RadKids To The Rescue
By Elizabeth Eidlitz
Ten-year-old Matt Berry, who’d never taken self-defense before, graduated from the first radKIDS program sponsored by the Police Department of Southborough.
“I want to live a long time,” he said. “Now I know how to keep people away from me to keep myself from being held for ransom.”
“RadKIDS mission,” said Stephen M. Daley, who founded the national nonprofit organization in 1988, “is to enhance the ability of children to use knowledge, skills, and power to protect themselves from violence and harm,” rather than counting on luck and instinctual fear.
Daley believes every child has the right to an empowering safety education and that parents and other adults should provide it.
Among those in the eastern part of the state who have completed comprehensive training and instructor certification to assume that responsibility are Sergeant Jane Moran and Officer Kevin Landry of the Southborough Police Department. In central Massachusetts, Sue Sonia, a physical therapist, teams with her husband, Mike Sonia, a state trooper, to teach the program at Sterling Academy of Gymnastics to kids in the Lancaster, Leominster, Clinton, Princeton, and Sterling area.
“I teach this class, so that we don’t have to relive the past,” said Mike Sonia, remembering his sixth grade science teacher and part-time police officer, who molested little boys. “In radKIDS class we talk about kids being “tricked.” I have to remind parents that sometimes adults get tricked too.”
“We need to do more than just tell kids, ‘don’t talk to strangers,’” adds his wife. “I have two daughters and I want so much for them to grow up with a feeling of self-confidence and self-importance, knowing how incredible they are and that if anyone tried to hurt them, they can do something about it.”
The 10-hour after school course in how to “Resist Aggression Defensively (rad)” is for children 5-12 years of age. It emphasizes essential decision-making skills as well as physical resistance options. Family-centered, every parent whose child participates in a radKIDS program receives a copy of the Parent’s Manual. It includes all information presented in the program and is written for parents and children to read and review in trusted partnership. Together, they agree on such things as a secret “code word,” and a safe meeting place in the event of fire or other emergency.
Parent participation is encouraged in classes as well. In one role-swapping drill, parents fight in the back seat of the “car.” The child, turning around to address the “fight,” has a simulated head-on collision, experiencing the message instead of merely being told about it.
Sessions focus on seven core areas: Home Safety, School Safety, Out-andAbout Safety, Vehicle Safety, Stranger Tricks (including Physical Defense Against Abduction) and Personal Safety (including Good, Bad, and Uncomfortable Touch).
“It is extremely important to teach children not to be victims of bullies, abuse, or pedophiles,” said Officer Landry.
He is supported statistically: A report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that the most vulnerable age for sexual abuse is between the ages of 7 and 13. Children younger than 12 years old account for 94 percent of child fatalities, according to the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information.
Although many parents insist, “it will never happen to my child,” statistics indicate there is one pedophile for every square mile in the U.S., from big cities to small rural communities.
Moreover, 34% of American parents do not know all three critical pieces of information about their children: height, weight and eye color, according to a study published in Time magazine.
Is there danger that the focus of radKIDS might frighten children and increase their anxiety?
No. “Nothing is presented in a ‘scary’ way,” according to the Sonias. “Though the kids are learning something serious, they have a lot of fun.”
“The fear factor is a reality.” Sgt. Moran said, “It’s already here, though each child processes it differently. And a 10-year-old who refused to sleep in his own bed when he got wind of a local break-in, returned to his own room after taking our course. No matter where they go, they can take those radKIDS skills and plans with them and make choices, based on underlying principles:”
radKIDS Principals No one has the right to hurt you. You do not have the right to hurt anyone else unless you are in danger, and then you have every right to defend yourself and escape. It is not your fault when someone tricks you or harms you, so it is important to tell a parent or adult.
RadKIDS is not a martial art, which is typically competition-based, and centered on either sport or combat arts. Moreover, unlike many safety programs that show videos or tell children what to do, radKIDS’ hands-on training is what the Sonias term “a talk-and-do” class.
Students actually practice the “3-second rule,” to understand how close to their parents they need to be when out in public, as well as running away, dialing 911, and giving a description of a potential predator.
As they learn gross motor skills appropriate to specific threatening contexts, children replace the fear, confusion and panic of dangerous situations with personal safety skills and reassurance.
The basic radKIDS stance hands raised, knees bent, one-foot back signals to an abductor that the kid knows something. Moran pointed out that verbalization attracts more attention than screaming.
“Pedophiles, like burglars, look for easy targets,” Landry said. “If the radKID says, “stay back, you’re not my Dad and adopts the correct stance the attacker is not going to approach him or her.”
RadKIDS learn to protect the face with one hand while raising the other for an inside block. Students wear a wristband on their dominant hand. The instructor refers to “Band Hand” and Non Band Hand” rather than ‘left hand or right hand.’
Students “pepper the eyes” of an attacker
with fingers pressed into a point. They practice the high hammer fist, toe and heel kick, sweep kick, head butt with tucked chin, and shin kick.” There’s not a lot of flesh where you scrape down,” Landry assured radKIDS, “so the shin kick really hurts.”
They are taught the low hammer fist in case of attack from behind, the high elbow strike if lifted off the ground. They learn to target sensitive areas: eyes, nose, and groin on an inflated dummy, while looking at the attacker, not at the area to be attacked.
These skills are supplemented by sound instruction for all ages:
See a gun?
“Yell ‘Gun’ and run. Don’t touch the gun,” instructors warn. “You don’t know if it’s real, fake, or loaded. Find a trusted
Attacked by a dog?
Feed the dog anything you have, mittens, shoes, book bag, homework.
“So far,” Daley said,” we’ve reached over 50,000 children and families. Five-yearolds have successfully escaped the horrible realities of abduction, bullying, child abuse, sexual assault and manipulation.”
Any child completing the program may return without charge for a refresher to review or practice the skills they learned. In fact, the Southborough police instructors have trained two radKIDS from their first class to be peer mentors.
Though the cost of the program varies, the fee for five two-hour lessons covers equipment used in acting out scenarios and also funds radKIDS certificates, T-shirts, and a graduation party which follows a simulated presentation of muscle memory exercises for friends and family.
Training one radKIDS instructor in the self-defense and radKIDS curriculum costs $400, said Daley. A package for 20 trainers and self-defense equipment, however, would cost just under $10,000, allowing town volunteers to be trained to host the program in one week’s time.
“We’re fortunate in this small department,” said William H. Webber, Southborough’s Chief of Police, “to have the talent that we have. We tap into each officer’s special interest; essentially, it means taking an officer off patrol functions. But kids are passionate about the radKIDS class.”
As are their parents:
“When I went to school, we took home economics. We learned how to sew and make zucchini bread. But the world’s so much more dangerous today,” said Elizabeth Maciolek of Southborough. “I don’t care if my daughter learns how to bake a cake. The radKIDS skills she’s learned will make a difference to her life. Why isn’t this program a required curriculum unit in elementary schools?”
Elizabeth Eidlitz is a freelance writer from Hopkinton.