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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Safe Kids

News reports of the Illinois father arrested for the brutal murder of his young daughter and her best friend go beyond the pale of comprehension. It seems clear these girls had no realistic way to defend themselves. They were overpowered in every sense of the word. Each and every day, there are things we can do as parents — and as loving uncles, aunts, and grandparents — to try to make the world safer for kids. As I wrote in an article a couple of years ago, there are things kids can learn to reduce their likelihood of being victimized. Here's an overview of key points:
  • "Never talk to a stranger" is not advice your kid needs. Lost children need to know how to ask an adult (ideally an adult who's with kids) for assistance.
  • Your kids need to know it's totally OK to say "No!" to any unwelcome adult — including a relative or friend who should be deserving of trust. "You are not my parent!" is a phrase kids need to know they can shout out loud if and when any unauthorized person attempts to get them into a car.
  • Consider enrolling your kid in a martial arts class — not because he or she needs to be afraid, but because self-defense skills build confidence.
  • Ask hard questions of authority figures, including your kids' school principal. Find out whether background checks have been run on all teachers and school staff.
  • Trust your intuition — the part of you that knows, without knowing exactly how you know.
  • Own your fears. Don't project them onto your kids.
I'm aware I've used the word "kids" a lot. It sounds redundant; the writer in me thinks I should go back and try for greater variety. To hell with that. I'm writing as a dad. That's what they are: kids, children, offspring, dependents. We know more than they do about the ways of this world, and they need us to teach them in sane, grounded, calm ways. The best protection we can give them is presence. Not constant hovering, but the force of our true being. That's a huge part of how they learn to develop a sense of presence all their own, and more, learn to trust it. Then someday they'll teach the same to the next young ones who come along. It's what smart mammals do in a sane nation.