Imagine shopping and seeing a seven-year-old girl come into the store saying worriedly, “I need help. I can’t find my mom!” The following story from Zoe Gladstone, who we are proud to have as one of our instructors, shows how bystander intervention can play a crucial role in whether or not a child stays safe emotionally and physically.
I wanted to let you know how our Kidpower article, Overcoming the Bystander Effect: Creating Safer Communities for Everyone, recently positively affected my life.
One afternoon, I become aware of a little girl, probably about 7 years old, who had been left in the car in the small parking lot behind a string of stores. Her mom had told her she was going “to pay a bill.”
Wondering why her mom was taking so long, this child had gotten out of her car, thereby setting off the car alarm, and had gone into the cell phone store to ask an adult for help. I returned to my car after finding her in the care of the owners of the produce place and cell phone store. The owners were searching the other stores, and calling the mom on their cell phones (the girl knew her mom’s number), and telling the girl she didn’t need to cry. The little girl looked really scared, and seemed bewildered by all the activity.
I got in my car, thinking, ‘Well, they seem to be taking care of things.” As I drove out of the parking lot, I suddenly remembered how important it was that I as a bystander do what I could to help, and pulled over immediately.
I got out of the car and walked over to the girl and storeowners to check in and see what might be needed. I realized that one of the ways I could help was by providing some emotional safety for the girl, and by staying with her while other people made calls and walked around the block to see where her mom was.
I crouched down to talk to this child and said, “You must be feeling worried because you can’t find your mom. That’s normal. You did a great thing by going into a store and getting help from an adult. That is a good way to stay safe. You also stayed in one place while the grown-ups looked around for you. Staying in one place is also a really good thing to do when you’re lost. There are a lot of grown-ups who are helping out right now to find your mom. I’m going to stay with you the whole time until we find her.”
After a few minutes, some other adults found her mom in the pawnshop, and they were reunited. I hesitated again, not knowing if I should just walk away. What could I say to the mom? The only thing that occurred to me was to just let the mom and daughter know that I was so glad they had found each other, and to tell the mom all the great things her daughter had done to stay safe and get help for herself.
Kidpower has taught me that bystanders sometimes hesitate or don’t help out because they think either they don’t know the right thing to do or they think that other people are in charge. I felt good about offering support to the daughter. I’m glad that, even if I wasn’t sure it was the perfect way to do it, I made an attempt to connect with the mom and talk about safety, even in a small way
And I was inspired to see how many people in my neighborhood came to the aid of this little girl.
We are really glad that this little girl is safe – and that Zoe was able to help her feel supported and to provide the message of all that she did right with her mother, helping both of them to see how this child was powerful rather than helpless.
In real-life situations, it can be hard to know whether and how to speak up and step in. Remembering that the safety of kids is everybody’s business can help to overcome this discomfort so we can take positive action.