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Empowering Our Children: My Experience as a “radKIDS” Instructor

This piece was submitted to our 100K STORIES PROJECT by a concerned mom, Suzanne.

My first child was born in 1996. It was his birth that directed my attention to the TV news programs and newspaper articles that exposed the epidemic of violence committed against our nations’ children.

By the time his sister was born in 1998, I was positioned as a ‘stay-at-home’ mother. As such, I wanted to give back to my community by way of volunteer work.

My goal as a new mother was to provide my young children with the tools required to keep them from being victims of what appeared to be a very violent world. My goal as a ‘stay-at-home’ mother was to find a way to give back to the community by way of child safety & advocacy. The Columbine school shooting, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and The Boston Globe Spotlight articles exposing the Catholic church child abuse scandal raised my awareness that today’s world was different and that the antiquated “Stranger Danger” approach to safety education as well as the mantra, “don’t talk to strangers,” just did not work.

In the early part 0f 2000, my eyes and ears were directed toward the television when a  TV news segment featured a young child who had been taught safety skills that included ‘physical drills’ and incorporated solution-based ‘what if’ scenarios’ rather than the outdated, but, commonly used parental, ‘do-not-leave-my-sight-or-someone-will-snatch-you-and, I will never see you again,’ scare-tactic.

The national child safety educational and empowerment program was entitled, “radKIDS.” The TV news program provided the viewing audience with a website for more information.

I quickly logged onto my computer and contacted the founder of radKIDS asking him for more information. For example, how can I enroll my children into one of the classes? Unfortunately, at the time, there were no programs close to where we were living.

After a lot of contemplation, I decided to travel to Massachusetts to become a certified radKIDS instructor. It was a challenging journey but long story short: I became a certified instructor. My kids -then ages 5 and 7 years-old soon graduated from the 10-hour program. And, at their graduation ceremony, my 5-year old daughter looked at me and stated, “Thank you mommy for teaching me these things.” My heart melted.

Back in our hometown, I was contemplating how I could get a radKIDS program started within our community. I went back and forth as to how to accomplish that goal and if I even had the time or energy for the task. Then a front-page newspaper article pushed me off of the proverbial fence. A level- three sex offender moved into our neighborhood. We lived in a development that housed a few hundred people with more than half of those residents being young children. The level-three had served time but was newly released from prison: he had no job, no car, and no way to live on his own. So, it was reported to us that he moved into his parents home which was less than a quarter-mile from our home. I then learned that a level-three-sex-offender is a person who has been evaluated and determined that he would more than likely offend again. Parents were up in arms. How can we keep our kids safe?

I knew right then and there that I had to bring the radKIDS program to our communities children.

Months later, we parents were able to train other parent volunteer, instructors as well as two of our local police officers. Together, as a team, we taught over 200 children.

I soon discovered that teaching and empowering the communities children was the most satisfying job in the world other than being a mother to my own two children.

How did I know I did the right thing? How did I know that the time, energy, and expense was the ‘right thing’ to do?? Let me tell you how I knew:

We had a flyer – which depicted the photo of the level-three offender – on our refrigerator. The local police department had gone door-to-door with these flyers once they knew the level-three had a legal right to reside in a neighborhood full of children. I placed the flyer on our refrigerator and explained to my children in a nonchalant fashion, “Tthis man is known to hurt children. But, if he cannot touch you, he cannot hurt you. If you are playing outside and you see him walking toward you. Do not panic. He cannot hurt you if he cannot touch you. All I ask you to do is turn toward home and walk home. Just come home and you will be safe.

Weeks would go by before I saw the value of the radKIDS program in action. It was a warm summer evening. As a family, my husband and I decided to go for a walk around the large neighborhood as the kids rode their bikes ahead of us. My husband and I could see our kids as they rode ahead, but, they were out of ear-shot.  We had our walk more than half-way completed when I noticed up ahead that the level-three offender was standing at the end of his parents’ driveway. I assume he was waiting to be given a ride somewhere. I saw our two children riding on the same side of the road that the offender was standing on.

“This was the true test,” I thought. I could not have planned this scenario if I had tried: this was the test and it was unfolding right before my eyes.

What would our children do? Would they scream in horror? That is what dis-empowered and what easily frightened kids would do. Would they do an ‘about-face’ and pedal their bikes toward us seeking the shelter of their parents?  No. Our kids did neither.

I watched with amazement and with pride our kids changing sides of the road opposite of the level-three as they continued to complete our summer evening of exercise. They calmly kept pedaling their bikes toward home and headed home. I was more than pleased.

I witnessed first-hand the empowerment of our children. We did not frighten them with ideas of being easily victimized. We did not leave them naïve and unprepared either. What we did as parents was to give them a gift: a gift of being empowered and of having information to make ‘street-smart’ decisions.

I no longer teach the radKIDS educational program. Divorce and my return to full-time work outside the home had left me with no time to operate the non-profit I co-founded in order to provide the community the gift of radKIDS. My hope was that the school department and the police department would appreciate the value of the program as much as the communities parents did. But, they too had their attention diverted by “the no child left behind” act and the other various diversions that positioned child safety programs at the bottom of the priority list.

My conclusion is this: until we replace outdated, safety education programs with empowerment programs such as radKIDS, our nations’ children will continue to be ‘at risk.’

All radKIDS know that:

1) no one has the right to hurt them,

2) it is never their fault if anyone has hurt them – or their feelings – past, present, or future, and,

3) since it is not their fault, they have the right to tell. If no one listens, they are permitted to keep telling until someone listens.

The founder of radKIDS explained, “I cannot guarantee your child will never be victimized. But, what I can state is if they do no take the responsibility for harm that may come to them, then they will have learned not to be ‘a victim.”

 That is what being an empowered child means.

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