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How to Teach Your Kids to Dial ‘911’ in the Age of Smart Phones

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Do you know how difficult it is these days to teach young children about 911 and when to make that emergency phone call? I do. Because I’ve recently tried to teach my four-year-old son, Holt.

I’d like to think that Holt is pretty smart, but I don’t think he’s as smart as the British four-year-old who made headlines recently for saving his unconscious’ mom’s life. Upon seeing his unresponsive mother, this kid had the brains to hold his mother’s thumb to her phone to unlock it, then to use Siri to call 999 (the British equivalent of 911.)

The London Metropolitan Police released audio from this child’s emergency call. ‘Hello, I’m Roman,’ the boy says in the recording to the dispatcher, who then asked him to put his mother on the line. ‘We can’t,’ Roman says. ‘She’s dead!’ ‘You said mummy was there,’ the dispatcher replies. ‘What do you mean she’s dead?’ ‘It means that’s she’s closing her eyes and she’s not breathing,’ said the young boy.

Incredibly, the four-year-old was also able to recite his home address and officers arrived within 13 minutes to provide first aid. Mommy is just fine!

The department released the audio ‘in hopes of encouraging other parents to teach their children to memorize their address and how to get help in an emergency.

Well, I tried. But teaching kids how to get emergency help, in this day and age of technology-everything, is a very different experience than it was years ago, when everyone had a home phone.

‘What is THAT?’ my four-year-old asked in abject wonder, when I showed him the portable home phone, located on a shelf in my kitchen. I haven’t picked up the portable phone in years, am not even exactly sure what the phone number is myself, and literally had to blow off a couple layers of dust, that’s how much we use it.

See? Home phones have gone the way of the dinosaurs, and since we never use the home phone, or even pick it up (‘Your number has been chosen to win a free cruise!’) it made sense that my four-year-old had no clue what a portable phone was. (Editor’s note: here’s how kids can call 911 from any cell phone.) 

So, first, I had to teach him that it was, indeed a phone that works. If there’s an emergency, like if you see me on the floor and I’m not moving, even when you’re yelling at me, then you have to push the numbers 911 and then the green button,’ I explained to my son, with my home phone in hand. ‘Then you wait until you hear someone ask, ‘What’s the emergency.’ Then you say, ‘My mommy needs help. Come over immediately!’

It was a lot of information for him to take in, but I persevered, asking him numerous times what to do, after also reminding him where he could find the portable phone.

‘What numbers do you press again?’ I asked him, again and again.
‘911,’ he said, pointing out the numbers.
‘Good! Then?’ I pressed.
Well, my four-year-old shrugged his shoulders, as if he were a moody teenager, and I just asked him when his report card was coming out.
‘You have to push the GREEN button next!’ I reminded my son. ‘You push the numbers 911 and then you must push the GREEN button!’
My 4 year-old is also a major jokester. There were a couple times when I’d say, ‘What do you do again?’ and he’d respond, ‘I press 996 and then the red button….I’m kidding!’ (Mommy did not find this funny!)

After about 15 minutes, I was pretty sure he knows where to find the phone, how to punch in the three numbers and then the green button so the phone call could go through to emergency services. But then the problem became explaining what exactly constitutes an emergency…and what does not.

It was super important for my now 13-year-old to know how to dial 911 when she was much younger, because we lived together, only her and I, for a few years. If something happened to me, she was the only one at home, so it was essential for her to learn how to dial 911 if there was an emergency. That being said, portable home phones were still a thing when she was younger and while cell phones were definitely around, they didn’t have passwords or the ‘swipe’ option to unlock a phone. After she learned to dial 911, I remember her asking me questions about WHEN to dial 911.

‘Is it an emergency if the power goes out?’ she’d ask.
‘NO!’
‘Is it an emergency if you trip and fall down the stairs?’
‘Only if I can’t talk or if I tell you to call them!’
‘What if you’re bleeding?’ she asked.
‘Again, only if I can’t talk or if I tell you to call!’ I said to my inquisitive daughter, who came up with about 56 potential, but highly unlikely, scenarios for her to call 911, including, ‘What if a lamp falls on you and breaks your leg?’

There’s a fine line in teaching your kids what’s an emergency or not. You don’t want to scare the crap out of them by telling them about the possibility of someone breaking into the house, or that there is a possibility of me falling down and cracking my head open. All things that could happen, if even a small chance, but if you tell them all that, there’s a great chance your children are going to be super worried about sleeping by themselves for a long while.

But you also don’t want them calling 911 for help with their homework, as one kid recently did. You certainly don’t want them calling 911 because, let’s say, you took their computer away, which, for a kid these days, is an emergency, just not a life or death one.

The second thing was to make sure my four-year-old knew his home address. My daughter, of course, knows our address. But since we live on a corner lot, the front door to my home is actually on another street name. How do you explain all this to a four-year-old? I wonder how this British Mum taught her kid. Or is her kid just a genius?

Would your four-year old know to use your finger to unlock your phone and the ask Siri to call 911? Inquiring minds want to know! It’s sort of an emergency!

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