“John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”
A chorus of laughs erupted from the more than 200 children and adults packed into Fowler Park’s recreation center Wednesday evening as Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Jenny Belafi addressed the crowd.
“What happens when someone shows up and knocks on your door and says, ‘Oh my gosh, your mom or dad has been in an accident and they sent me to your house to get you,’” she said. “Do you go with them? No. If anything like that happens, there should be a trusted neighbor that you already know, and hopefully Mom or Dad has given you a safe word.
Home alone tips for kids
• Know your parents’ first and last names, and have them write down a phone number where they can be reached
• Never open the door to anyone, unless you parent says that person is OK
• If someone rings the doorbell or knocks on the door, acknowledge your presence but don’t open the door
• Ensure batteries and flashlights are working and accessible in case the power goes out while your parents are away
• Never tell anyone your parents aren’t home, regardless of whether it’s over the phone or through the door
• If there’s a fire in the house, get out immediately and run to a neighbor’s house
• Have a safe word in case someone other than your parents needs to come pick you up
• Never hesitate to call 911 if you’re scared or you think there is an emergency
“If a person comes to get you and they don’t give you that safe word, you don’t go. And that safe word could be anything — it could be blueberry or John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”
Wednesday’s class, “Home Alone Safety for Kids,” focused on general habits and plans children and parents can implement to ensure kids remain safe at home without parents or babysitters.
While Forsyth has the lowest per-capita crime rate in metro-Atlanta, Sheriff Ron Freeman said, classes like Wednesday’s, as well as others the sheriff’s office holds, which include women’s self-defense, general crime prevention and Internet safety for kids, are important.
“We’re going to take some things you don’t know and, hopefully, reinforce what you already do know and teach your children about being safe,” he said. “One of the things that we’re going to reinforce with you is [something] may be in your best intentions, but we might be getting it wrong, all of us.”
One policy parents often teach their children, Freeman said, is not to open the door or say anything if the doorbell rings when a child is home alone.
“What’s the first thing a burglar does, probably 70 or 80 percent of the time before they break into your house? They ring the doorbell and knock on the door,” he said. “What’s a burglar want? They want your stuff.
“They’re not there to confront you, generally speaking. So if that’s the case, they want to make sure you’re not home, right? You need to acknowledge the door. I’m not telling your 12-year-old to open the door and say, ‘What do you want, mister,’ but we have to teach our kids to acknowledge there’s someone there.”
Not only should children acknowledge there is someone home, but they should make themselves seen, if possible, Belafi said.
“You get that knock on the door — what do you think you’re going to do,” she said. “You’re going to peek through the window. You don’t have to be all sneaky ninja about it — let them see you, that’s fine, let them know you’re home.”
Both Belafi and Freeman stressed, however, that children should never open the door or windows when home alone and to always call 911 if they are afraid of something suspicious or if there is an emergency.
“I preach to people, play the ‘what if’ game,” she said. “What if this happens, how are you going to respond? What if that happens, how are you going to respond?
“Normally, if a person gets scared or overwhelmed and they’ve not talked or thought about it ahead of time, they’re just going to panic and be like a deer in the headlights. We want to bring that awareness for people to talk and know about [emergencies], and then hopefully they’ll know how to handle it.”