Personal Safety 101

Ok, so I thought I had given my 18 year old son all the basic instructions so that he could get along, on his own, without mommy being around. Cooking, laundry, managing a checking account and writing a check, writing thank you notes, sewing a button, ironing a shirt… But it seems that there was a huge gap in my teachings: personal safety on the streets.

This realization became a pressing item to address when Pam, a good friend called to let me know that her son had been mugged – just a couple of days after having dropped him off for his college freshman year! HE IS OK. But I don’t even want to think of the horror of getting such a call at 1:00 am when you are 800+ miles away from your child.

The story in short: Drew, the son in question, was walking back home with a group of new college friends when they were accosted by another group of youths that were selling drugs. I don’t have details on the situation, but know that the exchange between the two groups degenerated, with the “hoodlums” running off with Drew’s brand new, latest model iPhone. Insulted, he looked to retrieve the phone, only to be assaulted and beaten to the ground. Friends called 911 and Drew spent the remainder of the night in the ER, being tested and scanned before being sent back to his dorm. We now jokingly call it “the Good Assault”, meaning that though Drew had two black eyes and other nasty bruises (physical and emotional, I’m sure), he was lucky that there were no severe injuries. AND, this was “good” in the sense that it created an excellent wake up call for the rest of us: TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT THEIR PERSONAL SAFETY!

I’m feeling horribly embarrassed and guilty that I never directly gave my own son advice for his own safety as he left the nest. We like to think that our older kids are street smart and wise. And really, Pam did have the “safety talk” with Drew, but being the young impetuous men that they are, that was not quite enough. And, in our defense: “It is important to remember that colleges and universities are generally safe places. An 18- to 22-year-old is safer, statistically, on their college campus than they are off campus. Because campuses are safer, it can lead to students often letting down their guard. Therefore, the bottom line is that there is no substitute for personal vigilance when it comes to campus safety” (source).  And that’s pretty much what happened. Drew was technically off-campus by a few yards.

So, because personal safety is one of those basic life skills that we should all instill in our kids, here I am, making up for my parental shortcomings (well, on this topic at least) with a recast of expert advice culled from much reading on the matter. Here are some of the most basic safety tips:

Walking and biking:

  • Be aware of your surroundings. That means put away the phone, the iPod and the headphones. Stay alert and notice there is any unusual activity or anyone looks suspicious or out of place.
  • Walk confidently, with your head up, shoulders back and a self-assured stride. Don’t look around like you are unsure of where you are going.
  • Always walk in groups. Use well lit walkways and avoid parks and dark, low-traffic or shortcut paths. It’s often recommended that, if traffic allows, you walk right in the middle of the street.
  • If you have to walk alone, know that many campuses offer free “safe” walk programs. Take advantage of those.
  • Keep a safe distance from anyone asking for information or directions or to use your phone. That would be an example of “suspicious” activity.

Should you be at threat of being assaulted or mugged, here is the advice:

  • Don’t carry large sums of money but always carry enough money that you would not frustrate the attacker by having nothing to give him. Try to keep valuables at home.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a fuss: get loud, start screaming.
  • BOTTOM LINE, in the words of Pam: No possession is worth physical harm or threat to your life. Surrender whatever the attacker is looking for. It’s all replaceable.

Here is a great video from Kansas State University that, although is selling the safety of the campus, does a good jog at  tackling these street safety issues PLUS all the issues of safety in your dorm/apartment, getting in and out of your vehicle, internet safety and sexual assault. It’s a little long but a great recap of all tips:


Also, here are some websites that did a good job on the subject:

  • Not just because my son goes here, but the U of W – Madison site has the best recaps of safety tips for all aspects of university life. Find the safety advice pages here and other links in the left column.
  • Here is a foul-language but extremely effective post (on Craigslist of all places?!?!?) for advice should you ever get mugged. I’m guessing that this was written by a cop?
  • Anny Jacoby is a personal safety expert and knows her stuff. Find her site here.

Please share this with your kids. This is appropriate for younger teens as well, as they start traveling on their own. I would love to hear of your own tips that should be added to the list.

2 Responses to Personal Safety 101

  1. hannah says:

    Great article and a good reminder! I think it’s easy to forget to stay conscious of staying safe, even when you might think it IS safe.
    I read a book written by a cop once that advised if mugged, to throw down your purse/cash/cellphone or whatever, and then run the opposite direction.
    Most of the time the thief will be happy to just collect his loot and run away himself. Staying around is dangerous.
    Also, keep a list in a safe place of important numbers to call, so that if you were to be robbed of your credit cards, licenses etc you would have the list ready. The last thing you would want to be dealing with then is looking up all that information!

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