By Sheryl Sowell
Photo caption: Chris Velez, chief instructor and owner, Martial Arts Academy.
A new school year is on the horizon, and many children will be walking to and from the bus stop or school and playing outside after class each day. According to Chris Velez, owner of Marital Arts Academy, now is the perfect time to educate your child on safety measures to prevent being abducted.
Martial Arts Academy hosts two seminars a year for its students on child abduction prevention. “I’ve lived in Owasso since I was a kid, and it’s always seemed like ‘Pleasantville’ – as if nothing bad ever happens here,” says Chris. “These issues are much more relevant, partly because of the growth Owasso has experienced, and because our defenses are lower than in other places. Nowadays you hear many stories close to home of attempted child abductions.”
Chris offers some important guidelines for parents to discuss with their kids. “These pointers help answer the question, ‘How does a child defend his or herself against an adult?’ Parents should discuss these steps with their kids repeatedly. They need to be a regular topic of conversation.”
1. Make sure your child knows the seriousness of the conversation before you begin, and define “stranger.” First and foremost, you must make the gravity of the problem completely clear to your child. “Make it a point to tell your children that what you are about to discuss is very serious. Tell them that if a stranger takes them, they might never see mom and dad again,” says Chris. “Also, define what a stranger is – anyone the parents do not know. This is why it’s so important for parents to introduce themselves to teachers, coaches, and the parents of your kids’ friends.”
2. Adults never ask a child they do not know to help them, or offer them something to do. The next point to make clear is that an adult will never ask a child he does not know for help or offer something fun to do. “It’s not that children do not have the ability to help adults, but out of common courtesy, normal adults do not approach children they do not know in this way,” says Chris. If a stranger asks a child to help him find his lost dog, if they have seen his son, or if they’d like to come swim in his pool, a child’s alarm bells should go off and they should run home.
3. Establish a code word. “In any other situation, it is considered rude for a child not to respond to an adult. Children can easily be tricked into a conversation with a stranger that seems friendly. If the parent and child have a secret code word, the child can ask the adult what it is before trusting them.”
4. Enforce awareness at all times. Awareness is another point parents must drive home to their kids. Parents should always enforce the habit of awareness in their children, making sure their eyes are up and looking around while in public, especially places such as the grocery store where kids tend to wander off. So many young people today have cell phones and are constantly texting, eyes glued to the phone, or they will be walking along while playing on their handheld game player. “Parents should tell their children they need to always use their peripheral vision and use their ‘satellite head’ – their head should be up and looking around, aware of everything that’s going on around them,” says Chris. “Awareness involves keeping a safe distance from strangers. If someone comes into a child’s personal space, the child should take action and run away or move across the street.”
5. Travel in groups. Whenever possible, make sure your kids use the buddy system and stay in groups. “If your child does walk to a friend’s house alone, make sure he calls as soon as he gets there,” says Chris.
6. Don’t scream unless you’re in danger. “A lot of people have become acclimated to constant noise – it’s so common to hear kids yelling that many of us don’t think twice when we hear a child screaming,” says Chris. “Because we have become numb to it, there are certain phrases a child should yell if they are ever grabbed or a stranger comes too close to them: ‘Stop!’, ‘Help!’, ‘I don’t know you!’ or ‘You’re not my dad!’” Another aspect of this is body posturing; put up your hands when you are yelling “Stop!” Use your body language to also express that you’re in danger.
7. Know where to run. Chris explains that it’s important for children to know where to run if they are in danger. “They should run home, to a uniformed person such as a police officer or firefighter, or to a mother with children,” he says.
The child abduction seminars (for Martial Arts Academy students only) cover these tips and include physical role-playing scenarios. For more information, contact Martial Arts Academy in Owasso at (918) 376-9080 or in Tulsa at (918) 622-5425 or visit martialartsacademy.net