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Protecting the Gift

A Little Bit Of Streetwise – Homeschooling

by Ann Zeise

In our Yahoo Group we’ve been discussing how talking to strangers can be fun and enlightening and even lead to long friendships. So how do we also teach ourselves and our children to protect ourselves from less well-intentioned strangers?

When is it a good thing to have a little fear, a little wariness? How do we teach our kids to be “streetwise?”

My husband picked up a book at Costco called “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker that goes into these skills. Actually, Scott saw it laying around and read it first, and then “assigned” it to us grownups to read. “You need to read this, Mom!”

Cary Stayner, who killed those three Yosemite tourists, has been quoted as saying he selected those women because they were “easy prey.” Makes you wonder what in the world they were doing that made them look that way to this insane predator, doesn’t it? His trial is being held in my county shortly. A reader of this article asked me to add this:

What Stayner was looking for, and found, was compliance masquerading as “being nice.” Those women didn’t have a chance because they were too concerned with not being rude to save their own lives. The director of our local sexual assault victims advocacy organization says she once asked perps in jail how they chose their victims. One summed it up succinctly when he replied “I just don’t mess with mean women.”

It has also been three years since the Columbine High School rampage.

Becker explains how to trust your gut instincts when a stranger behaves inappropriately. He does NOT advocate telling your children “Never talk to strangers.” Why? Because the child will see you breaking this rule time and time again, and so will discount its validity. Also, it is vary hard to define “a stranger.” I looked at a map of our city that showed where sexual predators lived. There was one every block or two! Yeah! (Megan’s Law maps are available at police departments here in California. I suggest you see if your state has a similar program.) The odds are good that some neighbor your child sees every day has a police record. The odds are better that someone you DO know will harm you or your child!

The key is not to make your children fear other people. They may need the help of strangers from time to time, and it would be best if they learn now how to trust their gut feelings that someone is likely to be nice and helpful, or mean. So if your little one really does NOT want to be kissed by Uncle Joe, let her have her way. Something inside is telling your daughter to protect herself, and she may very well be right.

I like to point out, when others complain about homeschoolers’ so-called lack of socialization, that we probably stand a much better chance of teaching our children to be “streetwise” than do those whose kids are forced to be with strangers all day long that they fear will harm them, but whom they can’t escape. We’re really very good at determining “weirdos” as a species. I use the term “weirdos” with my kids as I want to make sure they aren’t judging people by some superficial difference, such as skin color or a disability. A “weirdo” is someone your stomach, and not your eyes or brain, tells you is a threat. Eyes can tell you the person is handsome and well dressed, and rationalize that “neat” people aren’t dangerous. Your brain might be repeating messages about being polite to adults. But your gut will never lie to you. It lets you know under no uncertain terms when you need feeding, and it starts churning acid when it gets afraid. Those who consistently ignore their tummy messages wind up with ulcers.

What should you teach your child to do if they are lost in a city situation? Teach them to go not to a policeman – because they are hard to find when you need one – and not to “the manager of the store” – hard to identify – but to select a friendly looking woman and ask her for help. A woman with children even better! Women tend to easily commit to helping a lost child, usually have benign feelings about children, and there’s usually lots of them around.

Don’t expect your children not to “wander off.” This is very hard for a child not to do. YOU keep an eye on them! When Scott was little, I bought a device that looked like a phone cord that had velcro wrist straps on either end, one for each of us. He knew that we were both distractible, so loved the security the “leash” provided when shopping or at the zoo. Now adays, these things have gotten cuter, such as this Puppy Backpack Harness. As he outgrew the need to be strapped, when we expected to be in a crowd, I’d dress both of us in brightly colored shirts so we’d be easy to spot. Fortunately, loud Hawaiian print shirts are always in vogue in California! We’d also make a plan if we got separated to head immediately for the merry-go-round or some other pre-arranged landmark.

Some parents grow concerned if their children are ever defiant. This is a protective gesture, and should actually be encouraged! A teen who is always defiant and using defiance as a weapon probably never got the chance to have their negative reactions acknowledge in younger years. A child should be allowed to state it if they don’t want to do something or be with someone, and they should be listened to. Listen to your children’s reasons. Why do they feel threatened?

How do you determine if your child is old enough to be alone in public? Here’s Becker’s “Test of Twelve:”

Do your children know…

  1. How to honor their feelings ­ if someone makes them uncomfortable, that’s an important signal;
  2. You (the parents) are strong enough to hear about any experience they’ve had, no matter how unpleasant;
  3. It’s okay to rebuff and defy adults;
  4. It’s okay to be assertive;
  5. How to ask for assistance or help;
  6. How to chose WHO to ask;
  7. How to describe their peril;
  8. It’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if they believe they are in danger, and that you’ll support any action they take as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid;
  9. It’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run;
  10. If someone ever tries to force them to go somewhere, what they scream should include, “This is not my father” (because onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent);
  11. If someone says “Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell, (and the corollary: If someone says “Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell);
  12. To fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone they don’t know, and particularly resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade them.

#12 can be tested with a friendly adult you know but your child does not. Pretend to be distracted in the park. Have the friend tell your child that they’ve lost a puppy, would your child please come and help them find the puppy. If your child goes with them rather than straight to tell you, then they are not ready to be out of your sight!

Becker ends his book observing: Your children give you the gift of unconditional love. In return, you can protect your children, knowing that loves grows best in safe places.

Additional Resources for Keeping your Kids Safe

Snug and Safe KIDS
Safety and first aid fun and games and downright serious lessons, too.

Fire Prevention Unit Study – 10/07/97
Fire Prevention Week provides lots of opportunity to discuss fire safety.

Fire Safety KIDS
Learn how to prevent a fire, and what to do if you are caught in one.

Child Protection: Serious Business
Crusade by homeschool mom, Megan Bayliss (BSW, Dip SOC, MAASW), to help us all understand how to protect our children.

Protecting Yourself and Your Family
Child molesters have well-developed techniques for luring victims. Generally, they are skilled at identifying vulnerable victims and are able to identify better with children than adults.

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