Saturday, October 14, 2006

What's wrong with teaching kids to fight back?

I had a very mixed reaction today to the news that a Texas school district is training students how to fight back against an armed classroom invader. A British army reserve officer is tasked with heading the training for suburban Fort Worth kids, teaching them how to "rush [an invader] and hit him with everything they've got--books, pencils, arms and legs."

The article goes on to say that most of the district's high school freshmen underwent instruction during orientation, and eventually even elementary school children will receive some training.

While I am all for developmentally-appropriate self-defense training, including physical responses, this school district's extreme approach fails the sniff test for several reasons.

First, even with current "trends" the likelihood of ever encountering an armed invader at school is very minimal, yet the chance of scaring the heck out of little kids with this training is almost 100%. The number of people who die in school shootings in any given academic year is generally much less than 100. (reference) On the other hand over 3,000 children are killed by guns each year. And when it comes to being victimized, a million children per year are molested, most of them by a person they know and trust.

To me the "armed intruder" training is like teaching kids how to survive a plane crash rather than sensibe and USABLE safety measures such as wearing seatbelts and looking both ways before crossing the street.

A second, related criticism is that child safety is primarily an adult responsibility. Elementary students should not feel that they are responsible in a situation involving a gunman. There is a steep cost of living in fear of a remote event. Adults need to work on creating sensible gun control policies and safe school policies that balance risk with our need to live our lives free of irrational fear. I advocate child safety training for parents and other concerned adults. Parents can then communicate strategies to their children in ongoing conversations. This is not something that can be taught in an hour or even a day, but an ongoing conversation that needs to take place.

If you want to keep your kids safe from realistic fears, focus on things like bike, car, and seatbelt safety. Water safety and learning how to swim. General gun safety--never play with a gun. Have ongoing conversations about what constitues appropriate touching. And as parents, educate yourself about abuse prevention and carefully monitor who is allowed to have access to your children.

My website,, provides more information on the topics of child safety. Parents need to take the responsibility of becoming a powerful advocate and watchdog of their children's safety. I highly recommend the book Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker and the informative website which has the mission of "confronting child sexual abuse with courage." If you are interested in a self-defense program for kids and parents, I recommend training by the established non-profit Kidpower.

Next week my podcast guest will be the author of Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet. I hope you'll tune in to my conservation with author Linda Criddle for tips every parent needs to know to help our families safely navigate the information superhighway.


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