Teaching Teens Self-Defense

Teenagers should know the basics of self-defense in order to be responsible for their own safety. This is especially true if you are sending your teen off to college this Fall. It’s important for teens to understand that self-defense does not mean ‘knowing how to fight.’ Self-defense actually means doing everything possible to avoid fighting someone who bullies, threatens or attacks you. It’s about being smart, trusting your gut, and using your wits. Teach your teen the following self-defense ideas:

Trust your gut.

One way to avoid a potential problem before it happens is to trust your instincts. Teach your teens to be aware of their surroundings and that their intuition can keep them out of trouble. Let your teen know that safety comes first, so if they feel uncomfortable, they should leave or do whatever they can to avoid the current situation. This is not a time to worry about how something looks to someone else or whether they might hurt someone else’s feelings. Explain to your teen that if they are somewhere alone and feel like they are being watched, not to shrug it off – move to an area where there are more people around. If there is a rough-looking group of people at the corner, they should not try to walk past them – take an alternate route. Teens should learn to respond when they feel like something is not right.

De-escalate a bad situation.

De-escalating a situation means speaking or acting in a way that can prevent things from getting worse. In a bullying situation, de-escalation usually means not losing your temper or walking away from a situation. Tell your teen it is smart, not cowardly, to walk away. Sometimes de-escalation means cooperating with an attacker to protect your safety, such as giving a robber your money rather than trying to fight. However, there is a time when cooperating is not a good strategy: if an attacker is trying to abduct you. Let your teen know they should do everything they can – fight, run, scream, etc. – to get away from someone who is trying to take them to a different location.

Use confident body language.

Attackers are looking for vulnerable targets. One of the best ways to avoid bullying or an attack is to project confidence, such as having good posture, walking with a purpose, speaking with a strong voice, and making eye contact with those around them. Slouching or downcast eyes makes someone appear weak and an easy target.

Stay in a group.

Bullies and attackers are less likely to target someone who is with a group of friends. Be sure your teen knows that it is best to go places in groups. For teens headed to college, encourage them to attend parties with a group of friends. They should arrive together, check in with one another frequently throughout the night, and leave together. Tell your teen to avoid going off alone or with someone they just met. If they have to separate from their friends, they should let them know where they are going and who they are with.

Avoid risky situations.

Wherever and whenever you are out walking, be mindful of potential risks. Get to know your surroundings and learn well-lit and public routes to safe places. Avoid shortcuts that take you through isolated areas.

Use your cell phone as a tool. 

Make sure your cell phone is fully charged whenever you leave home, and if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, shoot a quick text to someone you trust. You might consider coming up with a “keyword” with a friend or family member so that they will know if you are in trouble. You should have phone numbers of people you can trust (sibling, parent, neighbor, etc.) to call in an emergency.

Avoid oversharing on social media.

Leaving information about your whereabouts – such as with Facebook’s “check-in” feature – reveals details that are accessible to everyone. Use common sense so that someone can’t track your every move. If you wouldn’t give the information to a stranger, then don’t put it on your online profile.

Take a self-defense class.

Self-defense classes are an outstanding resource. Not only will a good self-defense class teach your teen how to avoid an attack, it will also teach them methods for protecting themselves or getting away from an attack. For instance, there are techniques for blocking a punch that is thrown at them. There are also techniques for how to remove an attacker’s fingers from their wrists and how to get free when being restrained. Additionally, a self-defense class should give your teen a chance to practice those moves.

Check out your local YMCA, police department, community hospital, or community center for classes. If they don’t offer self-defense classes, they will likely be able to tell you who does.

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