Personal Safety

This is Ms Jen, writing as part of our continuing effort to let families know what Master Ricardo is talking to students about during the kids’ classes. We know not all families are able to watch the classes, so we will be sending out emails with “mat chat recaps.” Please ask your children about these issues and get their perspectives.

Last week, Master Ricardo talked to the students about personal safety, and touched on some topics that might be a bit scary for kids (and parents!). He kept the discussion fairly brief and general, but the hope was that it would spark a more in-depth conversation at home between parents and children.

Personal safety is on our minds right now for two reasons. First, some of you may have heard the news story last week of the 15-year-old girl from Alexandria who was kidnapped, and a few weeks later managed to escape from her captors by swimming across a lake to reach help. As parents, when we read something like this, our minds immediately flash to “This could have been my child.” And we all give thanks that our own kids are safe and sound where they should be.

Second, for me personally, last week was the first time that my children have walked to and from the school bus stop on their own (I’ve always driven them to school in the past). Sending them out the door in the morning, to wait alone on the corner, was scary for me as their mom. And of course, being a Minnesotan of a certain age, this time of year always brings up thoughts of Jacob Wetterling – he was in my same grade and I remember vividly when his story came to light. That was the year in Minnesota that parents stopped letting their kids run around the neighborhood without worry.

As the mom of four advanced-belt Taekwondo students, including two junior black belts, I have no doubt that my children have the knowledge and the strength to defend themselves. I really believe that they could injure a full-grown adult who tried to do them harm, stop someone who tried to grab them, or at the very least make it so difficult for that person that they might give up (or help would arrive). I have every faith in their abilities and what they’ve been taught, which in part is why I’ve been such a big supporter of Ambition’s programs for over 7 years.

What I feel less sure of is… would they? Would they know who they can accept a ride from? Would they know when it’s appropriate to speak to a stranger? Would they be fooled into getting into a car by someone asking for their help, or offering to show them something cool? Would they know that it’s okay to use their Taekwondo against an adult if they feel threatened?

When I speak to my kids about bus stop safety, I start with making sure they look both ways before they cross a street, that they stay on the sidewalk and don’t play near the road. Even for older kids who are not first-time bus riders, these are always good reminders.

But what Master Ricardo spoke briefly about last week, and what we’d like to urge parents to address with their kids more at length, is the personal safety side of the discussion. Some points to cover:

- Make a list of people that children are allowed to accept rides from. Make it clear that under no circumstances should they go with anyone else, even if they know the person. (The teen in Alexandria was kidnapped by a family friend, who said her family had an emergency.)

- Children should be taught to check with parents first before accepting gifts from anyone or allowing themselves to be photographed.

- If anyone tries to make the child do something they don’t want to do, they should yell “I NEED HELP” or “CALL 911” in a low, strong voice (NOT a high-pitched scream, which can sound like kids playing or laughing).

- Kids should trust their gut. If someone gives them a bad (“uh-oh”) feeling, they should trust that feeling and get away from the person. If someone asks them to keep a secret from their parents, that should be a red flag for them to leave the situation and tell a parent or teacher immediately.

- It should be made clear to children that what they are learning in Taekwondo class is for self-defense, and that they can and should use it for that purpose. They don’t need to worry about being nice or getting in trouble. If someone tries to force them into a situation that makes them uncomfortable, they should kick, punch, bite, scratch, knee, elbow, and everything else they can do to get away. They will not get in trouble.

For lots of good suggestions about how to talk to your kids about these things, in an age-appropriate way, please check out the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.

It can be an upsetting topic, both for parents and kids, but a very important one to cover – not just once, but over again in different ways as kids grow up. We raise the topic in class because awareness of personal safety is a huge part of self-defense. Our students are developing great skills here, getting stronger and more knowledgeable about how to defend themselves physically. We pray that they will never need to use their skills in this kind of situation, but want them to be prepared (both physically and mentally) if they do.

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