Like many New York City kids, my 13-year-old son, a.k.a. the No. 1 Son, was introduced to traveling on public transportation by himself at age 11. He was TOO thirsty for independence, which meant snagging a set of house keys and riding the bus to school.
His dad and I sat him down for the drill about being safe, not talking to strangers and calling when he arrived to and from school. Most of this spiel seeped in one wax-filled ear and out of the other. Listening wasn’t (and still isn’t) his strong point, especially when he was eager to hit the gentrified streets of our Brooklyn borough with its new yogurt and cupcake shops—solo.
As his eyes glazed with thoughts of freedom and all the secret candy he’d buy, we made certain (or so we thought) that the No. 1 understood three important rules:
1. Don’t take your phone out in public unnecessarily, i.e. to play games.
2. If someone tries to rob you for your phone, give it up.
3. Don’t argue. Don’t fight. Don’t pretend to be Tough Tony and dish out any of that world famous attitude you’re so famous for in the house.
We wanted him to understand that some people have nothing to lose and that a phone can be replaced, but his life could not. About a year into his newfound freedom, two grown men spotted him violating the first rule.
The No. 1 Son and his homie were watching a YouTube video on his iPhone 3 as they walked to the bus stop. By the time he realized the men were following them, it was too late.
He was shook.
Thankfully, he handed over the phone to the grown man who said he’d “do anything to feed his daughter.”
When the No. 1 Son called me with this news, I hit him with a slew of questions. “Are you okay? Did he touch you? Did he hurt you? How is your friend?”
He kept saying he was, “Okay.” That everything was okay. His friend was okay. But I knew my son. That was code. He was hurt on the inside, the worst place for a kid to be hurt. I could put Neosporin on a bruised knee, but what was the cure for heartache?
He didn’t want to talk about it. So I didn’t push. Later that night the No. 1 Son confessed to feeling small and mad for not standing up to a grown man, especially since he didn’t see a gun. Whoa. I felt like my head would explode. I was angry that this so-called man robbed my son and made our family feel vulnerable, helpless.
Hindsight is always 20/20. And while parents do their best to keep kids safe, situations like this one are sometimes unavoidable. If something like this happens to you, take a deep breath and remember these five tips.