Safe Does Not Mean Scared

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!

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