Archive for the ‘child safety’ Category

Parents Give School an “F” in Bully Policy

Friday, April 18th, 2014

School administrators in Lincoln, Nebraska are scrambling to do damage control after students were sent home with a list of instructions on how deal with bullying. And they should be, because whoever is responsible for authoring and dispensing this list to children is, at best, dangerously ignorant of what bullying is. At worst, they are fostering an atmosphere of violence and fear which can have lasting, harmful effects.

We have learned much about bullying in the past several years. It has been recognized, not as a rite of passage that children need to go through to “toughen up,” or as normal “kids will be kids” behavior to be tolerated… but as a deviant, defiant, criminal activity. ‘Think that sounds a bit dramatic? Think again: bullies are predators in training. When they engage in this activity, they follow a criminal mindset–seeking out targets, zeroing in on them, and moving in for the kill. If allowed to continue unchecked, their actions typically escalate in severity and number of victims. By the time school bullies reach adulthood, many have graduated into full-fledged criminal activity.

There are over 2 million bullies right now in our schools. Nearly 3 million students are threatened or injured with guns, knives, or other weapons, physically assaulted, verbally abused, and/or have personal property stolen, damaged, or destroyed by bullies.

Schools and community organizations are still struggling to find the best ways to handle bullying. But thankfully, it is now understood that aiding and supporting the victims is of equal, if not greater, importance. So, you can imagine the outrage of so many parents of 5th graders at Zeman Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska, when their children brought home a flier stating that, if they are targeted by such predators-in-training, they should, among other things,

  1. not verbally defend themselves (“The bully is our friend. We defend ourselves against enemies.”)
  2. not to feel fear, even if the bully is verbally harassing or physically threatening or assaulting them (“Fear is something we feel toward enemies, not buddies.”)
  3. not to physically defend themselves (“We attack enemies, not friends.”)
  4. show they are physically wounded, but not angry because (“We want the bully to feel sorry for us and apologize. If we’re angry, he won’t feel sorry for us and apologize.”)
  5. not to “tell” on the bully (“Would we keep our friends if we tattled on them?”)

As a radKIDS Instructor, a teacher, an adult, and a human being, this entire list of “guidelines” makes me angry. All this talk about “friends” and “enemies” is ridiculous. Telling a child how they should feel is wrong. Comparing a child’s reporting an incident of bullying to “tattling” is wrong. And taking away their right to defend themselves from harm is gutting.

Whoever compiled this list of nonsense clearly has no understanding of bullying. Fortunately, parents of Zeman Elementary’s 5th graders are on top of the issue, and have called BS on the flier and its directives. Now the school itself needs to step forward and right the wrongs.

Safe Does Not Mean Scared

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I remember an old Oprah show, in which she was interviewing Child Safety Expert Ken Wooden. Wooden has been a tireless advocate for child safety for years. You can check out his work at http://www.childluresprevention.com/about/kwooden.asp

In this episode of Oprah’s program, he was demonstrating how easy it is for a predator to get a child to walk off with him, even when the child has been taught for years “never to go anywhere with strangers!!” In example after example, Wooden would approach a child at a playground and, just by acting friendly and polite, he would win the kids’ trust and lead them off (to a pre-determined location)–all while their parents watched nearby on video monitors.

Time after time, each child took the hand of the “nice man” and walked away with him to “look for a lost puppy,” or offer some other form of assistance he asked of them. And time after time, the parents were horrified.

“He knows better!”

“I can’t believe she went!” And on and on.

Except for one. Of all the kids on the playground that day who were volunteered by their parents to take part in Wooden’s experiment, only one refused to go with him and, instead, ran to his mother for protection. When Oprah asked this mom what she did differently from the other parents, she said, “I have made him terrified! Absolutely terrified–of other people, of strangers. I don’t care if it affects him later in his life. At least I know he’ll be safe right now, and no one will take him away from me!”

Granted, this mom meant well, although even she understood that her severe scare-tactics could negatively impact her little boy at some point. She thought she was teaching him how to be safe, but really, she was instilling in him all her adult fears of abduction, molestation, and other things we don’t want our children to worry about.

Changing gears for a moment… elementary schools nationwide are pleased to provide DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to their students. DARE is a national program, taught by law enforcement officers, to encourage kids to steer clear of drugs, gangs, and other dangers present in their environment. In a recent DARE class, the police officer told a roomful of 4th grade students that a girl just their age was abducted, beaten, killed, and then eaten by her captor. Whether this event actually took place is beside the point. What is relevant is the fact that this officer thought it appropriate to share such graphic information with a group of 9- and 10-year-old children! (The mother of a student in that classroom called me the next day to inquire about a safety class for her daughter. The child was so distraught after hearing about the murdered girl that she couldn’t eat, refused to go outside to play, and wouldn’t even sleep in her own bed, but insisted on bunking with mom.)

Again, we have an adult’s well-meaning attempt to keep children safe by scaring the daylights out of them. This approach not only doesn’t work, but it causes as many problems as it supposedly eliminates. Parents, guardians, teachers, and all who care for and about children, let me assure you: we do not have to terrify our children to keep them safe! Fear does not mean secure, and certainly, more fear does not lead to greater security.

The child safety experts who designed the program I teach understood that we cannot learn when we’re afraid. The brain is in “fight or flight” mode; it’s not able to take in and make sense of new data. Conversely, when we’re relaxed and having fun, we tend to be at our most creative. This is when we are most able to learn and process important information. Therefore, it is not by accident that the radKIDS program is fun and entertaining for kids. Nor is it merely coincidence that kids finish the program feeling more self-confident and empowered to stay safe than before they started.

You don’t have to terrify your kids to keep them safe. In fact, that approach does more harm than good. There is a better, safer, proven way: give them a radKIDS course and let them have fun finding out all the ways they can stay safe!

How to Save Your Child’s Life

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Yesterday, in-store video from a Wal-Mart near Atlanta, Georgia went viral. It showed a strange man picking up a 7-year-old girl in an aisle of the toy department. It then showed that same little girl kicking and yelling and creating such a huge ruckus that the man put her down–and ran away! For those of you who haven’t seen that video, here it is: Girl Fights Off Kidnapper in Wal-Mart

Kudos to that young lady for doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. How did she know what to do in such a frightening situation? And how did she have the presence of mind to do it? Simple: her parents enrolled her in a Kids Safety class. It may have been radKIDS, or it might have been another class given by an agency that teaches similar principles. But the day her parents brought her to that first class, they saved her life. She learned that Bad Guys hate noise, and often demand that their victims stay quiet. She also learned not to listen to Bad Guys, but to yell long and loud for help.

She learned that no one is allowed to hurt her, and if someone tries to, she can make them stop. The Bad Guy held her arms, so she used her legs to kick him repeatedly as hard as she could–while she was still yelling. He realized almost immediately that he was not going to get away with this child. He put her down and fled (and was arrested by local law enforcement a short time later).

By using what she had learned in that safety class to escape this man’s hold, she saved her life again. He was on parole, having just been released from prison for killing a man. You can be sure his intentions toward this innocent, little girl were not honorable. Nor was he likely to let her go, knowing she could identify him to police.

Several parents contacted me after this video hit the news. They wanted to know how soon they could get their own kids into a radKIDS class, just on the outside chance that some predator might approach them when Mom’s or Dad’s back was turned. I gave them the information they wanted. Most thanked me and set about making room in their child’s schedule for the 4 weekly sessions that a radKIDS course meets.

But, after I’d finished telling one mom about all we teach, all the situations we cover, and the physical skills we give the kids, she shrugged and said, “Well, we’ll think about it.” She explained that her daughter already had a very busy schedule, what with gymnastics, piano lessons, and dance class.

Now, all those activities are fun, and can be life-enhancing. A radKIDS class is also fun, and can be life-saving. Parents must decide what’s best for their children, and certainly, sports and the arts are important. But the life-skills learned in a radKIDS class–personal empowerment, the ability to make decisions, and the choosing of a clear strategy (not to mention how to deliver a good, solid punch to the nose)–can help a kid in situations when no cartwheel, no arpeggio, no pirouette can.

Who’s Got the Power?

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

child with eyes covered











You’ve probably all heard about the sexual abuse allegedly committed against young boys by a former Penn State football coach. So, I’m not going to talk about that. You probably also know about the university’s alleged cover-up of the events. So I won’t go into that, either.

There is one point that I came across in my reading about all of this, and that is what I want to bring to your attention. Red flags waved and alarm bells sounded in my mind when I came across the words of the young man currently identified as Victim 1 in the case. When his mother asked him why he didn’t tell her what was happening, why he didn’t tell the coach to stop, or even run away from him, he replied simply, “You just don’t say no to Coach Sandusky.”

That’s it. “You just don’t say no.” Not to the coach. Not to the teacher. Or the doctor, the minister, the camp counselor, or any other adult or authority figure in a child’s life. Why not? Because we teach children to be “respectful” of adults, which is often interpreted as being obedient, doing what they’re told. We teach them to have “good manners,” not to “talk back” or “act up.”

And that’s fine. I’m certainly not against teaching kids to respect their elders. But there’s something else that we need to teach them: No one has the right to hurt me. ‘Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not. No one likes getting hurt, sure. But kids need to be taught that it’s not okay for someone to hurt them–not other kids, and definitely not adults who should be taking care of them. In fact, it’s so important that kids understand this, it’s the first thing we teach RAD Kids when they take Violence Prevention classes.

The next thing we teach them is, “If someone tries to hurt me, I can make it stop.” How? There are lots of ways, all stemming from the child’s own feeling of empowerment. And that’s the key: our children must realize that they have the power to stop violence against them. If someone is hurting them (or trying to), they don’t have to be respectful. They don’t have to use good manners, say ‘please,’ or remain quiet. And they don’t have to wait, and suffer, and hope for some other adult to come and rescue them. They can rescue themselves!

The third principle we teach is, “If someone hurts me (or tries to), it’s never my fault. So I can tell! Tell a trusted adult who can help. If that adult doesn’t help, keep telling until someone does help. Again, this is about empowering your child. You can be sure that the Bad Guy who tries to mess with your kid will tell them to keep their “special friendship” a secret, and may even give them presents and take them on fun outings to buy their silence.

Abusive relationships are all about the abuser having power over the victim. You can have polite, respectful children who, at the same time, are empowered to keep themselves safe. Teach your child that no one is allowed to hurt them, and that they have the power to make it stop.



Pillars of Your Community

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

My dad died on a Sunday morning. By early afternoon, their home was filled with friends bringing food and comfort to my mother. I stood in the kitchen, refilling the coffee pot, when a man walked in and introduced himself to me.

“George Smith. You must be Pam; I’ve heard a lot about you. ‘Glad you could get here.” He leaned against the counter and began to reminisce about his 10-year friendship with my father.

“He and I mentored over at the high school. The kids were always so happy to see him walk in the place. He’d help ’em with their homework, help ’em fill out college applications…. He did some repair work over there, too, when they needed something done. He was a real pillar of the community. The kids loved him, and he loved them!”

“Really?” I asked, stunned.

I looked at George and thought, “Did you know he brutalized his own?”

Pillars of the community–those folks we hold up as role models to be admired, emulated. The ones we wish we could be more like: the sweet old man in church who’s a “grandpa” to all the little kids; the police officer who puts his life on the line to protect us every time he puts on his uniform; the wise doctor who knows just what to do in an emergency. The teacher, the coach, the others in your community who you think well of, who you’re friends with… who you trust to make smart, sound decisions. Would you leave your children with them? Should you?

Take the community of Woolwich Township, in southern New Jersey. A 911 operator there named John Desper fielded calls from panicked individuals in all kinds of emergencies. He calmed them, dispatched the correct authorities to their locations, and talked them through their crises until help arrived. It’s an emotionally-tough job; not everyone is cut out for it. Then again, not everyone would do what Desper liked to do on his off-time: have sex with babies.

Yes, he enjoyed not only looking at pictures and videotapes of infants and toddlers in sexual positions, but having sexual relations with them as well.

This former 911 operator is currently serving 25 years in prison.

William Rhoades was  described as an “upstanding citizen” in the community of Phoenixville, PA. A retired teacher, he coached Little League baseball for years. Families loved him, and proudly watched their sons grow in the game under his guidance. One day, a little boy told his mother that the coach had been touching him in a funny way. Upon investigation, it was discovered that touching wasn’t all the coach did–and not just to this little boy.

Rhoades was found guilty of raping 4 boys between the ages of 4 and 11, repeatedly over several years. He videotaped his crimes so he could “re-live them afterward,” and kept a graphically-detailed journal of the events as a keepsake.

He is now serving 25-50 years.

There’s the Cleveland, OH mom of 4 who had “so much love to give” that she brought 3 foster children into her home. Concern by school officials led to a police investigation, which in turn led to the arrest of foster mom Renee Lester on charges of abusing her foster children by means of withholding food, locking them in a filthy basement without heat, light, or beds to sleep on, and locking them out of bathroom facilities.

The case is ongoing.

We can look into the cozy home of an “average family of four” in a small New York community. The boy had learning disabilities and struggled through life. The girl, a couple years younger, was bright but quiet. Both parents were college-educated. The mother worked part-time off and on, but was mostly a stay-at-home mom. The dad worked hard and always provided for his family. The bills were paid, the kids had music lessons, dance lessons, and after-school activities. There were vacations every summer when school was out. Friends came over to play with the kids, and the neighbors frequently stopped by to chat with the parents. Typical family stuff.

Except for the beatings. Except for the times–and there were many, so many–when the hardworking provider would slam his son against the wall, throw him to the floor, and pound his fists into him with the hand-to-hand training he learned in the army to fight an enemy to the death. That was before he took off his belt. The daughter’s screams of terror were met with, “You wanna cry?? I’ll give you something to cry about!”

There were times he squeezed his fist around the boy’s throat, choking off his air supply, and the child, not even 10 yet, could only flail helplessly in agony. One time, a smash to the mouth burst a lip. The daughter actually heard the blood spurt across the room and land on the tile floor. That sickening sound will never be forgotten, along with the tortured cries of her brother.

Once, what would have been a normal disagreement between a parent and child was resolved by this father pulling a knife out of a drawer and holding it to his son’s throat. The daughter stood by then, too, terrified, wishing she could disappear.

You never really know most of the people in your community behind the day-to-day facade. They’re probably not going to tell you they like to have sex with young children, or that they lock their kids up in the dark so they can’t “steal things.” The father in this last story retired from the job he worked so hard at, and moved to Florida. He mentored in a high school until he died. All the kids loved him, and he loved them.

He just brutalized his own.







“Come Give Me a Kiss!”

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

It’s officially that time of the year known as  “The Holidays,” whether your particular holidays include Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanuka, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, New Years, or some combination thereof. There’s shopping, decorating, cooking, and lots of rushing around. And there are parties with family and friends. Some folks, like your Aunt Susan, you haven’t seen in a year or more; others, like your sister and brother-in-law, you see often. But now everyone’s cleaned up and wearing their best sparkly clothes. Aunt Susan hugs you and tells you that you look great. Then, she turns to your kids and tell them how much they’ve grown–followed by, “Come and give me a big kiss!” But your darling little Ethan or Madison runs out of the room, screaming “Eww!” instead.

Do you let them go, offer Auntie an eggnog, and ask how long she’ll be in town? Or do you run after your child, drag him or her back into the room, and demand they plant one on your favorite relative’s cheek?

Having been a practitioner of the “Eww” technique for much of my early life, I can certainly empathize with those who choose this course of action. Then again, I believe it’s important to teach children manners and grace in social situations, and expressing disgust at the idea of showing affection to someone (followed by fleeing the scene) doesn’t necessarily fall into either of those categories.

But, what’s going on in this scenario may be more than it appears–more than a battle of wills with a seemingly-disobedient child. And your next move is very important.

Do you force your child to show affection for someone they don’t want to be affectionate with? What you may think of as simply giving a kiss–no big deal–may be much more to them. Overruling their decision not to smooch your elderly aunt teaches them that what they do with their own bodies is someone else’s call to make; not their own.

Of course, you would like them to consider the feelings of others before they act–especially when those actions may cause you to wince. But do you place greater value on encouraging them to recognize and honor their own feelings?

Is it necessary that you squelch their “rude” behavior? Or do you give them permission to say “No,” even to a grown-up, any way they know how?

At some point, ask little Ethan or Madison why they didn’t want to kiss Grandma Betty or Uncle Jack. The answer might be as simple as “She smells funny,” or “He looks scary.” Or it could reveal a situation you weren’t aware of. When asked why she didn’t want to give kindly, old Uncle Jimmy a kiss, a little girl I know replied, “He makes me sit on his lap, and he always has something hard in his pocket.”

It turned out that what Uncle Jimmy had in his “pocket” was a dangerous fondness for very young girls.

While this story is the exception rather than the rule, I still urge you to let your kids take the lead on who they shower with kisses, and who they don’t. At best, it’s empowering for them. At worst, it may help bring a dark secret to light.

Amazon Supports Pedophile Guide

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I’m one of those folks who’s all for looking at issues from a new perspective. If someone’s got a different point of view and I can learn something from them, great. Still, there are absolutes that I live my life by, and some things are just indefensible. This is one of them: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40112145/?gt1=43001

“The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure” is a how-to manual for adults who wish to engage in sexual activity with children–a practice which, by the way, is against the law. The fact that this book was written doesn’t surprise me. Working as a radKIDS Instructor for the past few years has made me very aware of the sick and twisted members of our society who prey on the innocent.

The fact that Amazon.com, a website I frequent for books and other online purchases, supports it and considers it worthy of selling? This I find disgraceful. And simply unacceptable.

Yes, Amazon is a private company and, therefore, can sell whatever it wants to (within the limits of the law). And yes, this piece of “work” has come under the scrutiny of police officials and been found not to cross the boundary of legality in the strictest definition of the word. That that it cannot be immediately pulled from the cyber-shelves on grounds of unlawfulness does not make it less dangerous, but more so. Its presence on Amazon lends it false credibility and undeserved legitimacy.

Those who have protested Amazon’s acceptance of the book have been attacked by proponents of “free speech!” I love my right to free speech. And I understand that, from time to time, I will come across thoughts and ideas that I may not like, but they are protected under the First Amendment. I also understand that not every word uttered by a human being meets the criteria to be covered by “free speech!” Hate speech, for one, is not protected. Nor is speech deliberate in its intent to cause harm to another. And that’s exactly what The Pedophile’s Guide is.

No one, regardless of personal problems, mental or emotional issues, or past torments, has the right to hurt a child. It’s that simple. Talking about how to do it, writing an “informational guide” or “instructional manual” on the best ways to violate, humiliate, and permanently damage those who cannot protect themselves is not something to be valued and protected. It is criminal.

Do you consider yourself open-minded? Excellent. Here’s a review of the book by someone who might babysit your kids some time:

“I can’t thank Amazon enough for keeping this great work of literature up for those of us with ‘special tastes.’ The instructions and images in the guide were extremely insightful and led to a wonderful experience for both myself and my partner. Thank you for protecting free speech, Amazon!”

Has the Almighty Dollar usurped our decency, morality, and the recognition that we must protect our children? This is not about “free speech!” or the right of this “author” to make money from his writing. This is about one of the strongest sites on the internet supporting a book about the “joy” of child rape.

The Toy Department Is NOT a Babysitter

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Taking young kids shopping with you can be… difficult, shall we say? They want to stop and look at something when you’re in a hurry, and they’re in a hurry when you’ve stopped to look at something. They get hungry at inopportune times, and urgently need a restroom when the store may not even have one. Then, of course, there’s the fact that they tend to want everything they see!

A neighbor of mine copes with the situation this way: “When my husband isn’t home to watch them and I have to bring them with me, I send them to the toy department. It keeps them happy and lets me do what I have to do. Then, I swing by and scoop them up, and we’re done!”

I probably turned pale when I heard of this harried, but well-meaning, mom using the toy department as a babysitter. I explained to her that her precious, albeit bouncy, little tykes were safest when they were under her direct supervision. They could get lost, hurt, or, heaven forbid, taken while she was elsewhere in the store, picking up milk or trying on a shirt.

She maintained that she was never away from them long enough for anything bad to happen–and besides, there were other adults in the area. One of them would surely step in if help was needed.

Yes, that would be great. Except, here’s some information about one of those “other adults in the area” while kids are looking at toys: He’s a registered sex offender. He enjoys watching little kids play. And he was arrested this past weekend in the toy department of a Wal-Mart in Virginia, not just for doing that, but for exposing himself and masturbating while he did it.

Parents, your children are safest when they’re with you. As tempting as it may be to leave them in a public place “just for a few minutes” so you can get some things done, it’s not worth the risk. Places that are fun and interesting for kids can also be fun and interesting for perverts and predators because of those kids. Don’t give them the chance to hurt your children.

A Child’s First Weapon

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

In the news today, an 83-year-old man was arrested for groping an 8-year-old child. He went through mug shots, prints, jail time, the whole bit. Now he has a police record. This was his first arrest. ‘Think this was his first time molesting a kid? Not a chance. Sexual abuse of children is a serial crime; perpetrators do it over and over throughout their lives. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the typical molester abuses 30-60 kids before he’s ever arrested, and as many as 380 in his lifetime. 380 children. Groped, molested, and/or raped. It’s mind-boggling.

The good news in all of this? Parents are teaching their kids to fight back. Not necessarily to punch the sex offender in the face, which could lead to immediate and even more dangerous consequences for a child alone with an unbalanced adult. But to use the first weapon available to them–their voice. Kids are being taught to tell! And they’re doing it, and their parents are taking action!

What are they saying? To the predator, they’re saying, “Stop! Don’t touch me!”  To their parents, teachers, and counselors, they’re saying, “Mom, Mr. Owens put his hand on my chest,” or “Mr. James touched my rear,” or “Ms. Linwood was doing something weird to my arm, and I didn’t like it.”

We’ve all heard stories, maybe even know some people who were abused as kids. Some readers here were victims themselves. Maybe they told their parents. Most likely, they didn’t. Some were taught that “respecting their elders” included allowing themselves to be hurt by adults. Others were afraid, believing the predator who told them, “Your folks will be mad at you if they find out,” or “If you tell what happened, we’ll both go to jail.” Still others tried to tell, but no one believed them: “What a terrible thing to say! Shame on you!” or “Mr. Smith would never do such a thing! Are you looking for attention??”

What police, psychologists, and others who work with child predators have learned between then and now is that

  1. Kids rarely make up stories about being molested. So, if a child tells you that someone touched them in the wrong way, it’s most likely true.
  2. Abusers can be male or female, in the city, the suburbs, or the countryside, young, old, or in-between.
  3. Child molesters are charming, friendly… and manipulators of the highest order. They will seem to you to be the nicest, warmest, safest people around. They’re very good at what they do–they made their victims feel safe long enough to molest them. They are wolves who will smile at you and try to trick you into accepting the word of a criminal, and not believing your own child.

So, if your child comes to you and confides that someone has molested them, know that it’s not your child’s fault. And then, for their sake, act. Call in the pros, the police. Let them do their jobs. Continue to love and parent your child, and give them what they need. Your teaching has shown them that they’re special and valuable, and that no one has the right to hurt them. And it has shown them the importance of using their voice, their first weapon, to defend themselves and stop the Bad Guy.





New App is False Security

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Have you seen the commercial Verizon is currently running? It’s for a new app they’re selling, called Family Locator. Verizon claims it’s “peace of mind at your fingertips.”

The ad shows a mom at the mall with her teen daughter. The mom appears concerned for the young girl’s safety as she turns, armed with her cell phone, and heads down the escalator with her friends. But, not to worry! Mom has peace of mind at her fingertips with the new Family Locator app. Just by touching a few buttons, GPS technology lets her dial into the precise location of the cell phone in her daughter’s hand. Mom can pinpoint the locations of other family members as well–and if any of them should need help, she can instantly call up driving directions to the exact spot highlighted on their phone.

Of course, issues can arise that won’t be serious enough to require the Family Locator: “Hello, Mom? Jenny isn’t feeling well. Can you come and get us?” Still, it can give you turn-by-turn directions to the food court if you really want them.

What’s deceptive about this ad–and this app–is that it’s not a family locator; it’s a phone locator. For an actual emergency of the kind the ad hints at, the odds of the daughter keeping her phone in her possession are low. In an abduction or assault, one of the first things her attacker will do is cut off her ability to call for help. He’s going to get rid of that phone quickly, whether it’s in her hand, her purse, or hanging from her belt. He’ll likely break it, or just throw it into a garbage can or across the parking lot. So, Mom is pinging her cell and thinking things are fine: “Ah, she’s still in the department store.” She doesn’t realize her daughter is in danger, because the cell phone is reporting its location, not the girl’s. Meanwhile, the daughter is trapped with a predator, and valuable search time is being lost.

Now, I’m not trying to “rat out” Verizon. I think they’re excellent cell phone providers. But my first concern is for keeping kids safe. And this app, while it has definite uses, cannot keep kids safe. That’s fine, except that it’s being advertised as if it can.

If you want greater peace of mind when your kids are out on their own, my best suggestion is to sign them up for a self-defense class that will teach them

  1. how to recognize tricks that predators use to lure kids every day
  2. how to get help quickly in a public place and
  3. how to physically defend themselves if they need to

This knowledge will serve them much better than a cell phone app.

Crouching Toddler, Hidden Gun

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

When my daughter was 2, she had a friend from preschool named Jake. They loved to play together. His mom would bring him to our house, or we would go to their house. Sometimes, I’d drop her off and Jake’s mom would watch them both while I ran a few errands. Well, okay, she would sit downstairs with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, while the 2 little ones played together upstairs. If she heard a crash or crying, she would go investigate. (As much as I would have preferred she sit up there and keep an eye on them, I certainly couldn’t begrudge a mother a few minutes to relax.)

One sunny afternoon when the kids were running around our backyard, the mom and I sat watching them and chatting. I had just read an article in a parenting magazine about kids getting a hold of guns in the house, and the devastating consequences that often followed. We were both concerned about the issue. So I said to the mom, “You don’t have any guns in your house, do you?”

She replied, “Actually, we do. Steve keeps one in the bedroom.”

Oh. Well, this was something I had not known. Okay, processing the information… I continue. “But it’s not in any place where a child can reach it, is it?”

Thinking, she said, “Yes, it is. It’s in the closet.”

I gulped and stammered, “Um, on a high shelf, right? Or in a locked box?”

God bless her for her honesty. But she revealed, “No, it’s actually right there in the middle. And Jake’s a climber, so he could certainly get to it.”

By now, my breathing had gotten quick and shallow. One last question would show I had nothing to fear: “But, it’s not loaded, right?”

She shrugged, “It is. Steve says there’s no point in having a gun if it’s not ready to be used at any moment.”

Things are rather a blur after that, but as I recall, that playdate ended soon after. When I thought about my precious little girl playing upstairs in her friend’s house, with no adult watching them… and thinking about how curious they could be at that age… and that bedroom closet just down the hall…. My blood ran cold.

Jake continued to come to our house any time the kids wanted to play together, but I never let my child play in his house again unless I stayed right there with them the whole time. Jake’s mom thought I was overprotective, and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t prefer to take a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and some friendly chat down in the kitchen.

To my detriment, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I was scared the kids would go “exploring” and find the gun, and someone–quite possibly my baby–would get shot. I couldn’t think of a nice way to say, “I think it’s crazy/irresponsible/downright dangerous to keep a loaded gun where a child can access it!” So, I didn’t tell her why I felt compelled to stay with the kids. I just stayed–or insisted we have the playdate at our house, where there were no guns. I was afraid she’d think I was calling her a bad mother for keeping a loaded gun in her home where her little boy could find it. After all, she wasn’t worried about it; why should I be?

I knew she loved her boy. She adored him! But you know what? Keeping that gun loaded and basically out in the open, just sitting on a closet shelf, was stupid. I’m not saying she was a bad mother. But I am saying that was a reckless, naive, dangerous thing to do. And I couldn’t allow my child to be in such a risky environment.

What should I have said to the mom back then? What can you say if you find yourself in a similar situation, and just can’t bring yourself to say that you’re scared your child is going to get hurt? “My husband and I have a policy that our child is not allowed to play in a home that has a gun.” Or, if you’re single, “I know you’re a wonderful mom, but I have this thing about guns, and I just can’t let him/her play in a house that has one.” No accusations, no emotional outbursts. Just, “Sorry, can’t do that. How about this alternative instead?”

While I wish I had handled things more honestly and sensitively with Jake’s mom, I’m sure that I would do so now. I’m also sure that, as curious as kids are, it was just a matter of time before that loaded gun was found. And, as I’ve learned from my radKIDS classes time and time again, the first thing a kid will do with a gun is point it at themselves or another kid and pull the trigger.




Unprotected Through a Mine Field

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Last fall, on her short walk home from school, Somer Thompson was abducted by a child molester. Police found her body 2 days later, tossed into a garbage heap. Parents, friends, and neighbors were shocked that such violence could happen where they lived. They had chosen a safe place, a “good place” to raise their children. There were lots of families. Adults drove slowly because kids were always running around and playing outside. People knew their neighbors or, at least, recognized their faces. There was a feeling of trust. So, what makes a seemingly good, safe neighborhood dangerous?

Let’s take a closer look. Near Somer’s house, in between the mowed lawns and flower beds, stood an empty house that the kids walked past on their way to and from school. It was being renovated and prepped for sale. Are their any empty buildings in your neighborhood? As mobile a society as we’ve become, it’s easy to find vacant houses in just about any neighborhood. People need to move for their jobs, and sometimes, their house stays on the market longer than they expect. It’s simply a fact of life today. Even with a realtor’s lock on the front door, their are ways to get inside. Just ask any kid looking for adventure–or ask a bad guy. A building that stands empty for any length of time is an open invitation to criminals: “Here’s a hiding place. Just be quick about it; no one will see what goes on in here.” It’s a crime scene waiting to happen.

Who travels through the neighborhood every day? There are probably some at-home moms and maybe a few at-home dads, part-time and shift workers. There are the package delivery trucks driving in and out all day… letter carriers…. What about construction crews? A social worker friend shared this bit of info with me: the easiest way for a predator to move through an area unquestioned is simply to put on a hard hat. That’s it–a hard hat (easily purchased at home improvement stores or online), topping off a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, allows practically anyone to enter a neighborhood and look like he has a good reason for being there. Have you seen any new construction in your area lately? Have your kids?

Do you know your neighbors? Of course you do. But to find out some facts that may not come up at a block party or over coffee with a moms’ group, check out www.familywatchdog.us This site discloses the locations of registered sex offenders throughout the United States. It can be a real eye-opener.

I typed my address in and clicked Search. It showed me, on a map, the locations of the homes of 38 registered sex offenders in my area. When Somer Thompson’s neighbors did the same, the search brought up the names and locations of 162 registered offenders. 162 within a 5-mile-radius of her home. What they thought was a friendly, safe community turned out to be a veritable mine field, where innocent children walked daily among dangerous predators.

The point of all this is not to scare parents, not to declare that “no place is safe!” It’s to advise you to be aware. Dangers exist everywhere. You don’t have to raise your kids in a bubble; you can let them out of your sight for periods of time. Just teach them how to navigate safely through the world. The outdated warning, “Don’t talk to strangers” not only scares kids needlessly; it can prevent them from asking for help when they’re in danger. Instead, walk their route to school with them and point out places along the way that they can go to for help if they need it: “There’s Mrs. Green’s house; pound on her door if someone is following you,” or “Run into that coffee shop and tell the cashier if anyone makes you uncomfortable.”

Teach them about grown-ups who ask them for help: “Can you help me find my puppy?” and “Can you tell me how to get to the park,” for example. This is a common trick used by predators to get kids to go somewhere with them. Make sure your children understand that it is not their job to help a grown-up; that’s for other grown-ups to do.

Another way molesters lure children is by offering the chance to watch tv and videos, or play with toys and electronic games. Again, let your kids know that if anyone tells them this, it’s a trick. They need to run for help to one of the safe places you’ve pointed out to them.

Don’t let your kids walk unprotected through a mine field. If something happens, it can destroy their life and yours. Empower them with the knowledge that they’re important and that nobody is allowed to hurt them. They’ll wear this knowledge like armor, and it will help keep them safe.