In the decade since dropping my daughter off for her first day of kindergarten, things have changed. Yes, Columbine took place in 1999 while I was still in college, and there was even a school shooting way back in 1840. Even so, things have changed.
Despite living in good areas in different states during her school years, we’ve gone through three legitimate lockdowns involving active shooter threats and one report of a “man with a gun.” Then there are the bomb threats and general mayhem.
My theory? People are out of control. We live in an age of entitlement and participation trophies with little-to-no consequences for the vast majority of kids. Then there’s the mental health crisis, which I can tell you is real. Child psychiatry remains an undervalued and poorly allocated service, much to the frustration of the doctors themselves.
Some schools started in mid-August while others didn’t start until today. In the spirit of back-to-school I asked some experienced people in the industry to weigh in with advice for kids of all ages. Here’s what I heard . . .
“Keep your eyes out of your phone and be aware of what’s around you.” – Michael Kusenko, Precision Rifle Shooting competitor
“Speak up. If you see someone being bullied or something wrong, tell someone.” – Rachel Fry, long-time gun owner
“Playground: If you can’t see the teachers or monitors on the playground, they can’t see you if you need help. No one has the right to physically touch or harm you. It’s okay to protect yourself when you need to; violence isn’t a bad thing or word when applied appropriately.” – Ben Holsen, firearms instructor and owner of Kinetic Solutions Training Group
“That is your child; not the school’s, not the state’s. Yours! It’s up to you to educate and prepare them to negotiate life’s hazards.” – Warren Wilson III, owner Defensive Training Services
“[Parents should perform] real-time risk assessment of classrooms, concealment versus cover training, window positions, escape routes, rooms with two doors, the kind of stuff most of us do without thinking about it.” – Mike Hartley, long-time gun owner and Second Amendment activist
“My daughter is 15 now. Besides situational awareness…if she doesn’t feel safe, say in a school lockdown, she can leave. We will deal with the school later. Our police station is less than 1/2 mile from the school, so [I feel] running to the station is a legitimate option. One good thing is most [gun owner] friends’ children know what a gunshot sounds like. I think a lot of children don’t, so they don’t understand if it’s right outside their door.” – Chad Wallace, Firearms Insider
“Like my grandpa always told me, ‘always wear shoes you can run in [and] fight in.'” – Jeff Carroll, retired LE
“Many [parents] don’t think about posting back-to-school pics with their school info out there. I’ve seen many posts and can tell what schools people send their kids to. This could be a recipe for disaster if the wrong person sees it. Stranger danger would know what the student is wearing, what they look like, and can say ‘your mom/dad told me to come pick you up from school today.’ People post a ton of info about their kids online [including] their whereabouts.” – Beth Baca, Board Member 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control
“Parents, teach your kids that while they’re at school, all the rules of who can do and say what to them still apply! No one has the right to hurt them or touch them without their consent.” – John Correia, Active Self Protection
“Advice from a teacher’s perspective: tell your child to drop their stuff! Belongings are not important if there is any kind of crisis. I have seen way too many [kids] waste time trying to gather up stuff before leaving.” – Em Diti, firearms instructor at Armed Citizens Resources
“A child has no defense mechanisms which is exactly why I think a trained adult should be armed to protect innocent kids.” – Ken Whitmore, prior service Marine
“The child has to know they may get in trouble with the school [for taking their safety into their own hands] but they won’t get in trouble with you, the parent.” – Josh Amos, prior service Marine
“Always have a recent pic of your kid – haircut, etc. Put tracking [apps] on their phones. Put a tracker on them [such as] in a book bag. [Tell them] do not pick fights with gangs. And if the time comes to fight for your life, don’t stop, don’t give up, no matter what.” – Jamie Everts, gun owner, retired US Air Force
“Walking to and from school keep at least one earbud out so you can hear what is going on around you.” – Ben Holsen, firearms instructor and owner of Kinetic Solutions Training Group
“We tell our children – [ages] 16, 8, and 5 – to obey the school’s rules, but also to use situational awareness and good judgement. If something wrong, uncomfortable, or terrible happens they should: Avoid. Escape. Defend – in that order, every time! And that might mean they need to run or fight when they’re ‘supposed’ to be quiet or hiding. [Also] our kids know where our designated meetings points [are] should this ever occur.” – Beth Alcazar, Associate Editor at USCCA
“[When advising children to escape/run] make sure the child understands all threats are not INSIDE the building.” – Em Diti, firearms instructor at Armed Citizens Resources
“Don’t go into a place you can’t get out of – cheating to [get out or stay out] is okay.” – Tom Walls, former LE and firearms instructor at Firearms Academy of Seattle
“Keep your hands to yourself. Mind your own business. Don’t tattle unless it’s life-threatening. Don’t spread rumors. Be compassionate for weaker kids. Stand up to bullies.” – Tim Crawford, retired police Sergeant and US Army veteran, gunsmith
“I have something to add I always make sure I teach my kids: I don’t let them say [anything] condescending or mean-spirited. That ultimately is part of the problem. Some people are just flat-out broken and legitimately damaged at birth. Most people, though, lash out because they are taught they are worthless. It all begins with valuing human life and treating people with respect. Kids can be mean. My kids will not be. My children will be taught to stand up for themselves and not to back down when they are right. [Remember] compassion and empathy are not cowardice or weakness.” – Ken Whitmore, prior service Marine
“Let your kid know you love them every day.” – Bobby Gillespie, prior service US Army, 11B
Obviously advice varies by the child’s age and maturity, but one thing remains true: teach your kids to be fighters. Teach them to form a fist and throw a proper punch. Train them to use secondary self-defense tools as they get older. Teach them and tell them how to watch for a magazine change and methods for diverting a gun’s aim or hindering firing if they have no option to run, but are faced with the moment no parent wants to imagine. Teach kids about firearms safety and how to operate different platforms.
Use a safe word for pickup by having children memorize a simple yet unique word all safe adults in their lives will also know and use as a password with your child should they ever need to pick your child up in an emergency situation. Make a plan for a meeting point; make an escape route plan with older kids.
Teach your children to be solution-focused, careful thinkers. Mold them into problem-solvers and leaders rather than mindless followers.
Tell your kids surviving a life-threatening emergency means keeping themselves alive, not going back for their friends. Use the airplane analogy: if the plane is going down you have to put your own oxygen mask on first. You must be alive in order to help others. If this sounds selfish to you, well, we’ll agree to disagree. I want my daughter alive.
Preparation is not paranoia, it’s simply wise awareness and readiness. Paranoia implies unjustified, baseless fears; readiness is a rational way of preparing for incidents that could occur in your child’s life. There is no reason to scare your child. Assess their maturity level as they grow and work with them accordingly. All kids are different but all kids can be taught to fight and survive.
The potential advice is endless. As I sit writing this my daughter is back in high school for her first day back after summer. She’s a sharp kid. She knows that although I am less than two miles away I can’t reach the school fast enough if something happens; she knows LE is miles away, too. But you know what? My daughter is a fighter.
What words of advice would you give parents and kids going back to school? What do you tell your own kids?