Friday, November 13, 2009

Stranger Danger

For the past two weeks, my 8-year old son George has really shown he is growing up. Proudly he announced that rather than having Mom drive him to school and pick him up every day, he would start to ride the city bus back and forth. We got him a pass, helped him the first few days, and were pleasantly surprised that he could do it on his own. Great help for Mom, and proof positive that he was becoming more mature and able to take on a bit more responsibility.

However, the other day he had a "slight error in judgement"...

He knew he had to be at second grade a little early to give a short presentation to the class on the weather (their current focus topic). He left our house 10 minutes early and waited at the bus stop for his bus to come. During that time a man pulled up in a Mercedes and asked him if he wanted a ride to school. Thinking he could get there quicker and easier than waiting for the bus, he accepted...

My wife found out about it later that night after he had come home. In his mind perhaps he knew he had put himself at risk...he said "Mom, I think I might have done something wrong..."
He explained about the man - her jaw dropped. Without him admitting it, he could have just...disappeared...without either of us knowing.

I got home late that night after the kids had already gone to bed, and she told me what he had done. She had been crying off and on since George told her he had taken a stranger's car ride to school. They had a massive shouting match and it was very emotional for both of them.

For me it was like being stabbed in the heart.
I felt sick to my stomach; I felt dizzy...I couldn't breathe...
Then the rage hit me like a wave of electricity...


At the very least I would beat him senseless and take him to the police, where hopefully he would be hung, shot, or dropped into a dark hole for all eternity. No normal adult has any justifiable reason for offering a ride to an 8-year old boy on his way to school. It is the classic ruse of a predator. George said "he told me he was a good guy, not a bad guy...", of course not fully grasping the fact that bad guys hardly announce the fact up front to their victims before they torture and kill them.

Just last week the news in Japan featured a story about a university student found dismembered after going missing. There are many of these cases even in Japan every year.
Japan's bizzare sexually-repressed powderkeg society creates a lot of pressure which ends up making some very, very sick people who are more than capable of causing unspeakable harm to a little boy. You can drive yourself crazy worrying...

How can you protect them all the time? It only takes one "slight error in judgement" for them to be the next kid on the milk carton; the next statistic. As a parent, you want to encourage your children to be independent, but to have enough sense to know and avoid big risks. I am at a loss as to how to handle this. My first reaction was to home school him for the next 10 years and never let him out of the house on his own again...yes, I know it's overreacting.

I have never felt more helpless in my whole life than I do now.
Never more vulnerable than facing the knowledge that I cannot protect my family from danger.

I have done my best to provide clear and lucid advice to people on martial arts and other topics in this blog for the past 3 years . I need to call those markers in. Now it's your turn to advise me.

What can I do about this???

Please give me your advice. I need it.


Neal said...


I can feel your anger and anxiousness right through your words man. I've got no kids yet, but I somehow know that sinking feeling like somebody pulled out your guts. Its never a good feeling.

It has happened. George is safe. Time to calm down and asses the situation. The good thing is that the kid realized his error. He is thinking. He will learn from this.
Perhaps mom (or you) should bring him to the bus stop and wait till the ride comes for a spell of time. Perhaps 8 years old is too early for him to be using the public ride on his own (a recognized school bus would be much safer). No matter how mature he acts, at that age, he is a kid.

As much as we'd like to protect our loved ones 24/7, it is an impossible task. Short of hiring Gurkhas to guard them, what we could do is exert all effort to severely minimize the risk of danger around them.

Regards to your family. Be safe man.

Missing you on the mat.

- neal

Guro Brian said...

This is a very timely post as I have been emphasizing stranger danger to my young students and I wonder if, as much as my wife and I drill them about this, it gets through to them.

With regard to your situation, at least your son knew that he made a mistake and admitted it to your wife. He could have chosen to hide this fact from you. He did not. That says a lot about him. I would wager that this probably won't happen again. I like Neal's suggestion as it does not rise to the level of over reacting.

Just my two cents.


Yee Han said...

Dearest John,

I am nowhere near an age to presume I could offer advice on bringing up children. But I thought I’d share what I’ve seen others do…

Something very similar happened to me when I was 9. My maid was supposed to be walking me to school, but she had skived off with friends that day. A large car pulled up beside me and the man inside asked me if I wanted a lift to school. It will only be for a few minutes, little sister, no danger; and besides he had chocolate, look, here it is. Wouldn’t you like to have some? I told him my parents had warned me not to take rides from strangers, and said no. He left when it was clear I wasn’t going to get in.

Later I heard from friends who lived in that area that it had happened to them as well. Parents informed the school, and for what felt like a very long time afterward, there were constant announcements for students to be vigilant, and for them to look out for each other. The school also sent out teachers to patrol the area close to school for a while, around assembly and dismissal times. Car pooling was arranged for students who lived further away. We all took home forms for our parents, warning them of peril to their children, asking them to speak strongly and frequently to their children of such dangers.

(I don’t know what Japan is like, but I don’t think that in Singapore there is much sense of community. I suspect now that the school did what they did because it was a question of reputation; many of the students came from wealthy backgrounds.)

However, the most important part of this all was the education. Most (in fact, as far as I know, all) of us children refused the ride because we had had it drummed into us over and over again never, ever to accept anything from a stranger; never go out at night; this is what to do if you think someone is following you. Basic safety stuff. I’m told that Singaporeans take our safety for granted, but I grew up in an atmosphere of paranoia that, precisely because it /looked/ safe, /anything/ could happen.

Perhaps you could share your experience with the parents of the neighbourhood, as well as the school. Apart from community awareness, I always thought that knowledge was the most important thing for a child’s safety. Our parents gave us degrees of freedom, but over and over they stressed the responsibility and dangers attendant upon it.

My parents also used my position as eldest daughter to hold me responsible for the two younger ones (George is your older, is he not?). The idea that I had to protect not only my own safety, but that of my precious sister(s) as well, was a very important one toward learning responsible behaviour. My parents stressed that they could not protect me, and so not only would I have to guard myself, I had to guard the younger one(s) as well.

The reverse side of this, of course, is the over-cautiousness and un-creativity of many Singaporeans. They’re just too afraid. Fear does not always keep one safe. On the other hand, it can make one more alert.

(As a post-script, education is also a major factor why Singapore is relatively smoke-free. Most of us had it absolutely hammered in that there is utterly nothing positive about smoking.)

There is no cut-and-dried advice I can offer. I wish I could.

I hope this helps,

Yee Han