Awareness of personal safety is another of the conversations to have with your kid before they head off to college. Hopefully, you have been able to provide a relatively safe environment to raise your kid. If you have, they don’t really know how to identify truly dangerous situations. (You think my wife freaked out thinking about the alcohol and drug use conversation, you should have seen her reaction to this one. Guess who had these conversations with my kids?)
How do you know if a party is getting dangerous?
A party getting wild and out of control is one thing. A party becoming dangerous is another thing altogether. The key is for your kid to be able to tell the difference. While extreme drunkenness (or drug abuse) or even a fight breaking out increases the odds of things becoming dangerous, these things alone aren’t enough to constitute a threat to personal safety. On the other hand, someone wanting to fight YOU is. You can’t know how far someone will go when they want to fight you. Protecting your pride is not one of the things worth dying for. It’s time to leave. While a group of friends being obnoxious and roughhousing is not dangerous, the presence of people known to be associated with gangs is. They may be cool in music videos but in real life they’re violent and unpredictable. Don’t stick around to find out. If you have a daughter, even one guy who won’t take “no” for an answer and who repeatedly tries to get her alone or physically corner her is also a sign of potential danger. Finally, there is no reason for anyone to be armed (e.g., gun, knife, baseball bat, etc.) at a party so either they know something others don’t and it’s time to leave or your kid now knows enough to know it’s time to leave.
When should you fight someone?
In a civilized society, people are supposed to settle their differences with words or through the legal system. What if words aren’t enough and the police aren’t around? When should your kid duke it out? Very, very rarely. Before they do, there are some things they should consider. First, your kid better know how to fight because the other person may. For your daughters, they should avoid being physically aggressive (e.g., slapping someone, shoving, etc.) except in self-defense. If it is a guy, she is likely to be out weighed, out muscled, and out fought. If it’s another girl, her opponent better be a prissy, preppy chick otherwise it is likely to get very ugly and potentially dangerous. Second, unless your kid is fighting their best friend, it better be worth risking their life. Guys can’t afford to posture for the sake of their reputation. They can never know how far the other person will go. If their opponent begins to win, will they stop before really hurting your kid? There is an appalling frequency of intentional kicks to the head if you go down in a fight. If your kid wins will their opponent go get backup (e.g., weapons, friends) and try to settle the score? Third, one of the combatants may accidentally kill or seriously injure the other (e.g., hitting their head on something, delivering an unexpectedly lethal blow, etc.). Fourth, you can be charged with assault no matter how the fight turns out. That’s time in court, money, and a criminal record. The answer, by the way, is only fight if you are defending their life and there is no other way out of it.
How do you deal with someone who is becoming aggressive or threatening at a party?
If someone threatens your kid with bodily harm, the best strategy is for them to back away and then get away. Cede the territory. This doesn’t make for a successful action film character but it does make for an uncomplicated and trouble free college life. When everyone sobers up things usually calm down. (It is more complicated if this is a repeated occurrence. While the details of dealing with this kind of persistent threat among members of a community are beyond the scope of today’s column, getting peacemaker friends of both parties together to work it out can sometimes solve that issue.)
What is the best way to deal with your nagging feeling that something is wrong?
Pay attention to it. Intuition is a primitive, highly effective survival mechanism. It can be wrong but is worth respecting. I’m not saying your kid should take off running if they get the feeling there is a threat. Instead, talk to them about standing up straight and appear alert and calm while looking around. If your kid gets the vibe from someone they are interacting with, they should politely but firmly disengage from the person and move off to be with people they know. If they are in an isolated place, scan the environment while moving to a public place with lots of other people. If they see someone who appears to be watching them, have them practice assuming a “suspicious” expression (draw the eyebrows together, squint the eyes, tilt the head) while briefly looking right at the person and then deliberately and confidently go about their business. (Someone stalking your kid takes more than this and is a topic for a future column.)
What is the best way to get someone to help you if you are in trouble?
Make noise. Holler “HELP”, pull fire alarms, honk horns, set off car alarms. However, to actually get someone to help you may need to ask them directly. There is some very interesting research on the reactions of people in a crowd during an emergency. When more than one person is around in a crisis, everyone waits for the next person to do something. If your kid is in trouble and needs help when other people are around, here are a couple of things they can do to increase the likelihood of someone actually helping. First, make eye contact with a specific person in the crowd. Second, identify them by some characteristic (e.g., “You, in the blue jacket”). Third, ask them directly for help (e.g., “Call 911” “Help get this guy off me!”).
What should you do if you are being robbed?
Give the criminal any possession they want. Make it easy and quick for them to take it and go. Your possessions are just things and you don’t know how desperate or coldhearted the criminal is. Don’t go anywhere with someone who is threatening you. Criminals don’t like public places. It is better to take your chances where you are than to be taken to some isolated place where you could end up dead.
What are some basic safety rules?
Make sure you surround yourself with people you know. When in an unfamiliar setting, have a mutual commitment with a friend to hang together (no matter how hot that girl/guy they just met is). Don’t wander around in isolated places or sketchy areas. Have an escape plan if things start to get out of hand (that means don’t leave alone). Have a designated driver or sober friend if you are not in a familiar and safe place (a local bar doesn’t count). Finally, your kid will need to be able to say firmly and directly “No”, “Stop” or “Leave me alone” and mean it.
You can’t protect your kids from the world. You can’t get them to sit quietly in the house so you can make sure they are safe. You can help them think through how to have a good time without taking unnecessary or foolish risks. Make sure they know how to think in terms of their own safety and potential risky situations. Then get ready for the sleepless nights ahead.