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Teaching street smarts to kids

Have you taught street smarts to your kids? I love cities. I love the energy and the diversity of cities. After years of living in various cities and towns, I am very comfortable in cities and enjoy exploring. However, I live in the suburbs. The last time we were in the city, the kids were a little at a loss – they didn’t quite know how to be in this rather foreign place only a few miles from home. They didn’t have a bit of street smarts.

Mom and children in the cityWhen we first moved to this particular suburb, we talked about keeping our connection to the nearest city. In our first couple of years, we made it a habit to take the kids into the city once a week for a museum outing, then dinner with Dad. It was really great. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of the city, and I want them to know how to “be” in a city.Over time, however, our city outings have dropped off. As our family has grown and our life has become more entrenched in suburbia, activities and schedules have precluded those regular outings. I miss the city – and I think my kids are missing something, too.

Seminal experiences

A friend of mine lived her whole life in the big city until 9 years ago when she moved here. She was born, raised, went to college, got married and had three kids in the city. Only her oldest remembers living in the city, and, when they go back to visit her mother there, the youngest (born in the ‘burbs), has no concept of staying close on busy city streets, or any other little element of street smarts that my friend feels are inherent for her. No matter how many times she called for him to stay close, or explained, he didn’t. He just didn’t get it.We talked for a bit about that. It seems to us that street smarts are as much about experience as about intellectually knowing that you need to be aware of your surroundings at all time. We can sit at home and talk about such a concept all we want, but unless there’s some experience and leading to go with it, it’s abstract, especially for kids. What you see and experience on a regular basis becomes a part of instinct, and hence, far more practical.

Safety rules for everywhere

The thing is, “street smarts” isn’t just for city streets, it for everywhere. It’s at home, at school, at the mall, in the city, in the suburbs, in the country – everywhere. I think I got a little lax on the overall concept here the the relative safety of the suburbs, but it’s time to step it up a bit. Alfs, as he becomes a teenager, is likely to be away from us even more, and needs to refine some of these skills.

  • There is greater safety in numbers. Use the buddy system, and if that’s not possible, stay in populated areas. Avoid shortcuts, especially when you are alone.
  • Notice your surroundings and who is surrounding you. Think ahead about where you can go for help.
  • Avoid going into public restrooms alone.
  • Don’t talk to strangers, and keep a couple arms length distance between you and people you don’t know.
  • Avoid walking or riding a bike near parked cars.
  • If confronted by a bully or mugger, better to drop your backpack and run than risk being hurt. Possessions can be replaced, you can’t
  • Listen to your gut. If a situation feels wrong to you, leave and seek help.

Promoting confidence, not fear

The trick in all this, is helping kids learn safety rules without scaring them unnecessarily. There can be a variety of ways to do this, but one I like best is going out and doing things with my kids – city, suburbs, or country – and pointing out how I might handle a situation as part of our ongoing outing dialogue. “Hey, that exhibit was really great. I noticed they had a lot of guard around to help people, or I could have walked to the ticket desk to ask for direction. Did you see the chart about poison dart frogs?” It’s kind of a way to remind them of the rules without the kids necessarily realizing it.We’ll be increasing our visits to the city and I’ll be reiterating these guidelines for everyday, every place. I want my kids to feel comfortable, make good choices, and be aware, in all kinds of environments. I can’t protect them from everything, but I can help them protect themselves.

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