Street wise, street safe
On a warm June afternoon, Timmy was walking home from a friend’s house. Day dreaming and enjoying the feel of the day, out of the corner of his eye he saw a pickup truck park almost out of sight around the corner. Timmy said he noticed it because it had a cool paint job. Paying little attention, he continued on home. A couple of minutes later, Timmy got a good look at the truck as it passed him going the other way. As he turned the corner of his street, Timmy became aware that this same truck was pulling up next to the curb where he was walking. In every self-protection situation there is a moment of truth and this was Timmy’s. We teach our children to be polite and respectful, and kids have a natural desire to be helpful. But do we teach our children to be street smart? Roll these words around in your mouth for a minute – “street smart, road wise.” Nice sounding, aren’t they? They conjure up very admirable and empowering images of strong, savvy knowledgeable people and the best part is they do not conflict with polite, respectful, helpful kids. They are simply the other half of the balance we hope to give our children. The problem we have with child molesters is that they are very practiced at using a well-mannered child’s natural desire to be helpful as a tool to hurt them. This is where street smart comes in. Anyone who has followed my columns knows I am real big on the power of the oral tradition and, in daily life, I find it a superb tool to teach children urban safety by using stories to make points, rather than say, “The world is full of bad people, so don’t talk to any one.” I use examples of the forest. One of my tried-and-true stories is about great woodsmen who always knew what was going on in the forest around them by observing what was out of place. I tell my students that there is an order to the forest. Animals always feed, sleep and go to water the same way unless something has frightened them. You can always tell if there are other people in the woods because, people change the habits of the animals, birds and plants of the forest. Say you are walking through the woods and you notice that all the small rocks around you are smooth and warm to the touch, except one of these rocks has dirt on the top of it. Chances are this rock has been turned over by someone stepping on it. Depending on how dry the dirt is, you can tell how long ago the person passed by. From here I branch out into several directions. One: Good strangers have a natural way of acting. They respect children and only act in a way that helps children keep themselves safe. They never ask a child to go with them without getting their parents’ permission first. They never tell a child that their parents said it is OK to go with them without telling the child their password first. A good stranger never offers children food, drinks or presents, and a good stranger never asks a child to keep a secret from their parents. If an adult, and this means teenagers too, does any of these things, something is out of place. They are not acting the way a good stranger would act. Say, “No!” get away, and tell your parents.Timmy had been through my program and as soon as he saw the truck pulling up next to him he moved farther away into a neighbor’s yard and kept walking. The man rolled down his window and tried to start a conversation with Timmy, first asking him for directions and then offering Timmy a Game Boy if he would come over to the truck. At that point, Timmy started yelling at the top of his voice, “No! A man is trying to steal me! I’m going to tell my parents!” over and over. The man in the truck sped away. Later when Timmy was retelling the events, he said matter of factly, “That guy was stupid. Kids know better than that.” We want to put this one in the win column. Timmy related that he had seen the same truck too many times in too many places and it did not seem right. The coolest part of this scary situation is the pride you could see in Timmy’s face as he calmly explained how he took care of himself.Mathew Bayley, who writes regularly on personal safety, offers children’s and teen safety programs through Vail Academy of Martial Arts and the Vail Recreation Department. Call him at 949-8121 or the Vail Recreation Department at 479-2280.
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