Teaching Our Children

My daughter, “Nutmeg”, started school yesterday, and the new school year has brought her a new challenge – and new stress.

“Can I talk to you?” Nutmeg asked, while we were cooking tortellini and Italian sausage for dinner tonight,

I finished turning the sausages and set the tongs down before turning to her. “What’s up?” I asked her.

“I’m scared in my new class,” she said. “All I hear guys talk about is who got shot last week, and I’m scared that I’m going to get shot.”

Nutmeg’s taking a vocational training class that requires her to attend a different school for part of the day. This other school is in a less safe part of town, and has long suffered from more than a bit of a gang problem. There was a stabbing there last year, and a pair of shootings just off campus the prior year.

To balance this, the local police department has a full-time School Resource Officer on campus to supplement the school’s security staff. Even still, there’s no denying that this new environment is very different from the somewhat protected, and protective, school setting Nutmeg is used to. And certainly, her fears are not wholly without merit.

We talked a long time tonight. I explained that she was right to trust her instincts, that it is important to be careful and stay safe. I told her that it was unlikely anything would happen to her, especially since she’s not in a gang and doesn’t hang out with those who are. We talked about being aware of surroundings, how to stay out of trouble’s way. And then she dropped a bomb.

“I know you write about self defense and stuff,” she said. She knows I have this blog, that I’m studying and training, that I shoot. But until that moment, she’d never shown any interest in any of it. “Will you teach me?” she asked. “You know, how to defend myself?”

I promised I would, but I’m not sure I know what to teach her. Obviously, weapons are a no-no – I’m even nervous about flashlights and other improvised weapons given the way the policy is worded. Hand-to-hand combat is challenging, both because of the school’s tendency to view self-defense as mutual combat, and also because Nutmeg is under five feet tall and rarely tips the scales at much more than 100 pounds – and she’s nearly seventeen.

So, I’m turning to you, my readers, for tips. What would you suggest I teach her? What skills can I give her to help her both feel safe and be safe?


  1. Start with escape and evasion. She needs to take an adventure through the school to know where all the doors go and how to get to the exits. Take a walk around the school so she can orientate which doors go where outside. Have a plan to walk someplace safe. Rule of threes, three places with three routes to each. All in different directions from the school. If you have a close friend that lives by that would be a good place to go. Knowing all three might be hard, but her notes on how to get there are easily kept in a bag. Make sure she is prepared to give up property and has someplace to go if she loses everything with an extra five bucks in a pocket or something to get a cab or make a phone call. Learn what teachers hang out where during the times she is moving around, and where the cop normally is wouldn’t be a bad idea if you can find out.

    Most street gangs will leave you alone if you leave them alone, but stay away from areas they own and where they do the drug trade. Shootings happen, talk about cover vs concealment. Shots fired hit the ground and move towards cover. If you can move away from gun fire, if not, they will move on. Gangs aren’t going to wait for the cops to get there. They will normally be out of there, and the no witnesses thing is something that only really happens in the movies.

    Off the top of my head that’s what I got. If she can also, learn to read the graffiti. That will tell her what turf she is on and what is going on in the neighbor hood. It’s like the local gang news paper when you learn to read it and notice the new stuff.

    If the gangs start hassling her, or want her to join, it’s time for her to be out of there. The school will always tell you there is no problem because they need the numbers of students so they get money. Just be prepared to step in if it gets bad. Lastly for you, see if you can get the crime reports from the local police office there. That will give you a better idea if those guys are talking smack or there is really stuff going on.

    When I moved form the LA area to Austin the local gangs in Austin talked like they did violence LA style, but there is less then 100 murders a year in the Austin area. I think there was 60 the first year we moved. That’s a bad week in LA. If there is a couple things that worry you in the crime reports, share them with Nutmeg. Most of the reports are public record. Spend the couple bucks they charge for the copy and play the what if game.

    Your kid is already 10 times ahead of most people because she is asking the questions. Good luck. If I can help any more let me know.

    PS this went on forever!

  2. Stepinit says:

    carry a small cast-iron frying pan, it is not viewed as a weapon but can be used as one.

    • Unfortunately, the disciplinary policy at Nutmeg’s school bans “all household implements which can be used as offensive weapons” – likely vastly over-broad, but I would hate to have that become an issue. But thanks for your suggestion – in other contexts, and in schools with sane administrators, this might be a sound tactic.

  3. I love all of Ben’s advice – it’s sound.

    I think the best thing I ever did for my daughter was put her in wrestling. Just one season (I bet you can find a club, rather than the high school team) did wonders for her and me. Let me tell you why – the majority of self-defense classes for women don’t teach grappling. Pretty much once the fight goes to the ground, most women give up. Ashinator learned that once the fight went to the ground, not only was it NOT over, but that she could fight and escape. She’s all of 5’1″ and 100#.

    She’s less likely to get shot than physically assaulted. Knowing how to get away is important.

    She is on the right track and light years ahead of her peers by asking for help.

    • That’s a good thought – thank you! I don’t know if Nutmeg will be interested in wrestling, but I’ll see what I can do. And you’re right about grappling – it’s not something I learned in any of the “women’s self-defense” classes I took in the past. Something else to add to my training plan, I think.

      And yes, the mere fact that Nutmeg is asking these questions is huge. At her age, I’d already been raped once — and I was STILL so passive and unaware about self-defense and personal safety that I came heart-stoppingly close to having it happen a second (and third) time before I wised up and woke up.

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