“Trust, But Verify”
“You may be deceived if you trust too much,
but you will live in torment if you do not trust enough.”
Friday we tried something different: our first “Red Man Day.” Sensei Bob—proving himself to be a true rock star—spent the afternoon in a heavy and hot suit of foam armor so that our young warriors could beat the living heck out of him. We used this not only as a fun way for the kids to put their skills to work in a more realistic manner than they’re used to, but also as an opportunity to discuss the very important topic of “stranger danger.”
I always tread carefully when venturing into this topic, whether it’s been with my own kids or my young students, to keep them from being like me as a kid. As a young child both blessed and cursed with an active imagination, I was given to taking every warning from the adults in my life a little too seriously. When warned to be careful about strangers, I began to see every person on the street as a potential abductor. In fourth grade, I was a member of my school’s Safety Patrol (yeah, I was that cool). Around this time, there had been a couple of child abductions in the Detroit area. So at the end of each afternoon, I would dutifully go to the office to hand an exasperated Ms. Hill my list of cars – descriptions and plate numbers included – that could very well belong to someone staking out our school for potential victims.
And that’s why I’m very careful when discussing “stranger danger” with little ones. While we of course want our youngsters to be street-smart and vigilant, we do not want them to live in a state of constant paranoia. Besides being exhausting (I know it was for both me and Ms. Hill), distrust of anyone we don’t know deprives us of engagement outside our own little bubble.
There is indeed a comfortable—and safe—middle ground, one that is easy for our young ones to understand. It affirms to kids that the world is largely a safe place, and that most of the strangers they encounter in any given day are nice people who should not be feared. But it also acknowledges that there are accepted norms of behavior, and that anyone who operates outside these norms should be avoided. Below is an example of the conversations we had with our youngsters on Friday:
There are rules that every single grown-up knows. Grown-ups should not ask a little boy or girl who they don’t know to go anywhere with them. Grown-ups should never give a little boy or girl they don’t know candy, a toy or anything else without the permission of that child’s parents. Grown-ups should never ask a little boy or girl they don’t know to help them do anything, no matter how important that thing is.
If a grown-up does any of these things, they are breaking the rules. Get away from that grown-up and go tell your parents. If that grown-up puts their hands on you, use your karate. And your voice—scream as loud as you can.
I urge you have this discussion yourselves. Reinforce these thoughts if you agree with them, and add your own wisdom. But also—and this is very important—listen to your kids’ thoughts on the subject. Get a feel for how they view the world, of whether they have both a healthy feeling of safety in their world, and an awareness of how to stay safe.