Learning to fight back
Program empowers kids to replace their fears with confidence, self-esteem and safety skills
By Tiffany Erickson
Deseret Morning News
An abductor would most likely think twice before approaching a Plain City fourth-grader if they knew the kind of training he or she had received in self-defense.
The students at this Weber County school know what to do in an attempted abduction. They scream, they draw attention and they fight, but most of all they have the confidence to get away.
RadKIDS ("Resisting Aggression Defensively") is a program that has been in Utah for about four years. The program aims at giving children an edge if they find themselves in danger and teaching them practical skills to recognize, avoid and escape violence and abuse.
Last month a few dozen fourth-graders from Plain City Elementary graduated from the program and showcased their new moves. And the students take the program just as seriously as the instructors.
It's tiring, challenging and sometimes even scary, but the goal is to give students the courage to get away from an aggressor.
"No one likes to talk about the grim reality (of abductions), but do we do anybody any service to not talk about them or address them?" said Brad Slater, Weber County sheriff. "Looking at what we know from abductions, anything we can do to help give children a fighting chance — literally — will help."
Utah is a national model for radKIDS and has certified around 15,000 children — more than any other state. Provo was the first school district in the state to jump on board.
The program is in the majority of Provo schools, and in the past four years the program has spread from San Juan to Logan.
Dean Larsen, regional director of radKIDS and a deputy in Utah County Sheriff's Office, said radKIDS students are taught three main points: No one has the right to hurt them, and if someone does hurt them they are a bad person — even if they aren't a stranger. And if someone does hurt them, it's not their fault.
"It trains them and ensures they have a fight-or-flight reaction — to say 'No!' instead of 'Help me!' " said Larsen. "It gives them a foundation around the life skills of those three things — they know what it takes for them to go from danger to safety."
They are trained to yell things like "Stay back, you're not my mom!," "No!" and "Let me go!"
They have learned combat moves like blocking, peppering the eyes, high hammer fist to the nose, high elbow, toe kicks, heel kicks, knee strikes and sweep kicks — moves that may not take down an aggressor but would help give a child a chance to run away.
RadKIDS is an activity-based program that includes safety drills and muscle memory exercises. It works into the school's physical education curriculum.
Students participate in actual simulations where certified trainers act as aggressors. The trainers grab them, pick them up and drag them while children fight their way free with moves intended to stun offenders.
The programed is designed for children 5-12 years old and also goes into home and school safety, "out and about safety" and good, bad and uncomfortable touch.
Larsen said the program empowers children to replace fear with confidence, self-esteem and personal safety skills.
"We don't do anything to create a boogey monster in their head — the way we talk about it, we don't say there is a bad guy that is going to hurt you," said Jennifer Mickelsen, PTA president and radKIDS trainer at Plain City Elementary.
She said the program helps make fear a non-issue, and building confidence does away with that fear.
"I feel braver — I learned if someone is stealing you, you know how to get away from them," said Sydnee Ward, 10, a fourth-grader at Plain City Elementary who graduated from the program this month. "The hardest part was doing (defense moves) on (the trainer), we had to be confident and know that you can do it but it is sometimes scary when he is picking you up."