The Last Self-Protection Book for Kids?

“The Safe Zone” is a rare educational book addressing a very important issue: child self-protection. As a self-protection coach, and a specialist in this particular area, books like this are an essential resource. Thanks to well-meaning but misguided campaigns, parents and children are inundated with misinformation regarding crimes against minors. From the myth and unworkable concept of “stranger danger” to the idea that there is strength in numbers to sensationalist headlines, it is small wonder that we are seeing an increasingly more paranoid and disempowered population of families. “The Safe Zone” is a no-nonsense approach to teaching your child how to avoid danger, control a situation before it becomes dangerous and last resort tactics to enable escape from a human predator.

I am in general agreement with the chronology of the nine sections, if not the chapters, contained within “The Safe Zone”. The non-physical side of self-protection – what we term “personal security” – is rightfully given the lion’s share of the nine sections with only the final section focusing on the physical side – what we term “self-defence”. Each section, aside from the last one, begins with a chapter entitled “What if…” This looks at popular questions on several different scenarios relevant to the section. Each section finishes with general answers to the questions posed.

The first part, “The Basics”, deals with awareness, instincts and self-esteem. Awareness is typically the first thing most self-protection instructors teach. It seems to fit. The best way not to be involved in an assault is to simply not be there or to spot one well ahead of time. The information given here is good common sense and there is little I can dispute. However, over time I have come to believe there is something more fundamental that needs to be in place. I would prefer self-esteem or, more specifically, attitude to be there first. However, the authors of “The Safe Zone” are clearly more interested in promoting confidence in a youngster, which is pretty essential to help defeat victim selection and also to be able to take control of a situation if it happens. Self-esteem is becoming an increasingly controversial issue. At the time “The Safe Zone” was written the trend to build a person’s self-esteem was at an all-time high. Unfortunately matters aren’t always as simple as increasing a person’s self-esteem. See “50 Myths in Popular Psychology” and “Columbine” for more on the dangers or inefficiency of raising certain individual’s opinion of themselves.

As with Gavin (“The Gift of Fear”) De Becker’s work, the authors focus a lot on teaching children to listen to their instincts. Again, there are inherent dangers in allowing one’s intuition to rule one’s life, but here it is very relevant. A child needs to understand his or her “gut feelings” and when it comes to facing a potential predator the better-safe-than-sorry principle is best followed. Very important skills like learning how to use your voice and watching body language are among the best chapters in this particular section.

“Setting Boundaries” brings in the perfect platform to build good self-protection tactics and techniques. If you have read Geoff Thompson’s “Dead or Alive”, “The Fence” or “Three-Second Fighter” and are familiar with the fence concept then you will see how this section perfectly aligns itself with controlling potential attackers. The chapters deal with controlling personal space and understanding the concept of setting boundaries.

Going beyond the boundaries the next section, “My Body is Mine”, is pretty self-explanatory. Obviously this helps reinforce the previous sections underlying principles and helps teach a child the important concept of the “unwanted” or inappropriate touch.  We are also introduced to “strangers”, which was very much aligned with popular ideas about “stranger danger” being taught at the time. I have my issues with this, but that is another article.

The fourth section deals with the issue of bullies, which is pretty essential in any self-respecting book on children’s self-protection.  Chapters identify the reasons behind bullying, how to avoid bullies and how to best deal with them. It’s a specialist topic addressed by many books as a single item and so it forgivably given one of the shortest sections.

The fifth section deals with household security. This addresses home intruders, strangers on the phone and even internet safety, which is relatively cutting edge for the time.

This is followed by a hefty section – the largest in the book – on safety away from home. This is where many coaches fall down and really gets to the core of good self-protection for youngsters. Being away from home often forces a child into self-reliability. It is here where parents have to accept that their children will probably have to talk to strangers and one chapter discusses alcohol and drugs. Other chapters look at planning ahead, advice on using public transport, safety at school and what to do if you are lost. Appropriately the chapter revisits the basics of listening to your gut, using your voice and awareness.

The next section looks at getting help. This is an area that I generally address after looking at the physical side of things, but it works well in this chronology. This is the shortest section in the book and would also work as a postscript. In fact, there is a chapter in the conclusion that is also called “Getting Help”, but gives information on several different resources.

The penultimate section deals with strangers and it offers pretty good advice, even if the whole stranger thing can be unnecessarily confusing for children.

Finally we get to a pretty thorough section on self-defence. The advice is good and provides solid low-maintenance/high percentage techniques that will work under pressure if trained properly. Sadly the controversial and yet consistently effective issue of pre-emptive striking is not addressed, but not denied either. Keeping it pretty comprehensive, there is a chapter on weapons.

The conclusion provides a list of resources. The only self-protection system is recommends is IMPACT. They have a presence in several American self-protection books, including Gavin De Becker’s work. It is a good if limited approach to self-protection. “Getting Help” lists various helpful organizations and even websites. The last chapter provides a list of publications that address the various topics in this book.  They are all published in the 1980s and there is barely a page of them, which goes to show how lacking this area of concern has been addressed.

“The Safe Zone” is clearly aimed at an 8-12 year old readership and is illustrated with photographs, including pictures of typical scenarios. It is written in a factual and engaging style, and never descends to patronizing its readership.

It comes to something when a book written 14 years ago, is currently out of print and published in the United States is still the only decent written self-protection resource for children. We live in an age where the fear of violent and/or sexual crime is at an all-time high.  And yet books of children’s self-protection are disproportionately rare. What little is available is either thinly veiled martial arts training manuals for kids, often with a combination of stupidly simple information, urban myths and dangerously ineffective physical techniques or books targeted at parents. This is the reason what inspired me to write my own book!

As can be expected “The Safe Zone” looks dated and is written for a late ‘90s youth audience. The awareness of the internet shows how cutting edge it was for its time, although issues like “cyber-bulling” and mobile phone trends like “happy slapping” had not yet been popularized.  It has far more text-only pages than one containing photographs. I don’t feel any of the text could or should be edited out, as it is all very relevant. However, the photographs are not particularly very detailed, especially when it comes to the execution of physical techniques. The book would definitely have been improved by some step-by-step instructions.   Nevertheless, if you cannot wait until my addition to this seriously undernourished field is published I cannot recommend this classic enough to keep you sated with decent information.

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