As a new member of the Fraternity of Dad-hood, I’ve been acutely aware of how having a child can change one’s mindset about safety. Obviously, it’s no surprise that parents worry, but as adults, we’ve all honed our ability to apply basic operational risk management to our day to day lives: it’s not worth running that red light just because you’re late, make sure the tattoo shop opens new needles for each customer, don’t eat Tide Pods… but somehow the equation becomes a lot more muddled when you add a fifteen pound sack of bones and meat to it. Suddenly, the math just doesn’t add up easily any more.

Then you see a school shooting hit the news, and a whole new menagerie of concerns creep into your mind… sending your kid to school comes with a strange form of threat assessment. If I were the principal security asset responsible for keeping a Colonel safe, I certainly wouldn’t ever leave him alone in a public building with no security on site and no controlled entry procedures, but somehow, with the most precious and defenseless VIP I’ve ever been responsible for… that’s the plan starting only a year or two from now.

This is not, however, an OpEd about placing armed security at our schools or my feelings about gun control. To be honest, I think the solution to our current predicament involves more cooperation and honest media coverage, but in the days following such a tragedy, those sorts of reasonable conversations are a lost cause. I get it – I’m upset too. As we ran through the story of the shooting in the writers room for fellow contributor Danielle Bizier’s coverage, we also spouted off some of our own beliefs in the heat of the moment… and I caught myself saying to some people, “no, I totally agree, but right now I just want to be angry.”

We all are, and progress is a team sport, so for now, I’m only focused on what I can do to help keep my daughter safe.

I got a text late last night asking if I’d be willing to start training another student in self defense. I never saw myself as the kind of guy that’d teach that sort of stuff at all, but when I was approached by a young woman that had been the victim of a terrible crime, I couldn’t, in good conscience, walk away. I agreed to train her on the condition that she not pay me for the effort – in my mind, she could have been my daughter. When she texted me last night about another young woman that suffered the same terrible experience… I starting running the numbers in my head. This isn’t that big a community. What are the chances that my daughter finds herself facing a similar threat in her lifetime?

My anecdotal data set here in Georgia has me concerned.

While all Americans face the same laundry list of perceived threats to their children’s safety, some of us, many of whom either write for or read this very site, have spent a fair portion of our adult lives learning to address or mitigate these very kinds of threats under different circumstances. But that begs an important question: just how much of what do we teach our kids?

Now, I’m no CQB expert, and to be frank, the entirety of my martial arts training has been with two distinct ends in mind: either killing an opponent in combat, or winning a tournament with rules. I’ve devoted very little time in my training to the sort of escalation of force I’d recommend for your local school yard bully. When I train someone to defend themselves, it’s always from a significant threat – it’s appropriate to respond with deadly force against a rapist, but maybe not when it’s just a bigger kid that wants your lunch money.

See, I do intend to train my daughter to defend herself… but it’s important to consider the tools we equip our kids with, lest we find ourselves on the wrong side of a news story about child on child violence. Kids, by their very nature, are immature and prone to emotional responses – and the last thing I want to do is provide my daughter with the means to cause real harm to another child before she’s capable of managing her baser emotions. We all make mistakes when we’re kids, I just don’t want my daughter’s to involve a weapon of opportunity.

But therein lies the predicament. If you happen to be one of those parents that’s spent some time learning to enact violence on others for a good cause, how do you impart those lessons on your children without compromising their innocence, outpacing their maturity, or encouraging them to seek violent solutions to peaceful conflicts?

These questions don’t have right answers for all children. Every kid is different, and so is what they’re capable of absorbing and managing. The important thing (I figure) is to be conscious of questions like these as you go about preparing your kids for the challenges they may face. Make no mistake about it: statistically, your kid probably won’t ever go through a school shooting, an armed robbery, or a rape… America is still a very safe nation to live in for the most part.

But here’s the other side to that statistical argument: however unlikely it is, someones kid is going to go through it… and those statistics aren’t much comfort to the families that lost kids in Florida last week. Training isn’t just about throwing a punch or landing a wrist lock, it’s about situational awareness, maintaining a level head, and understanding that doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

My kid’s going to know how to handle herself, but it’s not enough to know how to swing and when… you’ve got to know why, and until she’s old enough to grasp the complexity of that question, I’ll have to find a way to balance training her to stand up for herself, to take action in a dangerous situation, without robbing her of her childhood or making her into a bully.

But I tell you what, I’ll take a live bully over the alternative any day.

Image courtesy of the author