Street smart is a skill learnt generations ago but can we pass it on to our children
My parents would always tell us tales of their upbringing in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. They could walk the streets of various suburbs to visit family and friends during the day and late at night. Back then they were raised to be street smart children. They knew everyone and no matter where they were, knew their way back home.
The eldest siblings had to go work from an early age as times were tough. They faced so many challenges growing up. They were thrown into the deep end, had to fend for themselves and figure out ways of getting out of trouble. My parents knew how to suss someone out by the way they looked. Whether they were a con artists or trouble makers.
Growing up, my parents didn’t allow us to roam the streets late at night. But they allowed us to walk the streets with our friends during the day without them being present. Walking to and back from school unaccompanied. We could venture into different suburbs and make use of public transport. Whether it would be going to the beach, sport tournaments, hiking or just going out for the day.
They warned us which areas to stay away from, to pay attention to our surroundings and not to talk to strangers. We had to use our common sense in situations. Our parents emphasised to engage our rational mind and to act on our instincts when something didn’t feel right.
Although we grew up in a different era to our parents, they passed these very important skills down to us in becoming street smart. But it was up to us to use these skills. Looking back our parents risked a great deal by allowing so much independence. But back then it was much safer than it is today.
Is it possible to teach our children how to be street smart?
My daughters are the born free generation. Born during a time in South Africa where they have the freedom to accomplish so much. They are fortunate to be born during a time where there are no restricted areas based on your race. They have freedom of speech and so many rights.
I’m faced with the fact that my own daughters are born free but not street smart. It is so sad that they are growing up in a time where we can’t allow them to roam the streets on their own during the day. Allowing our children to do things our parents allowed us to do back then is something we can’t even imagine. We can’t simply allow them to walk down to the park and play on their own. Considering that this beautiful country of ours has become so dangerous. Children are being abducted, murdered and harmed almost every minute of the day. So are they really born free?
As parents, we want our children to be street smart but how can they be if they don’t have the freedom that we had of playing or walking in the street.
Can we really teach them to be street smart if they not allowed to even step outside the gates without a parent being present? In my opinion, we simply can’t. Street smart is a skill. It is something you need to experience for yourself without being supervised. You learn it coupled with other basic skills. The more you allowed to walk the streets alone and become aware of your surroundings, the better you will get at acquiring the skill. A skill that you can use when placed in a difficult situation.
Although we don’t shelter our daughters from what is happening in the world; we are overprotective and won’t just let them go wander around on the street. And rightfully so we need to be overprotective as it is way too dangerous out there. How I wish we were still living in a time where it was safe and we could practice free range parenting.
But unfortunately we are not.
Does it mean that when children roam the streets, they are street smart? Once again in my opinion, not in all cases. They might be roaming the streets with friends but they might not have situational awareness. Do they take cognisance of the environment they are in, can they use their judgement and most importantly get them out of a dangerous situation?
How do we teach them to protect themselves when in danger when they are not really street smart?
Ways to equip your child with basic skills when you not around
We tell our children not to talk to strangers but is that enough. Define to them what a stranger is. It is important that they need to know that even though the stranger knows their name, they still shouldn’t go to them. Strangers are not always scary looking, sloppy or mean. Teach them that strangers who are good looking, friendly and well dressed can also harm them.
Make them aware to identify physical characteristics of a stranger like facial features, the colour of their eyes, a scar in the face, body built, even a smell. This will help them identify or describe the stranger. Indicate to them that if a stranger is persistent and continues to call them that they should make a lot of noise, shout and scream to attract attention.
Indicate to them that not only strangers can harm them but also people known to them. It is important that they need to know that if someone that they know calls them or asks them to go with them; that they first need to come ask permission.
Teach them how to use a landline telephone and your cellphone. When calls need to be made, allow them to dial the numbers. They need to memorise the important numbers.
They need to know their address. Have the ability to find their way home by giving directions when outside of the suburb they live in. It is imperative that they observe the different routes when they sit at the back of the car and how to get home. Plan trips using public transport so that they know how this mode of transport work and how to navigate their way back home.
Teach them not to be easily distracted. They need to be aware of their surroundings. Walk with them through the neighbourhood and greet neighbours.
Emphasise to them that if they see something look suspicious, out of the norm and not as it should be, and it makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they need to trust their gut and act on it.
It is important that they learn not open doors to strangers even if you are at home. They should call an adult to be present when they do open the door.
Make them understand that when answering the telephone, they should never tell strangers that they are alone at home even if you just stepped out to go to the shop across the road.
Teach them how to use the house alarm. Show them where the panic buttons are located. Emphasise to them not to share these codes with strangers.
Teach them about different makes and models of cars. Show them the different badges and also to look at number plates. This will help them to give a description of the car of the perpetrator. Although they won’t be able to memorise the long number, they might remember parts of it or a personalised number plate.
Visit the local police station in your area so that they know where it is situated.
Teach them about traffic signals and how to cross a road.
Establish trust between you and your child so that they can feel comfortable in talking to you if something happened to them.
Teach them about the power of saying “NO”. If someone asks them to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable or that is inappropriate that they need to say “NO”. Even if the request is from a family member, friend or someone in a powerful position.
If your child is the target of a bully, encourage him/her to report it. Discourage challenging the bully.
Make them understand the dangers of wandering off alone when they are at an event or party and to stay with a group.
If they are in a shopping mall, once again emphasise to them not to wander off and if they are lost that they need to go to the information counter and to page for you or the adult that they are with. Teach them to scout out a trustworthy mother with a child or an older lady to take them to the information counter if they don’t know where it is. Then just hope that they would use their common sense and trust their gut when sussing out the person.
When your child is older and there comes a point where they need to take public transport, teach them never to get into an empty bus or taxi. Also teach them not to get into a bus or taxi with all male commuters.
I’m still hopeful that things will change and our children will live safer lives. My wish is that my children to grow up and become independent and live a life without fear. For now, they might not be able to be roaming the streets on their own but will be equipped with the basic skills.