When friends are strangers

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Let’s assume, for the moment, that you have a perfect teenager. He or she is always polite, gets schoolwork in on time, excels in extracurricular activities, has above-average SAT scores, and has never been in trouble at school — or anywhere else, for that matter.

This is a kid you can trust, and who has never betrayed that trust. You can rely on him or her to always do not just what you ask, but what is right. Congratulations!

But…what about their friends?

Their friends might not be friendly

A mom in Arlington, Tennessee — a suburb of Memphis — learned the hard way about trusting her son’s friends. Her son had a friend over for the night, and at some point the guest made his way into mom’s bedroom and tried to rape her.

She managed to drive him off at gunpoint.

(Let’s get a few things out of the way before we go further: first, if she had to remove all the alcohol in the house prior to her son’s friend staying over, that’s probably a sign that she had serious issues with her own kid to begin with, and some lingering doubts about his friend. Second, not calling the police immediately, especially after a firearm is involved — whether it’s fired or not — is a really good way to get on the receiving end of an assault with a deadly weapon charge. Neither of this woman’s failings affects the lesson, however.)

She actually got lucky. I’ve read more than one story where kid’s friends have persuaded them to kill their parents to get money, guns, or vehicles. This story could have turned out much worse, as it too often does.

The stranger you know

We often talk about the danger of letting unverified repair people, carpenters, roofers, and assorted other tradespeople into your home. Most people are rightly cautious about doing so.

But what about the people, like the kid in this story, who you simply assume to be as trustworthy as your kids are? How well do you really know your child’s friends; are you on a first-name basis with their parents? Do you know what their home life is like? Do you even have any idea if they have a juvenile record?

When I grew up, these things were easy. I lived in a small town in a time where everyone knew everyone else, and word of the “bad seeds” got around quickly. There were people I wasn’t supposed to associate with, and it was made clear that certain people were never to be brought home.

Today, with constantly changing neighbors and the near disappearance of close-knit communities, those kinds of assurances are few and far between. Yes, you can find little oases here and there where that kind of community cohesiveness still exists, but in most places today it’s little more than a quaint memory. There is no sign this will change anytime soon.

Kids lie. Get over it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that your kids, or their friends, are inherently bad. Then again, most school attackers had parents who were convinced their children were angels. It happens.

Even the best kids keep secrets from their parents, and sometimes it’s who they’re hanging around with at school. You never know what problems your kid might be bringing home; even if you know who their parents are, their kids may be keeping secrets from them. You can be certain that the kids themselves, however, know everything — and have agreed, even if tacitly, not to tell the grown-ups.

Start, of course, by knowing your own child. What’s going on in their lives? Who are they texting, SnapChatting, and interacting with on the latest obscure social networking app? Do you really know what they’re doing on their phones — and do they have unrestricted access, 24/7?

If they want to bring friends over, find out not only who they are but who their parents are. If you don’t know them, find a reason to introduce yourself — in person, not in an email. What’s their home life like?  Talk to your kid’s teachers; they often have a good idea who’s doing what (and with whom).

Let your intuition be your guide. If, like this woman, you feel compelled to hide all the liquor when your child has friends over, that’s probably a good sign that a) you’re not supervising their activities sufficiently, and b) someone has a problem that’s not being addressed. If such a problem exists in your household, it’s not a suitable environment for someone else’s child!

If you feel a gut-level aversion to the kid who just walked in your door, there’s no reason you should feel compelled to allow them to stay. Work out a plausible excuse ahead of time for ejecting anyone from your home, and don’t let social pressure (or fear of your child’s disappointment) force you to go against what you know to be the correct path.

Don’t let society live your life

Finally, think ahead of time about how you’d handle a self defense situation against someone society will perceive as “not dangerous”. Could you shoot your child’s friend? Are you prepared for that possibility, and for the fallout that would occur?

Social conditioning has led us to conclude that a child — anyone under 18 — isn’t really a threat, no matter how big or strong or vicious they may be. (That same social conditioning makes us believe that women are less dangerous than men, and a combination — the teenage girl — can’t possibly be perceived to be any danger.)

Not only would you be facing societal disapproval for defending yourself from a teenager (which is likely a factor in why the woman didn’t immediately report the incident to the police), you may not believe it necessary yourself. Denial in the face of an attack is a very real phenomenon, which is why young and female criminals are often successful.

Our tendency is to rationalize everything, and because of that to believe that what’s happening isn’t really happening to us. When confronted by a person society sees as a lesser threat, it’s easy to think that they wouldn’t really hurt us. In the face of an actual attack, it’s not unusual for the victim to conclude that it’s not really happening. Both of these may delay or even forestall a defensive response.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t defend yourself from an adolescent because of what society will think. Of course you should protect yourself from any physical attack, with a response proportionate to the danger faced. I am, however, saying that you need to think about these things ahead of time and visualize how you’d respond. When you do, you’re likely to conclude that prevention is by far the best course of action. Even if your kid gets mad at you for doing so.

Understand that attackers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. Don’t let your guard down just because someone you think your know (your child) vouches for someone else. Remember: knowing the person vicariously doesn’t magically make them safe.

– Grant Cunningham

P.S.: The reviews for my latest book, Protecting Your Homestead: Using a rifle to defend life on your property, continue to come in. Rich Grassi, editor of The Tactical Wire, recently read it and had good things to say. If you have a rifle to protect your family, this is a book that you should have on your shelf — or tablet, because it’s available in both paperback and electronic versions!

Photo by skimpton007 on pixabay.com

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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