Monday, December 11

Blogging Parents, Tell Your Children

I received this e-mail from the police-run neighborhood mailing list:

[DATE] ([CITY]) On [DATE], at approximately 5:00 PM, two young school children were getting off a school bus at [-----] when they noted an unidentified black male watching them from behind a tree. Two days later, the same male approached the children telling the one he was going to rape her and her friend as well. The child then informed her parent, who reported the matter at the 4th Precinct Station yesterday. The suspect is a black male, 5" 7" medium build, and was wearing a brown knit cap, and a blue jacket.

Please call 911 to report any suspicious activity. Be alert to adults showing inappropriate attention to children or loitering near school bus stops. Should anyone have information that might be relevant to this matter/suspect, please call the sex crimes unit at [-----].
  • Never get in a vehicle with a stranger.
  • Never get close to a car if a stranger asks for help or directions. It is easy for abductors to pull a child into a vehicle.
  • If anyone invites them into their vehicle, they should run away and immediately tell a trusted adult.
  • If they feel that they are being followed they should run home, to the nearest McGruff House, public place, or trusted neighbor.
  • That they have a right not to let anyone touch them in a way that they don't like. They should say "No" and tell a trusted adult.
  • Avoid walking or playing alone, and to play in well lighted areas.

I did not like this e-mail, and here's the letter I wrote in response. Parents and young readers, I hope I can pass on to you a sense of "can-do" that every one of God's creatures needs to stay alive.

Dear Mr. [-----]:
I appreciate your frequent and detailed reports about our neighborhood. They are far more detailed than the neighborhood list I was subscribed to before I moved, so I cannot thank you enough for doing your job extremely well.

May I suggest a followup to this e-mail...or at least an addendum to whatever followup you are going to send eventually?

Your advice at the end of the letter is solid and effective, but it reinforces the sense of power that evil-intending adults have over children and reinforces the sense of powerlessness that children have when adults try to achieve a "fightless win" over them.

I believe that this way of framing the adult-child confrontation scenario is extraordinarily dangerous to our neighborhood's children. If predators feel such a sense of power, they are more likely to try to attack children. If children feel such a sense of powerlessness, they are more likely to fall for the tactics used by predatory adults.

Your third and fourth points both focus on running. I know from experience that children can turn on a dime and thus usually outrun me, but then again, I'm one of the slowest sprinters I know.
Writing with such a prominent focus on "running" as a violence avoidance technique implies that a child's only option is to compete on an unlevel playing field! 1) The average adult is still faster than the average child. 2) Fighting is another option for children, and running as a kneejerk reaction, instead of assessing the situation and deciding to fight right away, or consciously deciding to run first, can wear the child out too much to fight effectively. I would like to see as many bullet points, if not more, about fighting than about running. Children NEED TO KNOW how strong they are. Why do we teach members of our society how dangers young animals are, yet teach our own young by implication through "advice" that they are not dangerous when protecting themselves? They're animals, too!

This ties into my problem with your fifth point: it's too feel-good, liberal, social worker, or what have you to really speak to a lot of people. Illustrating this point with the natural reaction of a young animal communicates both to adults on this mailing list and to their children how natural "rights" really are. The way it is worded in this letter might turn off parents who are afraid that such lessons would only teach their children to disobey THEM or "act up." Even the strictest, most traditional of parents, though, should have a thoroughly intuitive grasp of the situation when presented with the analogy of an animal. Such an analogy would help them understand how this reaction to violence or the threat of violence is different from disobedience and rebellion at home. Vague talk of "rights" does not communicate this subtlety as well, in my opinion.

Point six seems a bit fearmongering, considering it has absolutely nothing to do with the situation (the children were neither playing nor alone). Was it an accidental insertion pulled from a template? It reinforces the idea that children are powerless and that hiding & running are the only tools children have in their toolbox to avoid becoming victims of violence.

More on fighting:

Children need to know, and parents need to know to teach their children, that:
  1. Predators are looking for a "fightless win," not a "win after a fight."
    • Fighting thus often makes them run away very soon after the first assertive shout or the first few blows.

    • Since they are not psychologically prepared for a fight, smaller and weaker humans can throw them off guard. Children can KNOCK OUT an assailant if they fight and continue to fight until the fight has been won.

  2. Knocking out an assailant is not heartless, vigilantism, or morally wrong. (Though knowingly continuing to attack him/her after he/she is unconscious might be.) Knocking out an assailant who your instincts told you wanted to do something bad to you is simply a natural and morally acceptable way to buy enough time to run or walk to a safe and protective place.

  3. By the time a child is big enough to be going off to school, a child is big enough that an assailant cannot pin down all four of his/her limbs AND manage to rape him/her. Children MUST understand that the moment an assailant uses his/her hands to unzip a fly, pin arms to the ground, grab a leg that was kicking him/her, etc. that assailant has now left one or more of the child's limbs free to attack the assailant.

  4. Children MUST understand that they do not have to be free enough to completely break away from and knock out an assailant to throw a punch, elbow, knee, or kick. The first strike as mentioned in point 3 (when the assailant moves to try to do something else to the child) will free up MORE parts of the child's body. The child needs to know that at this point, even if that blow was weak, they STILL have the advantage, because it takes any human being a few seconds to recover from a blow. They can strike a second time and gain more time / free up more limbs...and a third time, and a fourth time. They can even keep pursuing their attacker to knockout (or the attacker fleeing!), raining blows without letting the predator catch his/her bearings enough to strike back or re-pin the child.

  5. Children MUST know not to give up when they get thrown to the ground. They must know that most predators have no training in groundfighting--perhaps no training in fighting at all. Again, they were attacking with the intention of intimidating the child so much that they could have a "win without a fight," not attacking with the intention of fighting the child. Even on the ground, points #3 & #4 hold.

  6. It would be helpful for parents to know that there are two kinds of yelling: yelling for help from bystanders and yelling AS a way of fighting an attacker (in other words, as a way of intimidating the attacker). I feel like advice about shouting always focuses on the first category. Children are intelligent and learn the implication of the fact that all the advice focuses on this: it means that there is no such thing as an adult who would avoid them simply because they don't want a fight. It means that all adults who might attack them only need to be afraid of bystanders, not afraid of the child himself/herself. Yelling, "No!" or "Stay back!" or "I don't know you!" does not have to sound fearFUL. It can sound fearSOME. I'll demonstrate for you if you'd like! :-)
    Advice about yelling should communicate this, whether by implication or explicitly.

  7. (Everything I just said is best in balance with the type of advice you gave. After all, what I am hilighting is not the only effective path to self-preservation. It is simply the most under-discussed (yet highly effective) method. Heaven forbid it sound like a child is doing anything "wrong" by choosing other strategies in the moment, such as running, compliance, compliance + later tattling, etc.)
Thank you so much, Mr. [-------]! If you would like to further discuss these opinions because you are not sure about them, I would love to share my self-defense experiences and study. I would love for some of these "children must know" points to be in a 1- or 2-page PDF attachment to a bulletin. The PDF you sent out a few months ago about what to do if a car follows you (when you're a pedestrian) helped me just a month later, so I'm partial to the format. As you can see, I'm a little wordy, but I could pare these points down if no one in your office has the time.

Feel free to call me or write me back.
Have a safe and wonderful day,


Katelyn said...

Dear Katie,

Twisty's thread on the letter from the future rapist over at IBTP got me thinking hard about how to teach children self-defense while teaching them that violence is wrong.

This post of yours is really spot-on, helping me to continue interrogating that very question in productive ways!


Katie said...

You're welcome!
Do you have a blog I should be checking out, by the way? Link in your name doesn't go anywhere.

Katie said...

Katelyn, I just thought of something I wanted to share with you in response to your concern about "while teaching them that violence is wrong."

I am a big fan of Ellen Snortland's idea. In Beauty Bites Beast, she said:

"What if [children] were raised [like] puppies? … Let's say a brother and sister are wrestling, and she's doing well. She happens to hit her brother between his legs, and rather than her parents telling her, 'Never, ever, ever hit a boy down there,' they let her know that this is a method that could serve her well down the line. They might tell her, 'Don't hit your brother in the crotch unless you truly need to hurt him. Use that move for someone who is really going to hurt you. If any male, including your father, step-father, grandfather, brother, farm-hand, or clergy-man is trying to hurt you, go for the gold!'"


By the way, If you want to see another parent coming up with gems of impromptu lessons that work well to help a child understand one idea without accidentally teaching the children 5 harmful ideas at the same time, read Beverly Daniel Tatum's "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting In The Cafeteria?" She's a formerly practicing psychologist with a specialty in developmental psychology, and she is one of those exemplars of a really good professional who applied what she learned to something relevant in her own life (here, knowing about how kids think and anticipating the effects of her words on her kids). You know, like the teacher's kids who actually come out smart & respectful, or the preacher's kids who actually come out respectful. ;-) (No offense intended to teachers & preachers--I'm just invoking you because there's a well-known idiom about you!) She does such a good job with answers to questions from her kids that she's made me want to comb her book's bibliography for the developmental psychology books she read if I ever have kids!

pegasus said...

I guess it is better to be safe than sorry

Katie said...

Pegasus, I'm not quite sure what you mean by that.

Are you saying that though my suggestion looks hard (1--getting the courage to try something relatively unknown and iconoclastic and 2--figuring out, aside from the starters I suggest here, how to put this suggestion into practice) you feel that it's worth a try, because "better safe than sorry?"

If so, then thanks!

Or are you saying that people are justified for sticking with the status quo and teaching the kinds of messages that I'm against because doing so seems less risky to "safety" than teaching the kinds of messages I'm for?

If so, then I think you're wrong. It might feel safer, because the actions we're teaching are actions we've been told work so many times. Oftentimes, common advice is common because it works.

But not in this case.

In this case, we're turning more kids into crime statistics (by encouraging predators) every time we imply, "Predators are always dangerous to kids" instead of implying, "Kids can be dangerous to predators, and we as a society/community/family are committed to maximizing kids' danger to predators."

Katie said...

(And yes, it is possible to maximize kids' danger to predators without increasing their danger to well-behaved people! Here's one of my favorite examples of a lesson for kids that does just that:

"What if [children] were raised [like] puppises? … Let's say a brother and sister are wrestling, and she's doing well. She happens to hit her brother between his legs, and rather than her parents telling her, 'Never, ever, ever hit a boy down there,' they let her know that this is a method that could serve her well down the line. They might tell her, 'Don't hit your brother in the crotch unless you truly need to hurt him. Use that move for someone who is really going to hurt you. If any male, including your father, step-father, grandfather, brother, farm-hand, or clergy-man is trying to hurt you, go for the gold!'" -Ellen Snortland, Beauty Bites Beast)

Katie said...

Wow, I already posted that quote. Lame. I didn't even read myself before commenting.

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