All right, all right. No baby llamas will actually cry if you don’t read this section. But they may get their feelings deeply hurt, so for heaven’s sake, please read this section. Seriously, it sets the groundwork for all the chapters that follow.
I want to begin by complimenting you on your incredible intelligence and taste in books. Badass Parenting: An Irreverent Guide to Raising Safe, Savvy, Confident Kids is the most comprehensive manual available to parents who want to empower their kids ages 0 through 9 to avoid danger and teach them to protect and defend themselves from predators and bullies.
This Isn’t Your Momma’s Parenting Book Because You Ain’t Your Momma
Dr. Spock is rolling over in his grave, I’m sure, over the mere existence of this book. Put flatly, it’s as irreverent as it gets. Oh, and I swear a bit (okay, a lot). This “gallows humor” is my way of dealing with distressing topics so that I—and you—don’t get lost in the darkness.
I wrote the book this way very intentionally; it’s mainly for GenXers and Millennials (and the generations that follow) and, well, it’s hard as hell to get your attention. Your world (today) isn’t even remotely close to the world I lived in when I was parenting back in the 80s and 90s. I’m not saying there weren’t school shootings and bullies to deal with, but it wasn’t, like, IN YOUR FACE EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF THE DAY NO MATTER WHERE YOU LOOKED! AAAAAHHHHHH!
I watch my daughter-in-law Bekki struggle every day—not so much with parenting; she’s got a solid handle on that—but with the immense pressure she feels bearing down on her to compete with the (alleged) super moms on social media, and in the media in general, who appear to be, do, and have it all.
Yeah, the Interweb is great and all, but it also makes it appear that every other mother (but you) is a pro at whipping out over-the-top cupcake designs and drives a minivan so sparkling it looks like it was cleaned by a serial killer trying to cover a crime scene. As parents, you’re constantly reminded how badly you’re failing because you’re bringing (gasp!) store-bought cupcakes to the kindergarten Valentine’s Day party and your car looks like the crime scene before the serial killer broke out the Shop-Vac®.
And the nastiness online! Ye Gods, people! What happened to common courtesy? Every photo, video, opinion, or frustration shared by a parent online is taken out of context, dissected, distorted, and then harshly judged by a jury of their peers. Doesn’t matter which side you’re on, half the people not only disagree with it, they’re going to insist that you’re Hitler and should be summarily shot.
It doesn’t stop with the media, though. There are the older generations of parents, many of whom are now grandparents, who feel like it’s their job to hand out advice to every young mom and dad they encounter about how they handled kids “back in the day.” Sure, back in the day that kind of behavior may have been perfectly fine, but if you tried that now, it could land you in the headlights of Child Protective Services or the “popo.” Almost as bad, it could make you the newest “bad mom” meme on Instagram, guaranteeing you’ll be harassed by trolls into infinity.
Never have so many judged so many others so often based on so little evidence and aforethought. No wonder Bekki and every other young mom I’ve talked with feels like they can’t possibly win this rigged parenting game.
Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s all an elaborate hoax. There are no perfect moms (or dads) and no one, not one single parent out there, knows with certainty what the hell they’re doing. We’re all just winging it and praying we don’t raise a serial killer (although on the plus side, his car would be very, very clean. Just sayin’).
Know that I see you. I see you doing the very best you can under tremendous pressure, and I think you’re doing one hell of a job. So stop comparing your hot messy insides to other people’s seemingly-together outsides.
Just like a Horror Movie, Only with a Happier Ending
When writing this book, I struggled mightily with how to present the facts about childhood danger without scaring you so badly that you’d put the book down and never touch it again.
It’s hard to discuss subjects as harrowing as sexual abuse, bullying, and abduction without dragging you and your child into a dark place that can lead to hopelessness and helplessness, which then morph into apathy and paralysis. Definitely not a productive place to be when you’re trying to protect your little one. I don’t believe terrifying you will spur you to action, as most experts and authors on these topics appear to believe.
After reading this book, I want you to feel confident in your new-found ability to talk candidly with your child without scaring her to death. So, I chose to take a different tack in Badass Parenting. I chose to focus on what this book is really about—love and empowerment. Your love and desire to protect your child are more powerful than fear and they’re your best “weapons” for protecting her.
Yes, I’m going to let you know what you’re up against but in a way that’s enlightening and not designed to sensationalize the information and scare the ever-living hell out of you.
Speaking of which, I am going to scare you initially because I want to juxtapose the petrifying facts you’ll find on the Internet and evening news with the more realistic data based on actual studies. So, let’s begin.
The Awful, Horrible, Terrifying Facts
Did you know?
Half of all children in the world experience some form of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by the time they’re 18.[i]
Survivors of child sexual abuse are 10 to 13 times more likely to attempt suicide.[ii]
Abusive experiences in childhood create fresh victims and predators, who often pass these experiences down from generation to generation.
Over half of the human trafficking cases active in the US in 2018 involved children.[iii]
This is the one that used to keep me up at night: There are hundreds of thousands of predators on the streets and online at any given moment trolling for victims.[iv]
While kids today participate in regular active shooter drills at school, only the tiniest fraction get body safety training. When they do, the focus is often on “stranger danger” when, in fact, over 90 percent of molestations and assaults are committed by people they know.[v]
Quivering with fear yet? You’re not alone. Most parents feel anxious when confronted with these jaw-dropping facts. They feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and by their own lack of knowledge about how to prepare their kids to live in a world that’s often hostile to them.
Parents are doing the very best they can, but in an effort to not scare their kids, they aren’t being honest about the dangers they face. As such, they’re making their children more vulnerable to predators. It's time to change this self-defeating, no-win situation and give your children what they need to live safe, confident, happy lives.
And Now for Something Completely Different
Okay, you can stop hyperventilating and take a deep breath. The world isn’t as bad as the media makes it sound and you and your child actually have the power to keep her safe.
Let’s balance the terrifying statistics listed above with a bit of perspective:
Of the 424,066 children reported as missing or exploited in 2018, about 94 percent simply misunderstood directions or miscommunicated their plans, were lost, or ran away.[vi]
4 percent were kidnapped by family members involved in a custody dispute.[vii]
1 percent were abducted by non-family members, usually during the commission of a crime, such as robbery or sexual assault. The kidnapper was often someone the child knew.[viii]
Only around 105 children are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions that are sensationalized on the evening news.[ix] (Of course, that’s 105 too many!) Of these, just 65 were complete strangers to the children (the rest were “slight acquaintances,” meaning the victim had known them for only a short time or didn’t know them well).[x]
A whopping 99.8 percent of the children who go missing (whether abducted or runaways) make it back home![xi]
The number of identified incidents of child sexual abuse decreased by at least 47 percent from 1993 to 2006.[xii]
Rates of sexual assault and domestic violence have been declining for decades and are now a quarter or less of their past peaks.[xiii]
Since the early 1990s, the rate for all crimes—violent and non-violent against both children and adults—has plummeted by up to 77 percent.[xiv]
According to cognitive psychologist and author Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species” (Italics mine.)
We’ve Got It All Wrong
Despite these encouraging facts, nearly 90 percent of adults say they feel less safe than when they were growing up, even though today’s crime rates are at a level not seen since the 1960s![xv]
So if crime rates in the US and the world in general have gone down so dramatically, why do we remain convinced that our kids are in grave peril if we let them out of our sight? I think it’s because the teasers for the evening news assure us that if we don’t watch their programs, we’ll miss details of the latest ghastly shooting spree or never learn critical things like the three ways our toaster oven is plotting to murder our entire family while we sleep. It could also be that we binge-watch too many horrific crime dramas and godawful shows filled with apocalyptic images of dead people who want to eat our brains.
We also worry because we’re genetically hardwired to pay more attention to things that appear to pose an imminent threat than to stuff that seems unlikely to happen, say, being killed by a vending machine or a falling coconut (which happens more often than you’d think). Parents are terrified of terrorist attacks and serial killers, when in fact their child is far more likely to be killed by a rogue champagne cork. I mean sure, it could happen, but are you really going to wrap your child in bubble wrap and make him waddle to school like a drunken troll every day?
Bubble Wrap? Hmmm…
Clearly, you love and want to protect your child from harm or you wouldn’t be reading this book. You may worry about her safety and want to arm her with information, but you don’t want to leave her feeling petrified. You may have no idea what to say or how to say it so she’ll actually listen to and apply your cautionary advice.
Face it, you’re not your child’s BFF and you shouldn’t be. You’re meant to be her protector, role model, gatekeeper, boundary teacher, motivator, sounding board, comforter, and yes, accountability holder when needed.
You may want to wrap your child in a protective bubble and defend her from every harm but doing so could emotionally cripple her and make her more, not less, vulnerable to predators. Teaching your child to fear every stranger and new situation actually inhibits her own intuitive wisdom that tells her when she’s in danger.
Don’t be afraid your sweetums will lose her innocence if you teach her about body safety. Won’t happen. This is a cold, cruel world we live in and your kid knows more than you realize. In fact, she’ll be empowered and far safer when she knows what the dangers are and how to meet them head-on. It’s waaaay better to teach your child about sexual abuse, for example, than to pick up the pieces later because she didn’t know how to protect herself.
And don’t think she’s too young either. The most likely age for a child to be sexually abused is between the ages of 3 and 8. That means you need to begin the body safety conversation as soon as she’s verbal and keep it up until she leaves your care as a young adult.
A Word about Worry
I’m going to stop for a minute to talk about worry and how to release it because, frankly, it’s freaking you and your child out and making the situation worse. While it’s important to be informed about the dangers your child faces, such knowledge is destructive when it spirals into worry and obsession over his safety.
Worrying is not a sustainable state; a normal person simply can’t maintain that anxious state of mind and remain sane. Plus, it’s shrinking your brain mass, making you age faster, and lowering your IQ. Look it up; it’s science.
As I wrote earlier, worrying leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which are paralyzing. So to escape these awful feelings, many people dive into denial and avoid the subject altogether. But denial of danger doesn’t enhance your child’s safety; it compromises it.
Author and personal protection expert Gavin de Becker notes that, “Worry fights off that dreadful feeling that there’s nothing we can do, because worrying feels like we’re doing something…” Just reading that observation helped me kick most of my worry to the curb!
De Becker goes on, “When faced with some worry or uncertain fear, ask yourself: ‘Am I responding to something in my environment or to something in my imagination?’” He advises that the best antidote to worry is action, which he addresses in his outstanding book Protecting the Gift.
Here’s what I do when my mind starts wigging out at 3 a.m. as I envision something horrible happening to my grandbabies. As soon as I catch my thoughts spinning out of control, I blink my eyes closed and say to myself “Control-Alt-Delete” and then open my eyes. Those of you who aren’t complete Luddites know that pressing “Control-Alt-Delete” on your keyboard will enable you to reboot your computer. Do this blinking exercise as many times as it takes until the boogeyman in your head goes away.
Okay, you think it sounds stupid or too simple, but I’m telling you there’s something about mentally thinking “Control-Alt-Delete” and blinking your eyes that takes the needle off that murdery broken record playing in your head.
Stress expert Don Joseph Goewey uses a different technique called “The Clear Button” to stop worry in its tracks. He notes that, “Nature gave us a 90-second window to bust stressful thinking before it takes a long walk off a short pier.” The more you use techniques that divert stressful thoughts (like “The Clear Button” or my clever little blink mantra), the stronger the synapses that end worry become.
I love the way Goewey explains how this works: “The part of the brain that causes stress reactions literally has the intelligence of a toddler. And every parent knows you don't stop a tantrum by appealing to a child's logic. You distract the child. This tool [The Clear Button] distracts the terrible 2-year-old in your brain from casting you off the deep end.”
So next time you can’t sleep because you have visions of predatory sugarplums dancing in your head, try using the “Control-Alt-Delete” maneuver or “The Clear Button” and get some sleep!
Because I Said So! Or, Why You Should Listen to Me
Who on earth am I to hand out advice to parents on how to keep their kids safe? Well, I’m a victim advocate, danger expert, and author of two books on personal safety. I’m also the survivor of childhood molestations and sexual assault as a college freshman, offering me the unenviable perspective of a crime victim.
I served as executive director of a child advocacy center for abused children and as Director of Victims Issues for the NC Attorney General’s Office. I hold an interdisciplinary master’s degree in human violence. I volunteer for SafeChild’s “Funny Tummy” program, which teaches first graders about how to say “no” and tell if they encounter dangerous people. I also continue my work with survivors of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault, so when it comes to discussing abuse and danger, I’m considered an expert.
Finally (and most importantly), I raised two sons and am the doting “Badass Grandma” to three precocious toddlers. I’ve helped thousands of crime victims, but when confronted with the simple innocence of my grandchildren, I felt utterly helpless. How to protect them? More importantly, how to teach them to protect themselves?
Badass Parenting is my way of doing just that and, in the process, helping YOU protect your loved ones too.
Why You Should Read This Book
Throughout your darling’s childhood, he’s going to encounter tons of people, most of whom you both know fairly well—at daycare and pre-school, on play dates, at events, in your own home—and any one of them could be a predator. I don’t care how alert you think you are; you can’t keep him in your sight every second. It’s not possible and it’s not even remotely healthy.
Your child’s best bet to stay safe is for you to teach him how to protect and defend himself when you’re not around. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. By reading this book and following my advice, you’re doing the one, most important thing you can do to protect your child from harm—taking action.
Research shows that children who are taught to protect and defend themselves—by doing things like yelling, running away, saying “no,” or by fighting—are less attractive to predators and stand a significantly greater chance of escaping an abusive situation or potential abduction.
Educating yourself and your child is super liberating and the positive seeds you plant in his mind today will blossom into positive behaviors that will serve him throughout his life. Rather than worrying about nebulous dangers, you’ll know the facts, and once you teach your child what I share in this book, you’ll sleep better at night knowing you’ve taught him to be a little baby badass who can take care of himself.
As former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass observed, and I’m paraphrasing here—“It’s far easier to raise strong children than to repair broken adults.” I’m convinced that if I’d been taught that it was okay to say “no” in situations where I felt uncomfortable, 99 percent of the shitty things that happened to me as a kid and teenager would never have occurred and I wouldn’t have had to grapple with PTS for most of my life.
BTW, if you yourself are the survivor of child abuse, absolutely incorporate what you learn in this book to your own parenting repertoire. It’s your best chance to break the cycle! Be excited about having this opportunity to learn how to step up and protect your child in a way you weren’t.
What Badass Parenting Will Teach You
Before I began writing this book, I surveyed parents, grandparents, and caregivers about their top concerns for their children’s safety and the same questions kept cropping up. Here are the top five:
How do I teach my children about danger without scaring them to death?
What do I teach them to empower them to protect and defend themselves?
What are the signs my child is being bullied or abused?
How do I get my kids to come to me if something happens to them?
How do I make them actually listen to me and apply what I teach them?
Badass Parenting will answer these questions and more so parents can confidently empower their children from birth up to age 9. (I’ll publish a second book in the Badass Parenting series for parents of kids 10 to 18 in 2021.)
Here’s how the book is laid out:
First, I go deep and dark by addressing the dangers your child faces head-on. In Part I on The People in Your Child’s Circle, I talk about the categories of predators that might have access to your child. In Part II on Where Danger Lurks, I discuss bullying, digital dangers, sexual abuse, and kidnapping, including who the perps and victims tend to be and what to look out for. Stick with me through the heavy parts because it’s essential information. The book gets MUCH lighter from there on out.
Then I move you into the more fun and empowering action sections, beginning with Part III on How to Talk to Kids at Their Level. This is where I tell you exactly what body safety skills your kid needs to know. Regardless of the age of your child, please be sure to read both Chapters 12 and 13 because much of what I share in the chapter for children 2 to 5 is also relevant for kids 6 to 9.
In Part IV, Essential Life Lessons to Keep Your Child Safe, I share ways to foster your child’s confidence and self-esteem and teach her some serious badass verbal and physical moves she can use to escape dangerous situations. I also tell you how to actually break down all this critical information through manageable, ongoing conversations and family meetings.
Finally, to ensure you know what to do if your child is victimized, in Appendix A on If Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused I cover the practical and legal steps to take once you learn something has occurred. I even talk about the criminal justice process and how all that mess works in Appendix B.
You’ll notice that throughout the book I refer you to my website for free bonus content that’ll take you deeper into the topics I cover. I’m constantly adding cool freebies and parenting hacks to my site, so visit often to see what’s new and interesting.
What this book doesn’t cover:
Drug and alcohol abuse
I couldn’t do it all, folks. There simply wasn’t enough room to cover every danger your kid may encounter. There are literally thousands of great books on these topics that you can buy online or in any bookstore.
10 Things You’ll Get from Reading This Book
I love Top 10 lists, so here’s one about the benefits you’ll get from this book:
Clarity—knowing what’s true and what’s not and what you need to focus on.
A greater ability to spot people and situations that might pose threats to your child.
Clear instructions on how to have crucial conversations with your child.
Ideas for injecting body safety advice into everyday conversations.
Confidence in your child’s ability to protect and defend himself.
Information that will help you be safer too.
A sense of relief from knowing things are going to be okay.
Less worry and more sleeeeep.
Peace of mind.
Freebies! As I said, I’m going to slather you with free materials and content you can find on my website.
For the Badass Grandparents Who Are Reading This Book
Grandparents play a special role in the life of their grandchildren and can be a major source of wisdom and support. There are currently more than 2.4 million grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren. If you’re one of them, good on you, you badass! You’re the one who’s responsible for teaching your little charge the information I share in this book.
Too many grandparents refuse to believe their grandchildren’s claims, especially if they disclose abuse at the hands of a parent, aunt, or uncle. No one wants to believe their own grown-ass child could do such a thing, but it happens every day all over the world and you need to believe your grandchild.
Believing and supporting her doesn’t mean you don’t love your own child who was the offender. It means you love them enough to get them the help they need to stop hurting children and, yes, hold them accountable. If the abuser was a family member, you’re in a unique position to put a stop to the abuse, protect and support the victim, and ensure the perp never again has free access to the victim.
Be there for your family. You are the matriarch/patriarch and can set the tone for how all this goes down.
Another great way to help your grandkids is to buy this book for your children who are parents and ask them to read it and apply what they learn.
A Few Disclaimers
Every single chapter of this book could be a book unto itself. I’ve tried to give you the basics and I encourage you to dive more deeply into whatever topics you’re especially interested in. Under the Resources tab on my website, I list a number of excellent books, websites, and advocacy organizations, but the list is hardly comprehensive, so do your own homework to find other good books on the topics I cover here.
Throughout Badass Parenting, I mainly use the male pronoun to refer to predators because about 95 percent of the time the perps are male. Women can and do perpetrate some sex crimes against children, but the numbers are very low. (Although, when it comes to physical child abuse and neglect, women are even more likely than men to be the abusers. A pox on them all!)
I alternately use “she” and “he” when talking about your child, although I try not to switch the pronouns within sections, which would give you whiplash.
To be clear, when I talk about victim dynamics in this book, I’m in no way suggesting that being victimized is a failure on the part of the survivor. While some children make better targets because they’re vulnerable and/or unprepared or unable to protect themselves, it’s NEVER their fault. It’s always the offenders’ wrong actions that are to blame. Period.
Be sure to read the footnotes, which are fun and provide extra details you need to know.
The names and other details of people featured in this book have been changed to protect their identities.
One final disclaimer: this book was written to help you teach your child to protect and defend herself. If you faithfully use the techniques contained within these pages, you’ll help her minimize dangerous encounters and she’ll likely be safer. However, the advice found in Badass Parenting cannot protect every child in every situation. Use the ideas found here when you can, and your common sense and best judgment always. You know your child better than anyone and are the authority on what information she needs and can handle.
Protection expert and author Gavin de Becker writes, “You can’t guarantee [your] child her safety, but you can guarantee her [your] vigilance.”
BE the parent your child deserves!
The Badass Grandma
Footnotes & Endnotes
 Dr. Benjamin Spock, not to be confused with Mr. Spock from Star Trek, was a pediatrician who wrote a mega bestselling book in 1946 entitled The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care that encouraged parents to stop being puritanical a-holes and pick up their kids once in a while. The book radically advised parents to see their kids as individuals and not just as tiny slaves and to be affectionate towards them.
 My half-hearted apologies to those who are already clutching their pearls and fainting over my creative use of the English language. This book isn’t for you. Put it down and walk away before you are further sullied. You’ve been warned.
 Just so you know, when your toddler’s pitching a fit in the grocery store and that sweet old man sidles up and says, “Back in my day, I used to slap the silly out of my kids when they did that” or some other such nonsense, you’ll feel better about yourself if you just let it slide instead of unleashing the hounds of Hell upon his ignorant, unsuspecting ass. Back in his day, that really WAS how it was done.
 Popo = The police.
 My darling niece pointed out that I tend to use a lot of “fancy” words and advised me to dumb it down. I LOVE using just the right word to make a point and know you’re an intelligent person open to learning new terms, so I’ll be adding footnotes to explain the meaning of words and acronyms that might not be clear to every reader. Many of these may appal my more mature readers, but if you’ll stick with me, I promise the content is worth the shock value. Oh, and “juxtapose” means to compare two objects to identify the differences.
 Body safety training generally focuses on basic skills, like saying “no” to adults, what to do to get away from predators, and who to tell if something bad happens.
 From The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
 My biggest problem with being turned into a zombie would be all that damned walking! I’m frankly exhausted just thinking about it.
 BFF = Best friends forever.
 Seriously, a guy named Don Joseph Goewey wrote a whole book about it called The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.
 A Luddite is a person who fears new technology. The term “Luddite” comes from an Industrial Revolution-era group, of which Ned Ludd was a member. He believed machines would cause workers’ wages to be decreased. The mob ended up burning a number of factories in protest. Luddites are not to be confused with thrifty people who don’t buy the newest iPhone the second it’s released, choosing instead to withstand the mockery of their peers, who in turn would rather spend $1000 on a new phone and ditch their perfectly good older phone rather than pay down their student loan debt.
 Author of The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.
 I use the word nebulous instead of “unclear” because I like the way it refers to a whole cloud of uncertainty. AND it’s a prettier word.
 PTS = Post-traumatic stress, once called post-traumatic stress disorder.
 BTW = By the way.
 Repertoire = A stock of skills of behaviors a person habitually relies on.
 Sorry; that was a confusing sentence, I know. Just trust me and read both Chapters 12 and 13. K?
[i] Hillis S, Mercy J, Amobi A, and Kress H. Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: a systematic review and minimum estimates. Pediatrics 2016;137(3): e2015407.
[ii] Plunkett et al, 2001, from Body Safety Education by Jayneen Sanders.
[iii] 2018 Federal Human Trafficking Report, The Human Trafficking Institute.
[iv] Federal Bureau of Investigation, www.fbi.gov.
[v] Finkelhor, D. (2012). Characteristics of crimes against juveniles, Crimes against Children Research Center.
[vi] National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, https://www.missingkids.org/footer/media/keyfacts.
[xii] Finkelhor, D., & Jones, L. (2012). Have sexual abuse and physical abuse declined since the 1990s? Crimes against Children Research Center. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV267_Have%20SA%20%20PA%20Decline_FACT%20SHEET_11-7-12.pdf.
[xiii] Pinker, Steven, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
[xiv] Pew Research Center.