Code Words To Live By

A wise police officer once told me that families should have a code word or phrase to alert one another when something is wrong or someone is in danger. Say, for instance, your teenager goes to a party and is uncomfortable with what’s going on around him or her. The teen should be able to call or text a parent the family code word and know that the parent will come and get them out of a bad situation — no questions asked.

Or maybe a child is waiting for a parent to pick him up after a sports practice or a night at the movies only to have a stranger approach and try to pick up the child. The child should already know about stranger danger, but having a code word or phrase is another layer of security.

I saw an experiment on TV depicting just that situation. In three separate cases, a stranger approached one or more children who were waiting for moms to pick them up. The stranger knew the kids’ names and told them their mothers asked him to pick them up and drive them home. In all three instances, the kids got into the car with the stranger. Most of the kids were middle school and even high school-aged. Only when the stranger asked the kids (who were looking at their cellphones most of the time) if they knew his name, none of them did, of course.

Then when he asked them why they got into the car with him, their faces contorted with sick panic. Some tried to jump out of the car. The man then stopped his car and issued them a stern warning to pay attention and never get in a car with a stranger. He said they could have called their parents to find out the truth about the stranger.

It was only an experiment and the parents were aware that it was happening. However, they too were shocked that their children didn’t hesitate to get in the stranger’s car.

Office workers often develop a secret code word or phrase when the need arises to, say for instance, “call the police” due to a threatening situation. That kind of pre-planning can save a lot of grief later on when used properly. This isn’t James Bond kind of stuff, just a little common sense in the right time and place.

Our world is full of uncertain situations with acts of terrorism possibly lurking around the corner.

It’s more important than ever to keep our senses alert to what is going on around us. Having a way to alert one another to the potential or actual danger should be as easy as a text message or phone call.

We teach our children how to read, write, do math, tie their shoes and drive a car.

But do we give them all the tools we can to keep them alert to the world we live in that no longer resembles Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Music artists Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young said it well in their song, “Teach Your Children.”

“You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by … Teach your children well.” Yes, please do.

Ziegler can be reached via email at