Data recently released by the FBI lists St. Louis as one of the most dangerous cities in the country, and a 2017 report from the Citizens Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice ranked St. Louis as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
This column is not about agreeing or disagreeing with those research-based statistics, but rather, about safety.
As a lifelong St. Louis resident, I have never felt nervous about going to a Blues hockey game, having dinner in the city’s Central West End neighborhood or attending a theater event at The Fabulous Fox Theatre. When I read those studies, however, my thoughts immediately turn to worry about my and my wife’s teenage boys and their well-being.
You don’t have to be in a crime-ridden area to be a victim of crime. In fact, muggings, carjackings and other law-breaking activities can happen anywhere, including “quiet” neighborhoods. The most effective way to ensure your teen’s safety is to make sure he or she is an attentive citizen.
The ability to observe and evaluate your environment is a skill anyone of any age can learn. Situational awareness, as it is often called, is about knowing your immediate environment by scanning the surrounding area frequently, identifying “anomalies” quickly and understanding how to respond to an atypical situation.
To ensure your child is acting in a mindful manner, have ongoing conversations about continually being on alert. Explain to your children that they should always have their heads up no matter where they might be. Don’t stare at the phone, and keep your ears open, too! The easiest way to avoid being a victim is by paying attention. If your gut says walk the other way, you probably should.
Parking lots are also particularly dangerous for young drivers, as there are many places for predators to hide. When driving to an activity, including low-risk events such as a school game, teens should still scan the area before they get out of a car and when they return. Encourage your children to park under a light and to never sit in an unlocked car. Kids should always have keys in hand and be prepared to flee should something not feel right.
Being situationally aware also means being a proactive planner, particularly when going out at night. Teens should always tell parents where they will be and when things may change. It is also important that your children not only have a plan to get home but also have a backup plan if a ride falls through. When possible, travel in groups, especially if the night’s event is a concert or street festival. There is safety in numbers.
Situational awareness should not be event-driven; rather, it should be a way of life. Don’t allow your teens to become complacent: Check a Uber license plate to make sure it is official, keep valuables out of sight (including smartphones) and don’t post personal information online. The best way to be safe is to be alert, and the best way to relax and enjoy all our metro area has to offer is to be safe.
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.