Child Development and Parenting: Adolescence
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Personal Security While in Public Places

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Youth also need to make sure they know how to protect themselves while they are traveling in public places whether they are walking around their new college campus, biking to their friends' homes, shopping in the mall, or riding public transportation. Youth need to remain aware of their surroundings at all times. Youth need to refrain from talking on a cell phone or listening to music with earphones as they are walking, because these devices will distract their attention. It's best if youth can walk with a friend to class, a party, or elsewhere, especially if it's dark or if they have to walk far. Youth should also learn how to walk in a manner that deters possible attackers. When people walk with an air of confidence and purpose, they become a less desirable target than someone who appears lost, timid, or weak. Youth should be taught to "walk tall' meaning shoulders back, head held high and walking with a brisk stride. Youth should not take out maps, train schedules or other items that might indicate they are lost or uncertain of their surroundings. Youth may benefit from self-defense classes that teach basic evasive strategies and survival skills. Many colleges, community centers, or YMCA's offer these classes.

The opportunities for social interactions increase as adolescents mature. These social occasions often include interactions with complete strangers, or people they know little about. Because adolescents meet so many new people, youth should learn to take precautions to help keep themselves safe while having fun and making new friends. If at all possible, youth should attend parties, concerts, or clubs with friends they know and trust. Trusted friends will help each other make smart decisions. Furthermore, pairs or groups of people typically discourage potential predators. Young ladies should be taught not to accept offers of help from a stranger. Some predators pose as a protector; feigning concern for a young ladies safety by offering to walk her home after a party. Adolescent girls should be made aware of this rouse and be taught to avoid accepting "help" from anyone they do not know and trust. If such an occasion were to arise, youth who reside at home can activate the safety or lifesaver agreement. Some college campuses also have a chaperone service available to students. These services are usually staffed by volunteers who are screened and who are available at any hour of the night. In the alternative, youth can make a lifesaver or safety agreement with trusted friends or roommates.

Youth should use caution when carrying valuables, such as credit cards, cash, and mobile phones. Whatever they don't absolutely need should be left at home, and whatever they do need should remain on their person as much as possible, such as deep within pant pockets or in a small purse that is always carried.

Furthermore, teens should keep a watchful eye on any beverage that they're drinking, whether it is a diet soda or a beer (for adolescents 21 and older). It's extremely easy for someone to slip a drug such as Rohypnol, GHB, or Ketamine into an unattended drink. These drugs are often called "date-rape" drugs because their affects cause someone to become intoxicated, drowsy, and even unconscious, which enables predators to easily overpower and sexually assault their victims. These drugs can be added to someone's beverage within a few seconds, and are undetectable once they have been added. Predators who use these drugs may work in pairs, with one partner distracting the victim while the other quickly adds the drug to the victim's beverage. Some experts suggest that people should develop the habit of placing their hand over their drink, even if they turn away momentarily, and to request a fresh drink whenever they have left their beverage unattended, such as after dancing or using the restroom.

For older adolescents who are legally permitted to drink alcohol, they should monitor their alcohol consumption so they can keep themselves safe. They should always make arrangements to have an entirely sober designated driver or cab to take them home or to stay overnight at the home where they are partying. Even then, youth should not drink so much that they become inebriated or cannot think clearly, as this can put them at risk for unintended sexual activity or even sexual assault.