No one really keep a rein on my television watching as a child, and as a result of too many Unsolved Mysteries episodes, I cannot watch scary movies and I am suspicious of all basements. My mom wavered between being paranoid (don’t talk to people, ever) and incredibly trusting (I can’t even recall how many times she and I picked up hitchhikers or panhandlers).
I cringe when I think about my reckless teenage years, but I guess sheer luck outweighed the sheer stupidity (“Oh thanks for the drink, strange lacrosse player with whom I am not well acquainted, what is this? Tequila and grapefruit juice? Um, okay!”).
Now that I am a certified grown-up, my goal is to find neither extreme. I don’t want to be reckless and I don’t want to be paranoid, but as a mom of three, I always want to be safe.
And so the next logical step is for me to send them to their Japanese grandfather’s house for the summer, where they will train in the martial arts and arrive to school in the fall with incredible skills and new names. When my husband’s job as an FBI agent goes awry, they’ll Home Alone their way through a large freight ship, beat up the criminals, and save the day. Roc-ky loves Em-i-ly. If you didn’t recognize that as the plot of the 3 Ninjas, 1992 was likely a rough year for you. Come over and I’ll pop in a VHS tape and we can eat some popcorn or Fruit by the Foot.
Mm. Sorry. Back to now. I think I’ve found a good balance. When I’m traveling alone, I’m aware of my surroundings, but at the same time, I’m nice to strangers, because not all strangers are sociopaths, you know? I love that my mom was always so willing to help people in dire straits, and I want to pass along the desire to help others (if you haven’t read the internet famous “Today, You / Tomorrow, Me” you must), but to also be mindful of personal safety.
As a mom of three girls, personal safety is a difficult topic, and I’d love nothing more than to stick my head in the sand on this one, but the statistics on sexual abuse are too alarming for me to ignore. Talking to them about it can be a little challenging and if there was a class or a webinar on how to make your children aware without scaring them, I’d be the first to sign up.
The girls know that they can say hello to anyone while they’re under my care (“don’t talk to strangers” sort of contradicts “be polite and say hello!”), but that their bodies are their own, and they can also come to Mommy and Daddy and tell them absolutely anything. [Editing to add: I inadvertently left out a really important point that most abusers are people that children know.] One major tactic predators use is to scare children into thinking that they cannot tell their parents when they’ve been abused. Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept, a book for children ages 3 through 12, addresses this. It’s written by a grade school teacher and it’s really – surprisingly – straightforward. Here’s a video of it being read aloud if you’d like to take a listen. It’s sad (I cried listening to it), and I have not yet read this book to my girls, but I think it’s done in a good/powerful/safe way.
More books recommended by a friend of mine who also happens to be the director of a local children’s library (affiliate links ahead):
Your Body Belongs to You
I Said No! A kid-to-kid guide to keeping your private parts private
Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers
Do You Have a Secret? (Let’s Talk about It)
Stranger Safety (Rookie Read-About Safety)
The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Sexual Abuse
I’d love any other recommendations or tips on teaching kids about personal safety. (Seasoned parenting vets/teachers/therapists, I’m looking at you.) :)