The safety of children in our community is one of the Palo Alto Police Department's highest priorities. Whether it is helping them to get to school safely by conducting traffic enforcement along school commute routes, doing safety presentations in classrooms, or investigating a case of child abuse, the staff of the Palo Alto Police Department are committed to doing everything we can to protect children.
This page offers many tips on how you can help to keep your children safe, ranging from how to explore the Megan's Law Website of registered sex offenders, how to learn more about online safety for kids, and how to teach your children important lessons about general safety topics. Expand the accordions below to learn more.
Megan's Law Website and Registered Sex Offenders
The California Department of Justice maintains the Megan's Law Website to enhance community safety by showing photos and legally-releasable information (including in some cases, specific home street addresses) of people who have been convicted of certain designated sex offenses.
Detectives from the Palo Alto Police Department regularly meet with registered sex offenders offenders as required by law, and upload current information about them to the California Sex and Arson Registry. That repository of information, in turn, informs the Megan's Law Website. Pursuant to Penal Code §290.46, not all registered sex offenders have their information publicly disclosed on the website; however, those offenders are still required to meet with law enforcement regularly, and law enforcement is aware of their whereabouts.
Visit our Megan's Law Website page to learn more.
Search the Megan's Law Website Now
Online Safety for Children
Just like you wouldn't allow your children to play near a busy roadway without providing them with some safety rules, you also shouldn't allow them to play on the information highway of the Internet without giving them some safety rules as well. For all the good the Internet offers our children, it contains many very real dangers as well, ranging from them viewing disturbing content that is not age-appropriate, to being victimized by online scams, to being exposed to child predators who are set on sexually exploiting them.
Here are some tips you can consider for how to keep your kids safe online.
Control Access to the Internet
- Monitor your children's behavior online: check their browsing history, look at content and apps they've downloaded, limit their access to sites or apps that are not age-appropriate, and so forth.
- Enable "parental control" and "screen time" options whenever they are available. But it's not enough to simply enable them and walk away: these are powerful and helpful tools, and you need to not only familiarize yourself with how to use them, but also actively monitor them. Leverage these tools as much as necessary in a way that is appropriate for your child's level of maturity and education.
- Keep Internet-accessible devices in common areas of your home, where your child knows there is a chance you could walk by them and "shoulder-surf" what they're doing. Unsupervised use of the Internet in more private areas of your home (bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.) may allow children to feel more comfortable to do things online that they know you do not want them to do.
- Especially for older children, consider disabling Internet access on their devices when it is bedtime.
Talk to Your Children About Online Safety
- Let's face it, parents: there's a high likelihood that your children may be more Internet-savvy than you, even here in the heart of Silicon Valley! While that may be true, it does not absolve you of your responsibility as a parent to set some ground rules and have necessary conversations about online safety.
- Tell your children never to give out personal information (name, age, address, cell phone number, account passwords, what school they attend, and so forth) on the Internet. It's best to have a blanket rule like this, rather than telling them "don't talk to strangers online," because to your child (depending on their age and level of maturity, of course), they may think they "know" someone they've only "met" virtually, so they do not consider that person a "stranger" in their minds.
- Talk to your children about how people online may, in real life, be someone very different. It is easy to intentionally misrepresent oneself online. Someone who may claim to be a 12-year-old girl may, in actuality, be a 50-year-old man intent on exploiting your child.
- Tell your children never to agree to meet in person with someone they have previously only met online.
- Tell your children that if they ever encounter something online that makes them feel uncomfortable, that they should tell you or another trusted adult immediately. This could range from content that may simply not be age-appropriate for them, but it could also be messages that are sexually suggestive or explicit, belligerent, bullying in nature, or even threatening. Tell them not to respond to such messages, and block the sender from future contact. Consider using the reporting feature built into many apps and games to report users who are being inappropriate.
- Have honest conversations with your child, based on their age and level of maturity, about the dangers of the Internet. That could include discussions about online sexual exploitation, online bullying, pornography, hate material, violence, and any other issues that may concern you as a parent. Talk about how you would like them to respond if and when they come across this material online.
Other Recommendations for Parents
- Based on your child's age and level of maturity, consider using the Internet with them. Watch what they're watching with them; take turns playing the game they're playing; have them show you how to use their new app.
- Be "friends" with your child on all of their social media accounts, and pay attention to everything they may choose to post, "like," share, and so forth.
- Know that many online games have chat features built into them. An unknowing parent may think that their child is simply playing a game, when in actuality, strangers may be trying to chat with your child online. Pay attention to what they're doing, and ask them if the game has a chat feature. Set parental controls in the game appropriate for their age level, and have conversations with them about the inherent dangers.
If You Suspect Your Child Is Being Exploited Online...
If you suspect that your child is being exploited by someone online, contact our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 so we can help.
For More Information...
There is a wealth of valuable information available online for parents to help educate them about Internet safety for kids. Technology is always changing, and the ways that people can exploit children online change with it. A good starting point to learn more is this U.S. Department of Justice website on online safety for children.
Teaching Your Children About General Safety Topics
Our children constantly amaze us, and as a result, we as parents often like to assume that they know the right thing to do in various situations. Sometimes they certainly do. But it is important to remember that we need to consider what the world looks like through their perspective as a child, not our perspective as adults with all of our life experiences and maturity.
We recommend that you have regular conversations with your children about their safety, and what to do to keep themselves safe in various situations. Do not assume that they will know what to do, or that they will do what you want them to do. Here are some tips for your consideration.
If you're looking for tips on online safety for your kids, those are contained in a separate accordion above on this same page.
Consider This: Would Your Child Know What to Do If...
...they got lost at a shopping mall?
...a friendly stranger offered them a ride home after school?
...a friend dared them to drink alcohol or use drugs?
...their babysitter wanted to play a "secret game" with them?
...a neighbor they've never met asked them to come inside their house for some ice cream?
A great thing about children is their natural trust in people, especially in adults. It's often difficult for parents to teach their children how to balance this trust with caution, and that not every adult or classmate has good intentions. But kids need to know common sense rules that not only can help keep them safe, but also help them build the self-confidence they need to handle emergencies.
Start with the Basics...
- Make sure your children know their full name, their full address (house number, street name, city and state), and your cell phone number with area code. Quiz them regularly until you are confident they know it all by heart.
- Teach children about 9-1-1 and how to use it in an emergency. There are numerous online resources that can help you do this in an age-appropriate way.
Then Get Into Different Topics, Depending on their Age and Level of Maturity...
- Tell them never to accept rides from a stranger. This could include a stranger who asks them to help "look for their lost puppy," or who says that "something bad has happened to mommy" and they want to "help take you to the hospital".
- Teach them if a vehicle they do not recognize pulls up next to them on the street and the occupant beckons them over, that they should not approach the vehicle. If the situation warrants, they should walk or run in the opposite direction the car is traveling and immediately tell a trusted adult.
- Tell them never to accept gifts (ice cream, candy, kittens, etc.) from a stranger.
- If they get lost or separated from a parent, teach them what they should do. Depending on the situation, they may want to go to a store clerk, a security guard, a police officer or firefighter. Some parents, depending on the age and maturity level of their children, will instruct their children to "find another mommy with kids" and tell her that they are lost in order to enlist help.
- Set a good example with your own actions: always lock doors and windows, always see who is at the front door before opening it, and so on.
- Listen to your kids. If they tell you they are scared or feel uneasy around a certain person, place, or situation, pay attention and follow up. Ask them open-ended questions to learn more, like, "You said that Bob the neighbor is 'creepy.' Tell me more about that".
- Tell your children to trust their instincts. If they feel uneasy or scared in a given situation, tell them that they should trust those feelings and do what they can to remove themselves safely from that situation.
When Your Child is at School or Playing...
- If your children play outside your home, encourage them to do it with friends, not alone.
- Tell them to avoid places that could be dangerous, like vacant buildings, alleys, construction sites, and so forth.
- Teach children to settle arguments with words, not fists, and to walk away when others are arguing. Remind them that taunting and teasing can hurt their friends and make enemies.
- Make sure your children are taking the safest routes to and from school, stores, and friends' houses. Walk the routes together and point out places they could go for help.
- Encourage kids to be alert in the neighborhood, and to immediately tell a trusted adult about anything they see that doesn't seem quite right.
When Your Child is Home Alone...
- Ensure you child knows your cell phone number and encourage them to call or text you if they need anything.
- Leave a list of phone numbers for them (or ensure they have the numbers programmed into their own cell phone) with various contacts: trusted neighbors, trusted friends, nearby relatives, and so forth that they can call if needed.
- Ensure your child knows how to lock doors and windows, and encourage them to keep them locked at all times when they are home alone.
- Empower them to call 9-1-1 immediately if it is an emergency, and discuss situations that would warrant that (a kitchen fire, a serious injury that is actively bleeding, a stranger in the backyard with a flashlight, etc.). Time is of the essence in these situations, so delays caused by calling parents first to ask for "permission" to call 9-1-1 can be detrimental to first responders.
- Consider having your child check in with you or a neighbor when they arrive home alone.
- Agree on rules for having friends over and going to a friend's house when no adult is home.
- Teach your child not to open the front door (or let anyone into the home) without your permission, even if the person at the door says it is okay. Children should not tell strangers at the door that their parents are not home; instead, they should speak through the closed front door and tell the stranger that their parent is busy and can't come to the door right now.
- Work out an escape plan in case of fire or another emergency, and rehearse it as a family. For more information on making a family emergency plan, visit the Ready.gov website.
Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse...
- Always work to have open lines of communication with your child. Let them know that they can always can tell you anything, and that you will always be supportive.
- Teach your child that no one (not even a teacher or a close relative) has the right to touch them in any way that feels uncomfortable. If that happens, they should tell the person to stop if possible and immediately tell a trusted adult.
- Do not force your kids to kiss, hug, or sit on an adult's lap if they do not want to do it. This gives your children control and teaches them that they have the right to refuse.
- Always know where your child is and with whom they are spending their time. Consider enabling location services on any digital device they carry so that you can track their whereabouts easily.
- Tell your child to stay away from strangers who hang around playgrounds, public restrooms, and schools.
- Be alert for changes in your child's behavior that could signal abuse. These might include sudden secretiveness, withdrawal from activities, refusal to go to school, unexplained hostility toward a favorite babysitter or relative, or increased levels of anxiety. Some physical signs of abuse include bedwetting, loss of appetite, venereal disease, nightmares, and complaints of pain or irritation around the genitals.
- If your child has been sexually abused, report it to the police or a child protection agency immediately. In Palo Alto, call our 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413 so we can help.