root of the problem lies in a social system in which the power
of the Blade is idealized, in which both men and women are taught
to equate true masculinity with violence and dominance. -Riane
skills needed to help our children live in a more peaceful world
include self-protective measures against everyday violence. Increasing
numbers of children carry weapons to school to protect themselves,
but this is far from a peaceful solution to rampant violence. What
is needed is instruction in how to avoid being victimizedtraining
that most adults have never received. We can provide the needed
lessons by homing in on areas of personal S
A F E T Y.
Family chemical use awareness
Youth suicide prevention
first line of sexual defense begins with the realization that children
are most likely to be sexually abused by someone the knoweither
a relative, neighbor, friend, or baby-sitter. If you notice any
one of these people spending time alone with your child, check out
how the visit went, and observe your child's response.
help young children defend themselves against sexual abuse, teach
them that their bodies are theirs alone and that no one has the
right to touch them if they don't want to be touched. By the same
token, respect their "No!" or "Stop!" while kissing or tickling
them. Don't force your children to hug or kiss people they don't
want to be physical with. And help them distinguish between good
touch (hugging, massaging, wrestling), bad touch (rough play that
hurts, hitting, kicking, biting), and secret touch (contact that
occurs in private, often accompanied by an admonition not to tell).
Let your children know that if anyone tries to touch them in an
area that would be covered by a bathing suit, they should say no
forcefully, leave if possible, and tell an adult as soon as they
exploration is common and sometimes upsetting, more often to
parents than to children. It is distinguished from abuse by three
elements: the absence of coercion, comparable developmental or physiological
ages of the children involved, and behaviors that are not usually
repeated. Allow your children to talk to you about such experiences,
and assure them that this type of behavior is normal. If you stumble
upon them engaged in sexual play, avoid shaming them and instead
try to understand what they are curious about. Always emphasize
the importance of treating their bodies with respect.
youngsters need to know that the most common form of sexual assault
is acquaintance rape. Of all age groups, teens are the most susceptible
to this form of abuse. Acquaintance rape occurs both as an isolated
incident and as part of the larger dynamic known as teen dating
violence, which affects about 12 percent of all high school students.
The best protective directive you can give your children is that
it is never okay for a partner or friend to hit them.
Signs of Teen Battering Behavior
Controlling behavior Cruelty to animals or children
Quick involvement Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality
Unrealistic expectations Threats of violence
Isolation Use of force during arguments
Blaming Breaking or striking objects
Hypersensitivity Always wanting to know where you are
Bill of Rights
the right to: I
have the responsibility to:
Ask for a
my limits and values
Refuse a date
the limits of others
clearly and honestly
Refuse any activity
Not violate the limits of others
Have my own feelings and express them
Ask for help when I need
Have my values and rights respected
Have friends and space aside from my partner
my partner when I need affection
from the Dating Violence Anti-Victimization Program of the Texas
Council of Family Violence
of the immense confusion about sexuality in our culture, you may
find it difficult to establish an open dialogue on the subject with
your youngsters. Nevertheless, it is worth every bit of the challenge.
Step one is to be honest and responsive, as opposed to reactive.
Do you use real terms like "penis" and "vagina" for body parts?
What is your response the first time you hear them say the "F" word?
Do you have a conversation about where they heard the word and what
they think it means? Do you explain why you don't want them to use
it? Or do you punish them outright and create more confusion?
two is to believe what your children tell you, and to make it safe
for them to tell you anything that may happen. When they do, praise
them for not keeping secrets, regardless of their fears. And assure
them that another person's violence is never their fault, even if
they did something thoughtless, such as getting drunk and accepting
a ride with a stranger, or breaking a curfew or safety rule. Castigations
such as "You should have (would have, could have) done it differently"
serve only to re-victimize the victim.
the preponderance of milk-carton campaigns designed to step up the
search for "missing children," the chances of a stranger-initiated
child abduction occurring are about one in a million. Most abductions
are carried out by noncustodial parents. And many children reported
as missing have in fact run away of their own accord.
so, abduction precautions may prove helpful. Hear are some guidelines
to share with your children.
Never get in a car driven by someone you don't know.
Never allow yourself to be picked up from school by
someone you don't know or someone your parents didn't tell you
to look for. Stay with a teacher until your expected ride arrives.
If you are ever lost in a store or other public place,
ask a clerk or cashier for help. Stay with this person until the
adult you were with comes to get you. (Note: For easy identification,
print your child's name and phone number inside a belt that is
worn every day.)
If someone grabs you and tries to lead you away, do
whatever you can to attract attention. Yell, call for help, or
scream as loud as possible, "Let me go. You're not my parent!"
or "Leave me alone. I don't live with you anymore!"
Never hitchhike; always arrange for rides.
Chemical Use Awareness
especially beer, is often implicated in the tragedies that affect
our youth. Consequently, it has become imperative for parents to
share with their children information about chemical use of all
sorts, including over-the-counter remedies, prescription medicines,
legal drugs (caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol), and illegal substances
(marijuana, LSD, inhalants, crack, cocaine, and heroin).
your children will hear more than anything else in these discussions
is your personal point of view. If you are unsure of your position
on alcohol and drug use, or uncomfortable about your own use of
chemicals, ask yourself some preliminary heart-to-heart questions:
When is it acceptable to offer alcohol to a young person? What will
it take to ensure that my teen never gets in a car with a drunk
driver? Why do I use drugs? Is it okay for my children to use them
for the same reasons? Is alcohol essential for a party or a "good
time"? If the parents of my children's friends have an approach
to alcohol and drugs that differs from my own, what can I say to
about these matters with friends and family members. Let them help
you arrive at a coherent and articulate point of view. Then, in
teachable moments, share your perspective on chemical use with your
children. Clearly state your expectations of them.
establishing a basic sense of watchfulness by monitoring the whereabouts
of your children. Did they get home from school safely? Who is picking
them up from that birthday party later in the day? Where are they
going now, and with whom?
Long before your children are likely to be at home without an adult,
introduce them to these Home-Alone Rules:
Dial 911 if an emergency arises.
give out information over the phone unless you know who the caller
If someone calls and asks for "your mother" or "your
father," state, without mentioning names, "My parent is outside
at the moment. Can I take a message, or would you like to call
back later?" (For some children, the best guideline is: Don't
answer the phone at all, or answer it only at the time you'll
be calling to check on them.)
Don't, under any circumstances, let a stranger into
addition, encourage your children to pretend they are detectives
observing their surroundings. How well lit is the area? Is it run-down
and filled with debris? If your neighborhood is starting to look
dilapidated, get the community to clean it up. Areas that look as
if no one cares are those most likely to attract crime.
your children theft prevention by reminding them never to leave
valuables untended in public and, if possible, to avoid bringing
them to school. Also show them how to center themselves in the event
of a possible robbery. A good approach is to breathe deeply, relax
their bodies, expand their sensory awareness, and pay attention
to what is happening; the key is to expect nothing and be ready
for anything. With practice in this technique, your children will
be able to muster some degree of calm and confidence in a variety
of threatening circumstances.
addition, encourage your children to trust their instincts. If they
feel uncomfortable in a gas station, they need to get out of it;
if they feel ill at ease going into an apartment building, they
need to stay out of it. Be sure they know of safe neighborhood places
they can retreat to if they ever feel scared.
let your children know how to behave if an encounter should occur.
Pointer number one: If someone wants your valuables, do not resist.
Give up the jacket or the sneakers or the lunch money. Escalating
an already threatening situation in the presence of a weapon is
particularly dangerous. Pointer number two: If the attacker has
a gun and, unsatisfied with the objects appropriated, forces you
to go with him, turn and run erratically.
percent of all attackers do not shoot people who have given up their
possessions. Of those who do, 50 percent miss their mark. Of those
who shoot down their victims, 50 percent fail to hit a vital organ.
Of all victims who are shot in a vital organ, 50 percent survive.
In short, running erratically results in only a 5 percent chance
of being killedfar better odds than getting shot at point-blank
prevent the most tragic form of victimization, familiarize yourself
with the symptoms of depression in young people, the warning signs
of suicide, and what to do if a child is harboring a death wish.
The first order of business, however, is to realize that the current
method of choice for both male and female victims of youth suicide
is shooting. So if your teen is depressed, get the guns out of the
house until the crisis has subsided. This advice is doubly important
for depressed teens who have a drug or alcohol problem.
Signs of Suicide
of interest in classwork, or decline in academic performance.
Decrease in the amount of effort expended, or too tired to finish
Giving up easily when attempting homework, or turning in unfinished
or messy work.
risk-taking, or antisocial (lying, stealing) behavior
Withdrawing from social contact
Appearing tired or falling asleep
Alienating peers, or becoming unpopular
to concentrate, or forgetfulness
Suicidal thoughts or intentions, or preoccupation with death
Indecisiveness, or lack of confidence
Irritability, or excessive complaining
General mood of unhappiness, or feeling guilty
in sleep patterns Ongoing pain or illness Changes in appetite, with
sudden weight gains or losses Acting slowed down or speeded up The
signs of depression are often more apparent to observant family
members than to the person experiencing them. The presence of four
or more of the following D
E P R E S S E D symptoms, persisting
for more than two weeks, is an indication that additional help or
counseling is needed:
mood most of the time.
Energy decrease, fatigue,
and a slowed-down feeling.
Pleasurable activities are
no longer enjoyed.
and decision making are more difficult.
Sense of hopelessness, helplessness,
worthlessness, and guilt.
Ever recurrent aches and pains
that do not respond to treatment.
Death thoughts, or a suicide
Parents who talk about suicide issues with their
children often help "immunize" them against it. The greatest protection
we can offer is to allow the young people in our lives to voice
the sadness they feel and to see that bad feelings do go away. We
can also encourage them to reframe the experience by saying, "I
feel really sad and hopeless, and I'll get through it" instead of
"I want to die. I hate my life." To stave off any likelihood of
tragedy, remain alert to the warning signs of suicide and the preventive
measures summarized in the charts on the preceding and following
S A F E T Y strategies are a form of
victimization immunization. They will prepare your children to encounter
potentially dangerous situations with increased awareness and self-protective
know-how. Booster doses will most likely be needed.
Jane. No More Secrets for Me. Waltham, MA: Little Brown & Company,
Bishop, Bob, and Matt Thomas. Protecting Children from Danger. Berkeley,
CA: North Atlantic Books, 1993.
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent
Girls. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
American Association of Suicidology, 202-237-2280.
National Adolescent Runaway Hotline, 800-621-4000. Assists young
people and their families in a crisis, including potential suicide.
La Cerva, MD
La Cerva 2001