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Defending Yourself and Your Family: Safety Tips for Parents and Teens

Although our children have not hit the “teen world” yet, as a youth pastor I get to deal with this stage pretty much each and every day of my life. Some of my worst nightmares occur when my wife and I take a group of teens on a mission trip and I have to keep 15 teenagers and sometime more safe and sound.

A couple of years back my wife and I took a group of teenagers to Galveston, Texas to do some clean-up after hurricane Ike. By the end of the trip I was completely frazzled. Any time we stopped, no matter where, the kids would immediately scatter like flies, with no regard that we were in a strange city. I could tell that many of these kids had never had any type of training or awareness passed on to them from their parents, and I constantly felt like I was trying to play catch-up on giving them tips to keep themselves safe, tips that they should have learned 10+ years ago.

I also have a law enforcement background prior to going into ministry, so I think this gives me an even more heightened sense of awareness to all the evils that are out there. One of the hardest things that I have ever had to do came when I worked for Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department when the Columbine shooting happened. I will never forget walking through that school shortly after the shooting occurred.

It was equally hard in 2009 when I took a group of my youth group kids to the memorial and had to explain to them that the morning of April 20, 1999, thirteen innocent teenagers woke up that morning to find it their last. These situations have heightened my desire as a parent and a youth pastor to do everything I can to teach kids what I can in order to help keep them safe.

Tips to Keep Your Teen Safe

As I touched upon in my previous article, you really need to teach your teen to pay attention to those around them, especially if someone is continually looking at them. This is a hard concept – especially for teenage girls – but again, it is teaching them awareness of their surroundings. This is a skill that is necessary throughout their teenage years and especially on into college.

Don’t accept anything from people you don’t know. This is just as critical for the teenager as it is for the little ones. With the onslaught of drugs available these days, it is important that your teenager protect themselves.

Don’t leave with anyone you don’t know. As your teen becomes more social, this is a much-needed discussion to have with them. It may be tempting for them to leave with a new “friend,” but they need to understand when that individual might not be a true “friend”.

Always stay with at least one friend and preferably a group of friends. Make them aware of the dangers that can come about by being alone. When there is a group of friends, they can look out for one another. Choosing good friends is an important part of this conversation as well. For the teenage girl, it is critical that they don’t go to dressing rooms alone or use public bathrooms by themselves.  They also always need to tell someone what they are doing or where they are going.

Pay attention to your surroundings. This is important when it comes to things like where they chose to park when they go to the store. If they are going in a store in the evening, are they going to be able to see well when they come out of the store? You need to explain to them that if they come out of a store, it is too dark to see, and they don’t have a good feeling about it, then they can always go back in and ask one of the store associates to escort them out.

Another tip regarding driving safety is to always have their keys ready when they leave the store. It is not safe to be rifling through a purse trying to find them.  They also need to make sure they park away from bushes and other potential hiding places. A great tip that I always recommend for parents to do is to pick a time right before dark, go with your teenager, and let them park wherever they want without saying anything. Then, when you come out of the store and it is dark, you can point out all of the things that they should have done. Or if they did it right – praise them!

My wife’s sister had a run-in one time that I always use as a lesson. On her way home, at one point she was actually being followed. Instead of using her cell phone to call 9-1-1, she panicked and just drove straight home. Now the person who followed her knew where she lived, what she drove, and most likely her license plate. She got a long lecture from my father-in-law on why he gave her the cell phone in the first place, and it was for reasons exactly like that.

It is a lot to think about when you are a teenager, but if you have these types of conversations with them in advance, when a situation comes up, they will have a better idea on what to do. You can also talk about different scenarios as well. Ask them what they would do in this situation or that situation. Have them start thinking independently on how they can protect themselves. These conversations shouldn’t just be limited to the teenage girls, either. Your teenage son needs to know what to do in a variety of situations as well so they don’t unnecessarily or unwittingly put themselves in harm’s way.

They need to pay attention if they keep seeing the same person in different locations. Even if they know the person and just get a funny feeling about the situation, they need to feel comfortable sharing that, preferably with their parents. That way, you as the parents can get them the help they need in order to keep them safe.

As I mentioned before in my previous articles, it is essential that they know what to do in case they ever do get grabbed. They need to know that it is critical to fight like mad – kicking, screaming, and biting. Struggling with an attacker that is stronger than they are may be useless. Teach them to start grabbing body parts and biting them off or gouging them out. Yes, that’s gruesome. But the alternative—their dead body in an alley somewhere—is even more so.

They need to do everything in their power to not be taken from that first location as the odds of survival drastically decrease if they get taken. I know it may be hard to tell your teenager that information, but, if they know what they are up against, they might be likely to fight all the harder if they are ever faced with a predator.

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