Kids and Guns:  Some Thoughts on Firearms in the House

The sales flyer came to the house just a few days before Thanksgiving, a mailer from a well-stocked firearms dealer listing the daily special for each day between November 23 and November 30.  The predominant weapon of choice for each day’s special was a pistol and given the spate about mass shootings that culminated in the ISIS attacks in Paris, most of the daily specials were a smaller size that could easily be utilized by someone with a carry/conceal permit.  Lo and behold, the data from the FBI showed that background checks were done at a rate of 2 per second, the highest rate in its history and higher than in the days after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  But even before ISIS hit our radar screens, our society was being hit with an increased rate of random shooter incidents as disgruntled individuals took to theatres, campuses and streets to shoot out their frustration upon the innocent and the public sense of safety diminished accordingly.  Gun control rhetoric has ratcheted upwards – when the NY Daily News photoshops the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre’s face onto the body of an arab terrorist, then rhetoric is officially on a car-lift – and the response of many is to wonder about society’s ability to maintain some sense of order.  If public order is slipping, goes the thought, then perhaps I need to act to protect myself and my family.  It’s a legitimate concern and the reality is that many thinking it have children – and no previous experience with gun ownership. 

So if you’re in this position, what are some of the things that you should consider?  Let me start off by giving a full disclosure:  I have been in this position and am now a gun-owner.  This article won’t go into details about specific steps to take, but it will take a look at some of the broader issues for parents considering firearms in the house.  It’s a daunting prospect given that the there’s real potential for accidental death and injury to children and teens; in 2013, more than 1600 American children died from accidental shootings and more than 9700 were injured.  Let me also state this:  this is also neither an endorsement for or against the decision to bring a firearm into the household.  That is your decision and you are responsible for any consequences that might occur.

Even before you get down to the brass tacks of responsible gun ownership, there are some basic issues to consider.  The first is to think about your own experience with firearms.  In my case, my father was a Korean War veteran who returned home from the war and sold every piece of his hunting, fishing and camping equipment so I not only had no experience with firearms, the household environment was one of absolute avoidance.  I recall him telling me as a teenager that he wanted no weapon in the household because if he ever was in the position of having to pull it on somebody, it would be with the intent of killing that person.  My wife, on the other hand, was raised with a father who worked in the judicial system and was consequently around guns her entire life.  It frankly took years for me to adjust to the concept of having a firearm in the house and it didn’t happen until the kids were older and I was far more comfortable with the notion.

The second issue is to honestly consider your own experience with maintaining self-discipline and whether you keep up with the requirements of anything that you take on.  Are you willing and able to follow-through on a regimen of assuring that the household weapons are not only properly stored, but are even clear of bullets in both the chamber and magazine?  More important than that, if you plan to keep a loaded firearm in the house, how will you secure it so that the kids don’t get hurt?  Almost three quarters of surveyed children under 10 know where their parents keep the weapons and more than a third of those kids admitted to the surveyor that they’d handled them without their parents’ knowledge.  When in elementary school, I lived for a period up the street from a family whose father was an avid hunter.  I vividly recall that I’d visit his sons and the boys – my own age – would pull the rifles and shotgun from the closet and play with them in my presence and without the parents’ knowledge.  Don’t think that the kids won’t know about the guns or won’t find them, because they will.  Even “good” kids are curious and will rummage around closets and even dresser drawers when you aren’t around.

Following on the heels of that is the question of how well your own kids listen to what you say and whether or not they heed it.  It’s an unpleasant question and goes back to the heart of your own ability to maintain discipline amongst the kids in the household.  Two of the keys to successful discipline are whether or not you have a history of both consistency in your discipline and having a reputation amongst your kids of enforcing your discipline, or whether they understand that you won’t follow through on what you say you’ll do.  If you believe that the kids will mind you, then you have to decide on the guidelines for having them in the house and – if you tell them about their existence – what the repercussions are for the kids if they break those rules.  Kids actually do better if they understand the consequences of their actions since it gives them a clear indicator of something’s seriousness.

What precisely is driving the decision to keeping a weapon in the house?  Bad news sells and the media will willingly play up the negative because it jacks up the angst and brings in the dollars.  What is happening with the crime rate in your area?  Do you live in the city or are you in a more remote rural area with a longer police response time?  If you do opt to keep a weapon in the house, then be sure to familiarize yourself with the state and local regulations on guns and home self-defense.  Contact your local law enforcement officials or your state representative, or just Google the damned thing, to see what seminars and classes are being offered locally so that you have an informed base on your legal responsibilities as a gunowner.  It’s highly instructive to hear the local District Attorney discuss the process on what characterizes legitimate acts of self-defense versus something that is legitimately prosecutable as a crime.

Ultimately, if you are going to teach the kids about responsible gun ownership, what are you going to do to teach them?  I would suggest that if you aren’t someone who’s familiar with firearms and are learning now, you find someone who can teach them adequately.  They can learn both a respect for the firearm and household rules from you, but actual hands-on training would probably be better with an experienced individual.  Our own case was that all of us – myself, wife and kids – took individual sessions in gun safety and marksmanship with a man who was a former Marine non-com and combat veteran and taught practical weapons usage; my comments to all of the kids prior to their sessions was that he’s earned the respect and I will make your life unpleasant if you refer to him as anything other than Sir or Mister.  But even after that training, what will you do?  Target shooting has become a requested father/child activity with one of my kids and both of the others have gone on to earn the BSA Rifle Shooting merit badge.  As with anything else, practice and repetition breed comfort and familiarity.  But it’s up to the parent to assure that familiarity doesn’t give way to contempt. 

If you walk through all of the questions and still think that you’re both ready and willing to bring a firearm into the household, then you need to consider both the mental/emotional and physical capabilities and constraints of the kids themselves.  Does your child have the maturity or even the mental capability of allowing a firearm in the house?  Is your child capable of learning how to use what you decide to bring in or is it beyond their physical constraints for his or her age?  If you purchase a weapon that the child is physically unready to handle – whether by grip size or recoil – you had better be damned sure that you’ve secured it.  If you want your child to try a firearm, make absolutely certain that you’ve considered these capabilities.  The incident in which a gun-range instructor was killed by a nine year-old girl firing an Uzi was a stunningly colossal failure in judgment by the girl’s parents as well as the gun range owner and the instructor himself.  As with anything else, take the time to explore the opinions and experiences of others with firearms.  In talking with other fathers about purchasing a rifle, knowing that their own children used them and my own probably would, I found a difference in opinion on the most basic aspect of the rifle:  single-shot or magazine load.  Several fathers believed that starting with the basic single-shot bolt action was important as it forced the inexperienced user to slow down and think about the shot while others had no issue with going directly to the several shot capacity magazine load.

There is no clear across-the-board answer on whether to bring a firearm into the household.  After walking through the issues – those of attitude, safety and practicality – some parents will opt to not take the risks that come with gun ownership while others will decide that they simply cannot accept those risks.  Either answer is correct if you’ve done your full due diligence.  But the common element in either decision is a full review of the factors involved.  That is the ultimate breakdown in responsibility – failing to walk through the different aspects to the final decision. 

The Call

There are moments that freeze your parental heart, brief instants that bring forward all of the fear of what can go wrong and these moments are often affiliated with teens and driving.  Tonight was one of those instances that led to a call from my wife about Middle, who had been involved in a minor collision in a friend’s car just a minute after leaving our home.  She actually came upon the accident scene when she left to join me at Youngest’s baseball game, which was a shock in itself when she recognized the crunched vehicle as the one that had been sitting in our driveway just moments before.  When I answered my phone standing next to Youngest’s dugout, her first words were everyone is alright; while they were meant as an immediate salve for what was to follow, the intellectual understanding was overwhelmed by the emotional recognition of what could have happened instead, what’s happened to thousands of teenagers in automobiles.

When your kids leave the house and start to go into the world, there will be such calls.  They’ll come from teachers and principals, school nurses and coaches, even from your child herself.  They might even come from a policeman on that rare and terrifying occasion.  The point is to understand that the calls will come and the best that you can do is to, as the Old Testament prophet might say, gird your loins for that moment so that you manage it well.  The only way to avoid the prospect of such calls is to keep the kids continually underfoot and dependent and that utterly defeats the job of being a parent, which is to prepare your child to take his or her place in the great wide world. 

And in the great expanse of time between those calls, continue to listen and teach, tell them that you love them and say a silent prayer when they walk out the door. 

Guns and Kids:  AirSoft

If I’m going to raise the kids to know how to use firearms – safely and properly – is there a place for the use of Airsoft toy guns?

For those who aren’t aware, Airsoft is the 21st century equivalent of the old Red Ryder BB gun, a high tech air-powered weapon that shoots plastic pellets and is popular in the newly-rushing testosterone set.  They come in multiple variants that resemble real weapons, albeit with bright red endpieces so that the average joe isn’t stunned by their presence, and shoot round plastic pellets that leave a nasty mark.  I’ve heard parents tell the kids that they shouldn’t be shooting at one another when they’re outside with them but that’s as effective as telling the family dog to shut up when another dog trots by.  The result is that the kids engage in mock warfare and it’s not uncommon for at least one of them to return with multiple welts from pellet impacts.  This honestly any different from when my generation played with BB guns and I can recall multiple instances of my friends and I blithely disregarding the parental warnings and playing war games.  But have times changed sufficiently so that it really is an issue?

My own sense – and the house rule – is that an Airsoft device won’t be purchased for the kids to use for two reasons.  The first is the simple issue of safety; when the kids know that they can play “safe” war games and still have the adrenaline rush of stinging the other guy, then they’ll likely use the Airsoft gun for human/animal target practice.  The second reason is that it blurs and lessens the sense of responsibility that should extend to guns and other weapons.  If a kid has access to, and use of, an Airsoft gun, then he’ll likely begin to think that he’s an expert in the use of real guns should he have access to them.  When my wife and I had the opportunity to speak with a pistol instructor – a former Marine sergeant and Blackwater contractor – this was his sense as well.  In his world, a gun is something that deserves the utmost respect for it’s capacity to kill, even if it’s owned for reasons of personal defense or even hobby.  There are safety rules that must be strictly followed because any lapse in their usage can result in a potentially fatal accident and in his view, kids who are used to the forgiving nature of Airsoft are likely to treat the real gun with a lessened respect that increases the possibility of incident.  Gun ownership requires a higher order of responsibility and discipline for the recognition of the destructive capacity of the gun, as well as an inherent understanding that no one is invulnerable and all are subject to injury and in the worst case, death.  But the simple reality is that most children and teens have no experience with death and believe themselves to be invulnerable and the notion that their actions could go awry hasn’t occurred to them.

The upshot – if you’ll pardon the pun – is that we’ve opted to forego Airsoft guns.  We will make sure that the kids learn how to handle guns properly and with strict supervision, but anything that blurs the line of adherence to the safe handling of firearms will be disallowed in the household.  If there’s an Airsoft gun to be used, it will have to be used elsewhere.

PracticalDad:  Staying for the Practice?

You’re pressed for time and the kid has a sports practice.  That’s at least an hour or more that you can use to run an errand or go home and clean up the kitchen, assuming that the practice is nearby.  Do you stay for the practice or do you leave the kid there and get the other stuff done?  What could go wrong?  That’s the question that I asked myself tonight and about a minute before I was going to leave to handle another item, Youngest caught a pitched baseball in his windpipe, providing me with about five solid seconds of pure terror as he struggled to regain his breath.  After a few minutes of gasping and gagging, he was able to return to the catcher’s position and finished the practice there and upon returning home, Mom the physician administered ibuprofen to control any swelling and had him on the sofa with ice on his throat for a full half-hour.

What could go wrong?

We want our kids to try different things and find something that they love, something that helps them to thrive and grow.  If the activity is a sport, then we outfit them with the necessary gear and haul them to the practices and games; we cheer for them or coach them, all the while understanding that a sport has some inherent risk of injury.  For many sports, it’s likely to involve bruises from incidental contact or some muscle injury and that’s simply a part of life.  Our household has witnessed balls to the face, significant bruising and more than one trip to the orthopedist for serious sprains and torn knee cartilage.  These however, are injuries that aren’t potentially life-threatening and when the kids are older at least, can be handled by the coach.  My choice – backed by my history – is to stay for the practices whenever possible and I’ll work the schedule accordingly to make it happen.  This night was one of the few that I figured would be okay to be gone.  So what have I considered and learned since the throat incident?

  • What’s the level of play for the sport in question and how old are the kids?  At the rec league level, the coaches are all volunteers whose own kids are involved in the sport.  While coaches, they have a parent’s perspective but are responsible for the entire group in addition to their own.  A child who’s suffered an injury is usually different from a teenager since there’s likely to be a strong emotional overlay caused by fear and that can fully engage an adult’s attention.  Toss in a serious injury and the rest of the kids on the team are liable to require greater attention as well and you can say goodbye to any actual practice.  If you’re at a scholastic level, then the kids are under the care of the school, which has protocols for injury.  At the scholastic level, the practices will be likely held at a time where you’re still at work.  Additionally, the kids are old enough that there’s sufficient maturity and experience to carry them through the initial situation without your presence.
  • What are the precise equipment needs?  After two years of request, we permitted the grandparents to purchase catcher’s equipment for Youngest and that equipment came in a single set.  I failed first in not knowing specifically what baseball catchers required for safety and secondly, in assuming that the set included everything necessary for the youngster.  At a certain level of play, boys do require a cup and athletic supporter but I didn’t realize that there was a throat guard for baseball catchers. 
  • Do I actually have my cell phone in the event that I have to leave and something goes wrong?  If I have to leave one of my kids at a practice and in the care of the coach, it’s my responsibility to at least be accessible.
  • Do my kids actually know any of the other parents there?  It’ll be easier for the hurt child if at least there’s another adult face that they know apart from the coach.

Tonight’s incident was a dodged bullet, and the bullet was a potential hollow-point for what might have happened.  The throat guard’s purchase will be an immediate fix, but I’ll think even harder next time I’m in the position of having to decide whether to miss a practice.



What to do?  Managing Panhandlers

Tonight was an evening spent with Youngest at Disney’s John Carter on Mars, one of the rare exceptions that I bent the rule on taking a child to a PG-13 movie before their 13th birthday.  The action and special effects were excellent, but we spent some time sitting in the seats afterwards as I explained some of the background for the thousand year conflict in which the hero suddenly found himself.  When we left the theatre at 10:30 and entered the parking lot, I found myself, and Youngest, alone and being stopped by a panhandler with a sad tale of woe and in search of bus fare.  What to do?  What do you do in one of those distinctly unpleasant situations when you’re with your child?

As he approached, I stopped and he at least had the common sense to stop several feet away and not close any further.  He immediately went into his story about being stranded and in need of bus fare to somehow make it home to another county, despite being more than three miles from our local bus station.  As he plunged onwards into the story, I stood between him and Youngest and simply told Youngest to immediately go back into the lobby to wait for me.  The boy, who recognized that something was wildly amiss, complied without question and I heard him walk back.  

The panhandler was probably in his early twenties, with a closely shorn head and a poor growth of beard upon his chin and cheeks.  He was dressed in a loose camo jacket and a baseball cap worn askew on his head.  He had a sunken, haggard appearance and as the old expression goes, looked like he’d been ridden hard and put away wet.  My frank opinion was that he was a junkie looking for his next hit.  Before he could get further along, I simply pulled out my wallet and removed $6 with the comment that that was all that I could spare.  He took the money and thanked me, then actually removed his own driver’s license to show that he was legitimate; I have no idea as to whether it was a real or fake ID and frankly couldn’t have cared less at that moment.  He muttered about the embarrassment of his situation, then turned and walked off.  After seeing him move off into the next row of cars, I turned and returned to the theatre where Youngest was waiting for me in the lobby.

I asked him if he understood what had just happened and he admitted that he wasn’t clear, so I explained.  We spoke briefly, then at further length in the car, about panhandling and the fact that many of these stories weren’t true, but intended to elicit sympathy.  In the ideal world, we recognize it for what it is and decline, politely at first and more forcefully if necessary.  But in the ideal world, you aren’t accompanied by a child and this guy was smart enough to understand that his success rate rose in the presence of a child. 

When we got home, he did what kids do and immediately launched into the story to his mother.  We talked about the situation and I have to agree with her that my acquiescence in forking over a few bucks has reinforced his belief that panhandling parents is more profitable than other targets.  Likewise, she acknowledged that I had a good point in handling as I did.  Ultimately, Youngest stayed safe and the guy took off as soon as he got some cash.  I might even have handled it differently had Middle or Eldest been along instead of Youngest, provided that he’d even had the nerve to approach two or more full-sized people.

There’s a preferred way to handle unpleasant situations like panhandling, and giving over a few bucks isn’t preferred.  But having to contend with it while worried about your child’s safety often means that the optimal case isn’t practical in the moment.  Time and locale matter and the middle of a crowded city street is different than a darkened late evening parking lot.  The best that I could do – as I quickly considered it – was to simply move Youngest out as quickly as possible and avoid any reason for a potential conflict.  Yes, I’m frankly embarrassed but Youngest is now safely tucked into bed and tomorrow, when we’re both fresh, we’ll touch base about it again to learn what can be learned.



Comments on Becoming an Adult Male Volunteer

The past four decades have been an almost perfect storm for the adult male role model.

Divorce has wreaked havoc upon the American father as families were broken and in many cases, the father was significantly – if not altogether – removed.  Simultaneously, two organizations that could provide alternative solid male role models – the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church – were beset by problems with pedophiles who preyed upon the now at-risk children.  Within the span of about two decades, the sense of trust that had previously permeated middle-class America was shattered as male positions that had been respected were viewed with derision and mistrust.

In the ensuing years, litigation has been filed and settled and perpetrators have been locked away.  The Scouts especially have taken child safety to heart and instituted criminal background checks of all volunteers with direct child/youth access, coupled with a serious effort to assure that the outrages of the 1960s and 1970s don’t reoccur.  Although I’m not Catholic, my understanding is that there have been measures taken by the Church as well.  Despite efforts to both improve the recruitment and training of volunteers, we now have the allegations about Jerry Sandusky to throw a dent into efforts.  Apart from the entire Penn State administrative debacle, there are concerns and allegations that Sandusky used the The Second Mile Foundation, founded to help at-risk youth, as a personal game preserve during his involvement there.  The effect will be an even greater effort to prevent these situations from recurring and, perhaps, another big hit on the adult male role model as childless men who are willing to volunteer steer clear for fear of automatic suspicion.  If this occurs, then about the only group of men who aren’t under automatic suspicion will be those of us with skin in the game, our kids.

Children want and need men, and the positive models that they provide, in their lives.  Likewise, the activities that benefit our kids don’t run themselves and need our involvement to function and thrive. 

So if you’re thinking of becoming a volunteer, what are some points to consider?

  • Does the organization have any requirements or guidelines on child safety?  Most established organizations, such as the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts and Big Brothers/Sisters, have established criteria for volunteering and guidelines for interactions with the kids.  While I personally dislike having to submit to a criminal background check, it’s simply the cost of doing business in today’s society and ultimately serves to help protect both me and the kids.  I’d frankly feel less inclined to volunteer with any group that didn’t have a vetting process and safety guidelines for fear of setting myself at risk.
  • Are there other volunteers or are you carrying the load?  Apart from the sheer equity of having others pitch in, are you going to be the only person who’s actually dealing with the kids?  More than a few parents will dump their kids and run and if you’re the only adult present, then you are at risk for any sort of allegations.  The true heart of a child-safety policy is the idea of "two-deep" leadership, meaning that there’s simply another adult present, and I’ve been fortunate to have parents and co-leaders who’ve been willing to stay behind with me and other kids whose parents are late to pick them up.  I’ve actually cancelled meetings when the two-deep rule has fallen through.
  • Are you prepared to control your speech?  I’ve been described as "earthy" in my speech and I’ve had to make a conscious effort to monitor and control it.  Like the language, I’ve had to learn to monitor the content.  If you tend to run at the mouth or aren’t willing to exercise restraint, then you need to find another outlet.
  • Are you prepared to control your physical conduct and mannerisms?  Some men are naturally more affectionate than others or more physical in their displays of emotions.  If you’re affectionate with your kids, understand that you have to curtail yourself with other children and especially in today’s environment.  It’s fine to hug an upset child in the presence of other adults,  but you have to be conscious of physically displaying affection with other people’s kids lest things be misconstrued.
  • Are you aware enough to sense when a conversation or situation is about to go out of control?  Do you think that you can manage to handle it if does?  Couple spontaneity with poor self-control you’ve got the makings of a decent trainwreck.  Can you sense when things are about to go wrong and can you also sense when to bring it to the attention of the parents?  On more than one occasion, I’ve had to being situations under control and since it might involve a raised voice, I’ve let the parents know what occurred and what was said.  It lets the parents know up front so that they can address things, and gets the facts out instead of the typically garbled walk-about story that kids and teens provide. 
  • Are you better with different age groups or different genders?  Not all age groups are created equal and you need to consider the age level of the kids within that group.  Likewise, do you relate better to girls or to boys?  Except for coaching a sport, there are more opportunities for men to interact with boys and male teens than for girls.  The Girl Scouts have strict criteria for the interaction of men and girls and even if you do well with those criteria, will the other parents be comfortable with a male Girl Scout leader?  I was asked years ago to lead my daughter’s troop and when I discussed it with some female acquaintances, their comment was that they’d be comfortable with me as their daughters’ leader, but they’d be very wary of a man that they didn’t know.  I declined to participate and found some involvement with my daughter via soccer and basketball.

The need is there and even with the increasing attention, the rewards outweigh the cost.  But before you decide to throw your hat into the ring, take some time to consider these points so that your decision is the best for you, the kids and the organizations.


Lessons from the Sandusky Allegations

One of my primary jobs as a father to teach my kids, especially about what goes on in the outside world.  It’s often fun but can be occasionally unnerving, especially when it pertains to protecting your children from sexual predators; you don’t want to ruin their innocence nor do you want to teach that each stranger is a danger.  Teaching about the prospect of sexual molestation is something that we’ve done, with age appropriate language, since the kids were in preschool but the questions have arisen again since the onset of the Sandusky allegations out of Penn State.  Understand that if the kids aren’t overtly listening to the news, something of this nature seeps over into their conversations with their own peers via over sources.

What surprised me from my own children was a question raised by Youngest, who looked at me one evening and asked, why didn’t any of these kids ever say anything?  My response was that there were probably multiple reasons:

  • A sense of powerlessness, as these were boys from predominantly broken homes while the adult in question was a widely respected member of the community with many accomplishments and in their minds, who would believe them?
  • A sense, perhaps fostered by coming from a home in which there was minimal presence of a father, that they were unworthy of unconditional love and would have to somehow earn that love and attention from a man.
  • Fear of what might happen to them if they did say anything.
  • Shame that they somehow contributed to what occurred to them and that discovery might damage whatever love they already did receive, principally from their mothers.

These would lead to some of the points that can be covered as you talk with your kids.

  1. You’ll certainly ask many questions if this kind of situation is brought forward, but asking for information doesn’t mean automatic disbelief; they simply mean that you’re searching for more information in order to help you help them.
  2. You love them simply because they’re your children and that your love is unconditional, never depending on their actions or attitudes.
  3. Reassure them that if they do find themselves being threatened in such a situation, you can and will protect them.  This is something that a strong father can do better than most mothers.

Another lesson to take away is finding out about the organization itself and whether it has guidelines on adult volunteer/child-teen interactions.  If there are, are there repeated circumstances in which an adult volunteer is violating the guidelines?  I’ve been an active cub scout leader for almost a decade and there are stringent child safety criteria in place; these include requirements for all badges that parents review the scout manual child safety booklet with their children, a criminal background check and use of the "two deep" rule in which no scout leader can have private one-on-one interactions with any child.  In the past years, I have actually cancelled meetings when I’ve found that no other adult could be present.  The point is that once you’re aware of the criteria, you can keep a better eye on the circumstances in which your child is involved.

A final lesson is this.  While having a father present doesn’t mean that your child won’t be molested, the reality is that predators actively search for and target children from broken or strained families.  Children, whether very young or teens, want and need your love and support and if they perceive that it’s not there, will seek it out and it’s this search that can bring them into the sights of predators.

For further information on signs/symptoms of child molestation:, (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

For further information about speaking with your child abour molestation: (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network),

PracticalDad:  Permitting Self-Defense

Is there a point at which it’s morally correct to permit a child to take off the gloves in dealing with a bully?

The local school district teaches my children that violence isn’t the answer and that it’s wrong.  I agree with that and teach it as well.  But the school teaches that it’s so wrong, in fact, that anyone found participating in violence will be dealt with summarily and harshly.  This includes the child who didn’t start the altercation, has a back against the wall and is forced to throw a punch in self-defense.  Middle once asked the elementary school guidance counselor, what if I’m against the wall and being beaten?  Can I defend myself?  The counselor’s response was no, yell for an adult to come help.  Well, he continued, what if there’s no adult around?  The response was the same:  yell for an adult to come help.  Here is where we part ways since there are moments when the adults aren’t immediately available and if they are, they might not be effective in dealing with the issue. So while I fully agree with the district that violence must be addressed, and forcefully, is there ever an instance when violent self-defense is actually acceptable?

First, how can I say that adult aides might not be present or effective?  There are certainly playground aides charged with maintaining the peace, but we’ve got first hand experience with playground aides simply saying stop that and then turning away as the mayhem continues.  To be fair, this wasn’t in this school district but at a Christian school at which playground aides would tell out-of-control boys to stop doing something and then pray for the budding axe murderers as the pain-inducing behavior continued.  The disorder led to my conversation with the principal and my wife’s discussion with the teacher – whose son was one of the bullies – when some order when finally restored.

The adults prayed as one of my kids was victimized, so yes, I can attest that adults might not be effective.  Even in this district, there are children whose recurrent behavior is violent and disruptive, apparently resistant to school discipline.

Violence should be roundly condemned, but again, is there ever an instance in which it is acceptable?

It’s not an academic question for the household, especially with Youngest, whose class attracts Hell’s spawn like honey draws flies.  Every classroom has problem children with whom teachers and children alike have to contend, but Youngest has already had to learn to deal with a child who hired an older boy to beat him up and that was in first grade.  To his credit, he managed the immediate situation better at seven years of age better than many adults would have in similar circumstances.  But this year, a true troublemaker not only came to Youngest’s class, he also moved into a nearby abode so that at midyear, he was not only at school, but wandering through the neighborhood and annoying all of the kids.  The child – a third grader – would simply stay at someone’s house and refuse to leave and one set of parents simply let him spend the night since he refused to go home.  They were scared to deal with him and simply let him stay.  Why this didn’t become a situation for social services is beyond me. 

His school record was even worse and Youngest had to testify to the school administration when he heard the child make threats against other classmates, some of those threats being sexually aggressive.  He routinely threatened other children and even grabbed Youngest and threw him into lockers, threatening to punch him out.  At this point, Youngest’s response was simply go ahead and punch me.  Youngest is significantly larger than the child and the kid pulled back; Youngest had no real further problems with him after that, so much so that the child began showing up after school in our driveway to shoot basketball. 

It was clear that any parental oversight was minimal and we knew from another situation that he’d been locked out of his apartment with literally nowhere to go.  The family line became that he could shoot hoops with Youngest if either myself or Middle – a middle schooler – was present but that he couldn’t enter the house and had to adhere to family rules, such as controlling the language and it was here that he was warned off on several occasions by both Middle and myself.  After more language issues, he was warned off and I told him one night that he finally had to go.  Youngest made it clear as well that he was no longer welcome at the house and the basketball sessions ended and the most that we saw of the child was when he’d cut through the yard to go elsewhere in the neighborhood.  Since then, he’ll try to chat with Middle but cusses out Youngest and insults both him and our family and he sees no conflict in this contrariness. 

Yell for an adult.  While I’m generally around, Youngest is now old enough that I’m comfortable leaving him for a short period to run to the grocery and it was during one of these instances that he came around the back of the house to find the bully hiding in a corner of the garage behind the sports/toy rack, which he’d been rifling.  Youngest told him to leave and he did so immediately.  When describing the situation to me upon my return, Youngest stated simply that if it happened again, he’d punch him out.  My response was a simple, curt you won’t have any problem with me on that.  Since then however, we’ve made it a point to keep the garage door closed if we’re not outside and the kid has simply walked past the house.

I am bothered by the response however.  I believe that the school’s zero tolerance is understandable, but that it ultimately breeds victims, people who spend their time searching for someone else to handle the bullies that come through.  We have the right to defend ourselves and our property and the reality is that "adults" aren’t always going to be around.  The alternative however, is that this kid truly is a budding sociopath for whom there are no qualms about escalating violence with a peer and this is where I’ve gone back to Youngest.  Should it happen again, then call for me first and let me handle the issue.  Even if the kid takes off, I have no qualms about confronting parents and have done so before; I’ll be the "bad guy" here.  But if I’m not around, then he’s clear to do what he thinks is necessary at the moment and I’ll support him, even if that means that he’s throwing a punch. 

If it ever comes to that, I guarantee that Youngest will be painted as the villain.  I also guarantee that I’ll support my son to the hilt when it comes to this particular problem child.



Sexist PracticalDad:  Different Safety Rules for Different Genders?

I was taken aback the other day when Eldest complained that I was a sexist.  HUH?  You’re complaining to a guy who’s bent gender issues in all manner of shapes and angles.  Her comment was prompted by a safety situation that occurred the previous evening in which she believed that she’d been wronged.

We live in a small suburban community in an agricultural area and there’s no crime the likes of which you read about in the larger communities.  I was preoccupied when she said that she’d be taking a jog and didn’t notice that it was already dark in the early evening.  She’s an athletic, strong teen who likes to jog on non-sport practice days to keep in shape.  Within ten minutes, Middle asked if he could also take a jog and I permitted it, again not noticing that it was dark outside – bad on me.  Middle is a few years younger but already taller than his elder sibling and immeasurably stronger due to consistent exercise through the years; this is a kid who announced in the kitchen at the age of six that he wanted a six-pack and had one by the age of eleven. 

He returned a few minutes after his sister and caught us in the midst of discussion because I’d since realized that it was actually dark outside.  My stance was that while I appreciated that she wanted to stay in shape, I no longer would permit her to run after dark unless she ran with another person; otherwise, she’d only be running alone when there was still daylight.  We disagreed but she respected my reasoning that running alone after dark was simply inviting problems.  While she was still in the room, Middle asked whether the same rule applied to him and after looking at the kid, I stated that yes, he could continue to run alone after dark, but only in the early evening.  My thinking was that he was strong enough and fast enough to avoid any problems.  

It was at lunch the next day that the previous evening’s conversation came up and Eldest asked why the rule applied only to her instead of him.  Again, she’s female and the reality is that it’s likelier that lone females are prey to attackers than lone males.  Predatory males are cueing on lone females instead of lone males and such predators are typically armed in some manner.  Additionally, her younger brother was still younger and stronger than she was.  It was  here that she called me a sexist and truly pulled me up short. 

I stewed on the comment through the remainder of lunch and afterwards pulled both elder kids aside.  Here’s the deal then.  You might consider this rule sexist, but you’ll still only run at night with a buddy.  However, bad things can also happen to a lone male so that your brother will be bound by the same rule; he’s not a full-grown adult and the prospect for problems exists as well.  If you want to run at night, then you’ll have to run together.  I believe that I’m correct in not permitting Eldest to run alone after dark.  But I was wrong to think that Middle’s gender would be fool-proof protection against attack or mugging.  Congratulations, you’re right.  And you’re also wrong.

Kids often live in a world that’s devoid of external dangers, at least that’s for kids living in low-crime or rural areas.  Safety consciousness is a learned skill and it will take much continued talk and effort to get the kids to think about the threats of the outside.  Threats that are larger than a father that you find quaintly overprotective.

Staying Near the Sick Kid

You’ve got a full slate of things to do and many of them are outside when one of the kids suddenly becomes ill.  He lies down in bed, but do you still go outside to work in the yard?

That’s the situation facing me now and frankly, I’ll chuck the outside work and leave it go until later.  Yes, there’s always the baby monitor if the child is smaller and God knows that I used it.  But when the child is sick – even if only sleeping – I’d rather forego the monitor and just stay close.  Kids will come to physically need you less and less as they age, and this sick one is a young teen, but there’s still the child’s sense of knowing that he’s not alone.  Additionally, if there’s nausea and vomiting involved, I believe that kids do feel better knowing that someone’s there to help.  And in the worst case scenario, I’m nearby in the event of a real emergency and can respond immediately.  The other aspect is my own peace of mind knowing that I wasn’t unattentive in the event of trouble.

So instead, I’ll take some moments to write and put off the outdoor work until later.