The two main safety concerns for teens at home are poisonous substances and firearms. Both must be locked securely away, if not disposed of altogether.
At least four in five childhood poisonings occur in the home. The annual Toxic Exposure Surveillance System, compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, recorded approximately 160,000 cases of poisoning among thirteen- to nineteen-year-olds in 1997. Forty-four percent were the result of suicide attempts, deliberate abuse of the product in an effort to get high or experimental misuse for other purposes.
What You Can Do
Inspect your home for medicinal and non pharmaceutical products that an adolescent could conceivably be exposed to or could use to harm herself. Go from room to room, and put away, throw away or lock up as many of the items below as is feasible. If you have any reason to fear that a teenager might be a suicide risk, rid your house of any poisonous products, including alcohol, while you get him the professional help he needs.
Products that Poison
Source: 1997 Toxic Exposure Surveillance System
One in three handguns is kept unlocked and loaded at home. In the more than 35 percent of U.S. households where firearms are present, the risk of homicide is three times greater than in homes that do not have weapons. The risk of a family member committing suicide is five times higher. Meanwhile, in fewer than 2 percent of home break-ins are guns actually fired for protection; as a matter of fact, guns are twenty-two times more likely to be used to kill someone the residents know than to kill an intruder in self-defense. In 1997, 258 teenagers were unintentionally shot and killed; about three in five of those fatal shootings occurred in or near the home. But mishaps involving firearms account for perhaps one-tenth of adolescent deaths from weapons. “The bigger problem,” points out Dr. Katherine Kaufer Christoffel, “is that teenagers get into guns and use them for committing homicides as well as for suicide.”
What You Can Do
“The safest action that parents can take is to not keep any guns at home,” says Dr. Christoffel, medical director of the violence and injury prevention center at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. But if your household does contain weapons, we urge you to observe these safety measures:
Unload guns before you store them.
Put on the trigger lock and place the weapon—uncocked—in a securely locked case. Then put the container in a locked drawer or closet. Only Mom and Dad should know where guns have been hidden. Ammunition should be kept in a separate location, also locked.
When cleaning a firearm, never leave it unattended; keep it in view at all times.
With so many guns in circulation, it is possible that your teen spends time at friends’ homes where weapons can be found. Adolescents should never touch a firearm without adult supervision. All too often we read in the news stories about a pair of pals who are handling a parent’s gun, perhaps for the first time. “Don’t worry; it doesn’t have any bullets in it.” The weapon discharges, and one boy winds up wounded or dead, and the other one emotionally scarred for years to come.
Instruct your youngster that if he is in somebody else’s home when no adults are present, and a gun is brought out, he is to leave at once. As always, let’s suggest ways of finessing the situation so that he doesn’t have to lose face in front of his friend(s). He could either make an excuse (“I just remembered: My mom needs me to pick up the dry cleaning; I’d better get there before they close.”) or try to convince the others to go do something else.
What About Air Guns, Air Rifles, Pellet Guns and BB Guns?
Parents should recognize that these nonpowder firearms aren’t toys. Some boast muzzle velocities greater than seven hundred feet per second—impact at half that speed can penetrate skin and bone. Teens have lost their eyesight and have even been killed playing with air rifles and their ilk. Toy guns that fire projectiles can cause very real injuries—according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s count, about 750 per year.
Parents should not let teenagers outside with realistic-looking plastic rifles and handguns, even for seemingly harmless purposes. With the amount of guns on our streets, law-enforcement officers can’t always distinguish the replicas from the genuine articles, particularly at night. Youngsters bearing these toys have been shot at by the police. It’s only after the youth is lying on the ground dead or wounded that the menacing “weapon” is seen to be a fake.