While many high school seniors look forward to going away to college—mainly because it’s their first real opportunity to not live under mom and dad’s thumbs—for many parents, the prospects of their naïve-to-the-world children being far from home is enough to trigger a migraine.
Certainly, you can’t be there to protect your college-bound child all of the time, nor do you necessarily want to. But you still want him or her to be safe, especially on their first real jaunt from home. How can you have the best of both worlds?
Talk to Them About Threats
It’s going to be more difficult for your older teen to identify a potential threat if they have no idea what type of threats exist. Fortunately, there’s a law that makes finding this type of information easier than ever when it comes to college campuses.
It’s called the Jeanne Clery Act and, under it, colleges and universities are mandated to report the crime policies and statistics for their individual schools. (On a side note, the website dedicated to this act also provides additional resources for college-level students and parents who are interested in learning more about campus safety, if you feel compelled to check it out.)
Either way, to find the biggest threats for your child’s school, you can either do a search using the school name followed by “crime statistics” or go directly to their website. For instance, the University of Michigan website provides Clery stats for quite a few years. Click on the last one or two filed and you’ll quickly learn the type of threats that happen most often on that campus.
If you’re having trouble locating this info, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that roughly 42 percent of on-campus crimes are burglaries, 31 percent are forcible sex offenses, and 12 percent are motor vehicle thefts. Help your child understand this so they have a better idea what they’re up against.
Teach Them “The Walk”
If you were intent on doing someone harm, which “victim” would be more appealing to you: someone who is walking with their head tall and constantly looking around or someone so lost in their smartphone that you witnessed them almost run into a light pole?
By and large, criminals like easy targets. These are the individuals who appear to be less likely to stop their attack, less likely to fight back, and less able to identify them as they try to get away. One way to look like none of these is to always do “the walk.”
“The walk” is a walk that non-verbally tells the rest of the world that you are confident, secure in your abilities, and willing to protect yourself if need be. What does this type of walk look like?
Imagine that you’ve just been deputized and are heading out for your first patrol. This posture involves keeping your head up, shoulders down and back, and walking with a purpose. Teach your college student to walk this way to and from class, and any time they are out and about.
Reinforce that doing “the walk” also involves not being preoccupied with a mobile device but, rather, being attentive to their surroundings. This means looking passersby in the eye, letting them know that you see them and are able to easily identify them should they decide to make a move.
Help Them Make a Plan
No one is completely immune to becoming a victim of crime. Mass shootings are a stark reminder of this, reinforcing that sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and have to act at a moment’s notice.
The worst time to come up with a plan to deal with these types of events is when they are actively occurring. So, work with your child to come up with a plan should something tragic begin to unfold around them.
A great way to do this is to play “what if?” This involves coming up with a variety of scenarios and asking them what they would do if that situation were to occur. This gets them to think about what they would do in advance, increasing the odds that they would do just that if faced with that particular situation.
After they’ve come up with an answer and you’ve discussed it a bit, switch up the details and present the scenario again. This will help them realize that things won’t always go as planned, while also getting them to come up with a new action plan fairly quickly.
Even though you can’t always be there to guarantee your college student’s safety, doing these three things can at least give them a fighting chance. Which, as any parent knows, is better than no chance at all.