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Automobiles, Walking and Biking Safety

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Driving in Cars/Automobiles

crosswalk signEven though children are now past the age and size where they require a car seat or booster seat, they still need to ride in the back seat of the car. Almost all cars now have passenger side air bags providing coverage of the front passenger seat in the event of an accident. These air bags are designed to protect a tall and heavy adult passenger; not a child. Because of their smaller size and weight compared to adults, school-aged children can actually be harmed by the deployment of passenger air bags during an accident. So as to avoid this avoidable danger, children should sit in the back seat of cars until they are at least 12 years old.

No matter their age, or seated position in the car, everyone (parents and children alike) in the car should wear seat belts at all times!

Household Medications, Cleaners, Chemicals, Tools

Prescription medications and household cleaners offer another example of a common danger school-aged children need to be protected from. Various family members (adult and child alike) may be prescribed medications which, though safe when used as directed by a doctor, may be toxic or lethal if misused. As well, most every house will have its compliment of cleaning products (and lawn and gardening products, pesticides, pool chemicals, etc.) which may also be quite poisonous if ingested. By Middle Childhood, children are mature enough to get past simple child-proof locks and containers which would block younger children. However, they are not necessarily mature or experienced enough to know the dangers these products may pose. Consequently, all medications, dangerous cleaners and dangerous tools need to be kept locked away from children's direct access as much as possible. As well, children need to be explicitly told when products or tools or medications they may see in the house are dangerous so that they are as knowledgeable as possible regarding the risks.

By the end of the Middle Childhood, most children will have matured sufficiently so that they can begin to share responsibility for taking medications, completing household cleaning chores, and doing yard work. However, these activities still need to be closely supervised by responsible adult caregivers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 12 should not be allowed to use a push lawn mower and that children younger than 16 should not use a riding lawn mower. Machines, sharp tools, and cleaning products can still become dangerous for children if they become complacent or forgetful. So parents need to continue to remind children about the dangers that these objects pose, and take care to supervise children's interactions with them.

Traffic Safety when Walking or Riding Bikes

Middle-childhood aged children continue to benefit from regular reminders regarding traffic and road safety, particularly when they may be walking about unsupervised. Children should be taught to understand and respect the dangers that cars and traffic pose. They should be taught to never play in the street (at least not in busy streets, or streets where cars may come up at high speed or without warning). They should never dart out into the street in search of a stray ball or similar object as this may result in serious injury.

Parents should instruct and remind children to cross streets only at an intersection, to look both ways before crossing, and to obey traffic signs and signals. Younger children in this age group should still be encouraged to hold hands with an adult when crossing a street or other busy intersection.

Whenever a sidewalk is present, children should be encouraged to use it. If there is no sidewalk available, (American) children should learn to walk on the side of the road facing traffic, as to be more aware of vehicles coming toward them.

Teaching children about traffic safety becomes especially important as parents begin to let their children walk to school or to the school bus-stop. It's best for caregivers or trusted older siblings to accompany younger children to their school or bus-stop. However, depending on the safety of the neighborhood and the typical traffic that children might encounter en-route, some families may judge it safe for their children to walk such short distances unattended. The actual threat posed by children's unattended walking will vary based on a number of factors, and parents will have to use their judgment. Regardless of traffic conditions, children should not be allowed to walk unsupervised until parents have become confident that they are emotionally and cognitively mature enough to handle the task. Even then, whenever possible, children should walk with a group of friends rather than walking alone.