do all I can to not put my children in harm’s way,” she said.
Kristin Paxton, a Winfield mother, said she has been teaching her children that there are no secrets.
"If anyone tells them to keep a secret, that is bad and they should tell mommy and daddy. My pediatrician suggested this actually, since many predators tell kids to keep secrets."
Paxton added a helpful resource is the KidSafe Foundation.
Field said it is most important for parents to have conversations with their kids, and at an early age. "At that age... the brain isn't fully developed... to distinguish between who is friendly and who's not," he said. "It's a difficult line to figure out."
Field said in a safe city like Wheaton, parents might take advantage of the safety of their kids.
“I think they (parents) forget to talk to them (kids), and the problem, from my perspective, is deeper, because Wheaton is perceived as a safe community. And for the most part it is, but there are not walls or wires at the boundaries,” he said.
“Parents might take for granted the safety of their kids, because that’s why they moved here… (But) they’re not going to be here forever, so they need to tell them, 'This is safe.'"
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Rammer said in Wheaton, there is "great cooperation" between first-responding agencies and the school district. "We share information and distribute information... That kind of cooperation lends to a safer community."
The police department's presence at Tuesday's forum, he said, "demonstrates commitment to prevention," avoiding clean-ups after an incident.