Today, I would like to shine a light on two real-life experiences with girls considering rides from strangers. When I was in elementary school, we assembled to watch videos with the theme, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” They must have been well-presented videos because, not only did that phrase stick, but also the moral of their stories about how it’s dangerous to ride with strangers and to trust strangers. I learned that it’s better to assert yourself and be safe, than to be sorry. Long ago, this phrase was, “Better safe than sorry,” coined in the 1830s.
Prequel: when I was an infant, a family (I would later meet) had a teenage son who hitched rides with strangers. Well, he accepted a ride one day and they never saw him alive again. Hitchhiking used to be a normal thing, and we lost many young people who got into strangers’ cars. That’s probably part of why videos were created and schools held assemblies to caution children about the dangers in the world.
Fast Forward to Scene 1, Circa 1983
As a child around third grade, I applied “it’s better to assert yourself and be safe, than to be sorry” in an awkward situation. A lady at my mom’s work had a daughter my age, and they made arrangements for me to go over to the lady’s house on Halloween and trick-or-treat with the daughter. I think I went to school with the girl, but I didn’t really know her. My mom dropped me off at their house, where I’d never been before.
My schoolmate and her mom and dad were nice. They welcomed me, but I was a shy, awkward child, and none of this had been my idea. (In other words, despite their graciousness, I was still uncomfortable.)
The dad announced that he was going to pick up my schoolmate’s older sister, then we would go trick-or-treating. “Do you girls want to go?”
My schoolmate enthusiastically said, “Yes!”
I said, “I don’t think so.”
Awkwardness grew. The schoolmate or her dad, or both, said something to encourage me to go on the ride, like it wasn’t far.
I asserted myself, “My mom thinks I’m here, so I shouldn’t be going somewhere else.”
After more awkwardness, the dad realized I wasn’t going, so he went on his way.
Everything turned out okay that evening and all was on the up and up. Even though my asserting myself made the visit more awkward, I do not regret it.
Fast Forward to Scene 2, Circa 2013
One evening, a knock came at our door. A girl of about 10 years old stood there with her bike. She was lost.
I talked to her to try to figure out where she lived. Even though she lived on the same street as ours, the two blocks were not connected.
She said she had been riding her bike and couldn’t figure out how to get back home.
I had an idea of where she probably came from, as a big block intersected our street and blocked off one side from the other. I offered for my husband and me to show her how to get back to the other side.
My husband offered to put her bike in the back of his truck and we could drive her home.
It’s Better to Assert Yourself and Be Safe, than to Be Sorry
I said, “Wait a minute, we don’t want to set a precedent of taking rides from strangers.” This girl did not know us. Of course I knew that we were helpful strangers, but she didn’t know us. She was kind of at our mercy as it was getting close to dark. “How about if we walk with you to show you where the street reappears, and make sure you get home okay?”
She was happy at this suggestion.
We walked around the big block that intersected our street, and she recognized her neighborhood. We walked with her up to her house, where her dad was working outside and she got home safe. And we didn’t teach her that it was okay to take rides from strangers if they seemed nice. Because even if you’re in need of help, and the stranger seems helpful, it is still risky. Did you already know this, and would you apply it in real life? You can check your ninja smarts quotient here.
I just hope that from my example and method of helping, this girl learned that it’s better to assert yourself and be safe, than to be sorry. When your personal safety is on the line, don’t be afraid to assert yourself. Let’s teach all of our kids this, including the girls.
Jenifer Tull-Gauger knows what it’s like to be an “old soul” and a painfully quiet kid struggling to fit in. Her journey to 7th degree black belt is a testament of how she found inner strength through traditional karate. Now in leadership for the international U.R.K.A., she heads up a private dojo with her husband.
Jenifer combined her passions for art and writing, with what she’s learned from 23-plus years of teaching karate, to create a children’s character-building picture book series. The Dojo Kun Character Books help children to find their own power in their lives. JeniferTullGauger.com