A group of young people walking to sunset in city parkRecent media coverage of a case involving the shooting a teen boy has lead me (and our nation) to have more questions than answers: what events could lead to the shooting of a teen? What concerns lead a citizen to carry a concealed weapon? If a person carries a weapon, what triggers them to feel the need to use it? How can being aware of our surroundings prevent tragedies from happening (both the death of someone who was still a child and the burden one may carry from having ended someone’s life)?

As a child, my parents always taught us to consider our surroundings. I grew up in Alaska, the child of two parents who’d served in the US Army. Part of our summers involved going fishing, camping, and the occasional hunting trip. In the wilderness, we were taught to always watch, listen, and be very aware of potential danger. The threats included bears and moose or the more frequent fishing hook being cast by a sibling! When we came home from these wilderness outings, my parents didn’t stop their lessons in situational awareness. They reminded us (both myself, sister, and 2 brothers) to be aware of what neighborhoods we drove through and to look a stranger in the eye as we walked past them on the sidewalk.

Being aware of our surroundings carries over into big city life too. When I park my car at the grocery store, I try to park next to a street light, near the shopping car return and pay close attention to the people around me. Is there a random person just standing and leaning against a building? Is someone sitting in the driver’s seat of the car parked next to me? I make it a point to stay off of my phone (no texting or talking) as I get into my car.

In the summer, many teens are out later than usual. There are music festivals, concerts, races, food fests, carnivals. Though there are crowds at these venues, this is also an opportune time for a purse to be snatched or cell phone to go missing from a pocket. The potential for danger continues into the fall and winter as daylight hours shorten and teens are busy with work, school, and extracurricular activities. Nearly every week, we hear about a student near our college campuses who had an electronic device stolen as they walked home (many times in broad daylight).

So how can a parent help teach their teen how to become aware of their surroundings (without being hyper-vigilant or paranoid!):

  • Encourage your teen to tell people where they’re going and when to expect them back
  • Don’t walk and text or talk. Keep expensive devices like the newest smart phone, laptop, or tablet stored in a purse, backpack, etc until your teen arrives at their destination.
  • If provoked, you don’t have to respond. It’s best to avoid confrontation if possible. A cell phone or iPad can easily be replaced. Walk (or run) away.
  • Stay in a group if your teen must be out late. If they’re going to a dance or coming home from work in the evening, talk to your teen about walking to their car with a group of friends or co-workers. Then get in their car and drive home instead of spending time texting or making calls.
  • Tell your teen to listen to their gut. Sometimes we can get into situations where we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. If something feels wrong, don’t ignore that feeling. Get out of the situation – go back inside the store or back to the dance.
  • Consider a self defense class. These classes typically don’t focus on violence. In fact, they teach a lot of the skills to avoid becoming a target.