This is a strange subject and it only took one car journey with my step daughter and my partner to realise there’s an awkward line between teaching girls to stay safe but also be kind.
It’s about a 30/40 minute drive to bring my step daughter over to our house. She’s 10 and has just started walking to school with her two friends. It’s not very far and her mother has put all sorts of safety nets in place. This is not a post about whether or not our kids should walk to school. I did, she does and her mams done an amazing job.
During our car ride home she told us about two brothers that had started at her school but were already leaving and hadn’t even been there a full term. We told her you never know what’s going on, that they might be from a travelling family. It went quiet for a moment and she told us that her and a friend had asked them why they were leaving so soon and that they had said “it’s a long story”. We told her she did a good job being respectful and not prying but that there could be so many different reasons why he didn’t want to tell you. But that what ever that meant his safety was the most important thing and it was great that he had his brother and they had each other. We told her this is why it’s important not to judge and to be kind because you never know what other people are going through behind closed doors.
Feeling proud and that it was a positive conversation I thought we were done on the life lessons. But no, this is where I discovered that strange line I discussed earlier.
She began to tell us that also this week there was an assembly for the children that walk to and from school. “The Walkers” they’ve been named, which if you were ever a Walking Dead fan, sits a bit funny with you. But in this assembly kids were asked if they had been approached by a man in a red car asking where they were going or for directions. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. I was having that talk, the talk about how as a girl we need to take extra steps to stay safe. She said she and her friends had never had such an encounter but thought it was weird. We taught her about how it’s never rude if someone makes you feel unsafe, to always trust your gut, to never let yourself get into a vehicle or within arms reach, to always run in the opposite direction if you feel you’re being followed by a car, to make as much noise as possible and to always stay in a minimum of twos. It’s difficult to feel you’re empowering someone when you’ve just given them a list of things to do. But I want her to feel empowered.
Within one car ride we had told this child to be kind to everyone and then told her to trust no one. I’d discovered for the first time this strange line that we are forced to teach. The line between creating a kinder generation and a safer generation. I’m not saying the way we handled this conversation was the correct way, I’m definitely not out here trying to give parenting advice. But you try to build confidence and self-esteem but also wits and safety, in a way I’m glad these two conversations happened at once. Not only for my own self awareness but also to try and pass down the knowledge of this blurry middle ground, I don’t want her to believe it’s either be nice or be safe.
Have you had similar conversations with your child or step-child? I’d love to know more about how others approach this delicate subject.