A few years before the pandemic, a friend reached out to me with an idea for a series of children’s workshops on basic safety and self-preservation skills.
She was out with her kids and realised that they did not have the skills to adapt and make the best of an unfamiliar situation. “My older child cannot take a bus on her own,” she said. “Many of her peers can operate smartphones but they have no idea what they need to do if they they are lost, if there is a fire or if they are being followed.”
My friend’s intention therefore was to forearm children against the many common hazards that exist both in and out of the home.
In line with this concern is Seema Chari’s new book The Safebook: 81 Super-Important Questions Answered About Safety. It is a useful primer on personal safety for kids and is an essential addition to the family library.
Meant for children who are 10 years and older, the book outlines common safety hazards in and out of the home, listing situations that can occur in our daily lives and the steps we can take to stay safe from or prevent them.
This includes preventing accidents, guidance on fire safety, combating more insidious dangers like the chemicals that lurk in food, the looming climate crisis with its many natural disasters, and of course, dealing with the invisible threats on the Internet.
The book is written for younger readers but the author encourages parents to read it with their children too.
According to the UNICEF’s data portal on adolescent health, road traffic injuries and drowning are leading causes of death among children and adolescents worldwide. ‘The Safebook’ addresses road safety in great detail, including the safety features of a car, the blind spots that we ignore when driving, how to be a safe cyclist, how to really walk on the road, and the importance of reading road signs.
The book gives us practical tips to prevent accidents but also tells us what to do in case we do find ourselves in danger. The author’s firm yet friendly tone will appeal to its young readers, with a list of do’s and don’ts, trivia, games and quizzes that will get children to hone their self-preservation skills.
The starting chapters dedicated to fire safety, include safety during festivals. Quick action graphs show readers what to do in case they need to escape a fire. The book tells us why smoke can be more dangerous than the fire, what to do if we smell gas, how to deal with electric fires and simple things like why we should not use steel vessels in a microwave. It also goes a little into the science behind each.
Remember how our parents told us that we must wear rubber slippers to prevent electric shocks? The book mentions that too, going into the quick science of why that happens. There is no doubt that we can find this information online, but the Internet is often bogged down by excesses and misinformation. This handbook, with fact-checked and well-researched content, is useful to have around the house.
The information is especially well-categorised and presented in a visually interesting manner, making it easy for us to find a topic or access it immediately, which is just what we need during emergencies.
I also found interesting the sections on reading labels on clothes or food and electrical safety. I have seen many adults remove the third pin or the grounding pin from the plug to make it fit into two-pin sockets but I did not know how dangerous this was and how the grounding pin can save your life. Some chapters address the more unusual, but now headline-grabbing dangers of taking selfies in dangerous places, including mountains, water bodies, and tall buildings. Sections on chemicals like phthalates, BPA, and even the parabens present in our shampoos, were eyeopeners.
The book also goes into basic safety precautions and instances of self-advocacy that are needed when things are not directly in our control. For instance, you must ask your car’s driver to slow down if you feel he or she is going too quickly. The author cautions us that “2 seconds on the phone means driving blind for 33 metres” and these are worthy reminders to make us stay on track.
Some of these tips are basic but their safety benefits are great. What do you do during a power outage? What do you do if you are being followed? What is the 30/30 rule for thunderstorms? While prevention is the way to go, the book also tells us how to handle emergencies — the numbers to call and the protocols to follow.
We cannot talk about safety and not talk about the inevitable presence of the Internet and social media in our children’s lives. We may interrogate the necessity of these technologies in our children’s lives but we cannot do away with them. It is therefore more important to mitigate their risks by teaching our children about dangers that lurk online cannot, and preparing them to take reasonable precautions, and plan for unexpected situations. In line with this, the book lists basic safety rules to ensure a secure online experience. It also takes us through managing our wellbeing with technology, by managing screen time and cultivating phone rules in the family.
‘The Safebook’ also helps children prepare for tricky situations, urging them to keep calm and deal with challenges with a clear head. There is no way to eliminate all traces of danger but this book is a good way to encourage children to understand the idea of safety and learn to pull their own weight.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru