By BARBARA ESTEVES-MOORE
With all that is happening in our world today, all parents want is to protect their children.
While some young children are more independent that we would like them to be, teens are a different story. When you have teens, protecting them is difficult because they are out in the world without you much more.
There are some situations you may never be able to protect your teen from, but you can arm them with some skills.
This summer I decided to sign my daughter and myself up for a mother-daughter self-defense course offered by the Franklin Police Department. I recommend it highly.
Sgt. Amy Butler, a member of the Franklin Police Department Domestic Violence Task Force, leads the course along with several other female officers who all work with domestic violence victims and have been faced with many domestic violence incidents. She also works nights, so she’s encountered her fair share of situations that would give a mother like me nightmares. The four-night course begins with one night of traditional classroom instruction but then takes to the mats, teaching participants active defense techniques to use in different scenarios. The final night of the class takes participants through three different scenarios in which they are “attacked” and must fight an attacker or two or three (all of whom are volunteer male police officers).
As a parent, some subjects I find hard to approach and even harder to get my daughter to open up about. I find it hard to have an honest, frank conversation about drugs and alcohol because it always ends up feeling like a lecture during which my teen is just looking at me with squinty eyes and raised eyebrows. It’s not generally a conversation. Sexual assault is another one of those topics that is not exactly easy to start a conversation about with your 16-year-old.
Much to my delight, the first night of the self-defense course tackled both of those issues head on. Sgt. Butler and the other instructors talked to the participants about date-rape drugs, how drinking dulls your senses and response time. They talked about ways in which attackers approach victims and told powerful stories of situations in which girls and women were attacked. They laid down rules for the young girls in the class who are going to college and will find themselves in bars, restaurants and parties. The best part of what was said was that it was not coming from me. It was coming from a police officer, and a female police officer, at that.
Sgt. Butler, who has taught the R.A.D. self-defense curriculum in Franklin for 10 years, said she knows how powerful the mother-daughter class can be because it allows daughters to see their mothers in a different role and it empowers both with knowledge and practical skills. I think it is powerful because it allows daughters to see other women like Sgt. Butler in powerful roles of authority.
“It’s about awareness,” Sgt. Butler said of the class, adding that many people think they are protected and safe in Franklin, but crimes against women do happen in Franklin and everywhere really. “I don’t want (participants) to be afraid, I just want them to be aware.”
The instructors lead the class through a timeline of a fictitious relationship that goes from normal to abusive over a matter of weeks. I found that particular piece of the class rather brilliant because, having been lucky enough to have never been in a violent relationship, I really had no way of explaining any warning signs to my daughter about how a boyfriend might turn into an abuser. But the officers who teach the course work with domestic violence victims regularly and they unfortunately know so much of how these relationships develop slowly and can trap a girl or a woman in a terrible situation.
“We want women and girls to learn about developing boundaries (within relationships) and how to break the cycle of domestic violence,” she said, adding that when a male starts to isolate a female in an abusive relationship, she wants the female to know how to say no.
The bulk of the course, however, was spent learning actual self-defense techniques. This was what my daughter had come for. In fact, when the class started learning kicks – ways in which to kick an attacker in the knee, groin or other areas to break away from a hold – she raised her hand and asked if we would be learning Ninja kicks. We would not, much to her chagrin, learn Ninja kicks. But we learned a lot of other techniques.
Sgt. Butler and the other instructors point out that they teach the techniques not for perfection or even mastery of the moves but they teach them in hopes that if a woman is attacked, something … or even a few things, will come back to her and she will at least have a chance to fight or break away from an attacker.
“It gives us a chance to show you how you can fight,” Sgt. Butler said. “It shows participants that even though they are nervous and frightened, they can still fight.”
I often wonder if I’ll really remember anything they taught us in the course this past summer if I’m in that situation. My daughter, I think, will remember. Just this month in school, she attended a self-defense assembly for all the girls. At dinner, that night, she told me about how the moves the instructor taught her that day were different from the moves she learned in our course over the summer. She said she showed her friends all the ways in which the moves were different and tested out the techniques and their effectiveness. I was shocked, not that she remembered so much, but that I remembered so little.
When I read the news of the 12-year-old girl strangled to death in Goodlettsville recently, the first thing I thought of was the move we were taught that helps you break a strangle hold. I asked my daughter if she remembered it and she immediately demonstrated the move for me.
The Franklin Police Department instructors in the course we took repeatedly told participants they just want to arm them with a chance to escape an attack. So, I’m hoping something will come back to my daughter if she ever needs it.
She still walks around our house jumping into her defensive position pose and yelling, “No!” every so often. During the course, that is one of the major points emphasized: yell “No!” if someone grabs you.
Participants yell it over and over. It is, the instructors say, the first line of defense. Think about it. If you are walking in a parking lot or down the street and you hear someone loudly, aggressively and curtly scream, “No!” it will give you pause. If you’re walking in a parking lot or down the street and you just hear some yelling and screaming you might not know if it is kids playing or people joking around.
Sgt. Butler says learning to yell that “No!” is a key point in the course and in self-defense.
“We are socially programmed not to want to do that,” she said. So, tell your daughters to not be afraid to raise their voices and yell, “No!”
A few weeks after we took the course, I met with Sgt. Butler to ask her a little bit more about the class. I asked her for her top tips for keeping teens safe. They are:
- Know more than one way to get home. This helps if you think you are being followed.
- Make sure teens have enough gas in their car – and a means to fill up if they don’t.
- Kids know who the bad kids are, she said. Tell your teens to stay strong and take the high road when faced with things like drugs, alcohol, etc.
- Get off your cell phone and pay attention to where you are walking and where you are driving.
- Listen to your senses. If you don’t feel like you should be somewhere, leave.
- Leave (a party, a concert, an event) with all the friends you came with – leave no one behind.
The Franklin Police Department offers the self-defense class several times throughout the year, including one coming in February.
Most local universities, including Belmont, Vanderbilt, Lipscomb, Austin Peay, Vol State, and the U.T. system schools offer R.A.D. classes as well.
Barbara Esteves-Moore is a journalist, editor and the owner of Two Roads Communications and an editor for Home Page Media. She has been married for 20 years and is the mother of an active, opinionated and very lively 16-year-old.You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org