By Heather E. Schwartz
Would your teen stand by while a friend assaults someone? Accept a stranger’s invitation to get into a truck? Perhaps you’ve seen the Today show’s segments highlighting Dateline’s series “My Kid Would Never Do That.” In the series, kids are put in uncomfortable, tricky, and potentially dangerous situations while their parents watch from afar, praying they’ll make the right choices. Sadly, things don’t always play out that way.
The series clearly has value in opening the door to conversations parents need to have with their children. It’s meant to inspire discussions about how to say “no” to adults, stand up to peer pressure, be strong and assertive.
Some experts recommend role-playing and teaching kids exactly what they should say in different scenarios. After all, pushing back doesn’t come naturally, according to MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry. It’s not always easy to find the right words in the moment.
This advice is a good start. But planning the perfect line to use in every unexpected situation isn’t really possible. Let’s take it further and give kids more skills to stay safe and do the right thing. They need to be able to think fast on their feet to avoid a stranger’s lure. Speak out from the gut when confronted with peer pressure, rather than censoring themselves and overthinking the right thing to say. They need to learn how to risk making mistakes. Better to scream a loud “no!” at an innocent adult than to go along with someone with sinister intentions.
Every kid doesn’t need to become an improviser who’ll perform on stage. But every kid does need those basic improv skills.