BY RACHEL CHEESEMAN, FOUNDER OF STREET SMART SELF DEFENSE
A recent trip to the grocery store reminded me that summer will be over before we know it. I couldn’t help but notice the bright yellow kiosks going up in the central aisle stocked full of back-to-school supplies. Meanwhile, you can read the mortified facial expressions of every kid that walks by them:” But, I’m still on summer vacation!” Nowadays most local stores have back-to-school supplies lists for each school and grade to help parents plan for what’s needed in the new school year. As you check off each item, be sure to add one more to that same list – school safety.
It’s always a good idea to review the common knowledge scenarios, even if you’ve done this several times before. Make sure your child has a solid routine for traveling to and from school. Remind them about general street safety by staying inside crosswalks, obeying street signals and crossing guards. If they ride a bus, review where to safely stand and how to leave a good distance if they must cross in front of a bus. Stress to always obey the flashing lights and to not cross the street (if required) until the bus lights are flashing red. Crossing the street when the lights are flashing yellow puts kids at risk from other drivers who may not yet have come to a complete stop and/or don’t see the lights or your child. Emphasize the point that distracted driving is a major problem and the other driver may not see you, even if you think they do.
Besides obeying the external signals, kids who walk and/or ride their bike to and from school are faced with another challenge. “Obeying their own internal signals”. If possible, it’s always best for them to walk with a trusted adult or another group of kids. I’m a firm believer that there is always greater safety in numbers. Kids need to fully understand that trusting their inner voice is extremely important to their everyday survival. An easy way to put it is “if something doesn’t look right or feel right, it isn’t right.” Once that determination is made, the child needs to run away from the situation and get help immediately. Becoming an expert in the art of “Run Fu” and trusting gut instincts is a simple, effective way of prevention. Also, teaching your child to say “NO” very loudly and putting both hands up in front of their body exudes confidence and draws attention from bystanders.
Don’t forget to address personal safety while at school as well. Teach them that if someone puts their hands on them in a way they don’t like or makes them feel uncomfortable (whether it be another adult or fellow student), this is NOT acceptable and should be reported to you as well as the guidance counselor office right away. And of course, we can’t forget the playground “bully”. Remind your child that they are not someone else’s punching bag and using the same defense of loudly saying “NO” and putting both hands in front of their body is useful in these situations too. A public display of outward confidence can make a bully think twice. However, in the case of bullying, your child should still report the incident to you as well as their guidance counselor office for the appropriate intervention.
I know this is a tough one, but it’s also a good idea to bring up the possibility of a school shooting. This isn’t to scare your child but is a better way to prevent panic. These stories dominate the air waves when it happens and can create anxiety, so make sure your child understands that these things are still considered rare events, but is a part of the world we now live in. This is a very sensitive subject and ignoring it completely doesn’t help either. But the more a person is mentally prepared for an intense event like this, the better their chances are of survival. As parents, we can’t be afraid by singling out certain subjects just because we think they are too scary. Think of it as empowering your child with knowledge. If you stand tall, your kids will stand tall too. Knowledge is power!! Back-to-school…. here we come!
Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years. She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.