Q. My 14-year-old daughter refuses to walk anywhere alone, even during the day, because she says men and boys frequently yell and whistle from their cars at her and her friends. The girls do not dress provocatively. How do I help her deal with this?
-- A Single Mom in Sonoma, Calif.
A. A popular solution among readers: Ignore the whistling and it will stop.
"My friends and I also have this problem," says Sarah Macbeth, an 11th-grader in Loveland, Colo. "We try to carry ourselves in a way that would not suggest that we want attention, but frequently we get whistles and hoots from cars driving by. Instead of letting this bother us or make us fearful of walking outside, we try to ignore them. I've found that by giving these boys a reaction, it only spurs them on."
One reader suggests this teen-ager is just trying to get out of walking, but other parents and experts disagree.
"If the daughter says she's afraid, the mom needs to listen," says Paula Statman, author of "Raising Careful, Confident Kids in a Crazy World" (Piccolo Press, $12; Canada, $17). "It's time to be reassuring, and provide protection a little longer until the teen-ager can navigate on her own the next time."
It's not automatic that a 14-year-old girl knows how to go out alone and feel comfortable, says Statman, who is founder of KidWISE. The institute, based in Oakland, Calif., trains groups nationwide how to teach personal safety to kids.
"When your young teen-ager is feeling apprehensive about her new independence, some of it is to be expected," she says.
Prepare her without scaring her, says Statman, who strongly advocates the buddy system. "Our society doesn't warrant walking alone," she says.
Have "what if" discussions, and talk about how your daughter and her friends could shout, "Leave us alone!" or duck into a haven such as a bank, a store or the library if they feel uncomfortable.
"That's more empowering than saying, 'I'll give you a ride,' " Statman says. Also talk with your daughter about how the whistling made her feel and what she could do next time, Statman suggests.
Sol Gordon, co-author of "Raising a Child Responsibly in a Sexually Permissive World" (Adams Media, $10.95; Canada, $15.95), agrees.
Help your daughter to understand that "the men and boys themselves are insecure," Gordon says. Offer advice such as: "Don't pay attention to people you don't care about or respect."
A single mom from Hampshire, Ill., agrees. "Your daughter is one smart young woman. You as a mother should be thrilled that your daughter doesn't want to 'hang around,' walk around alone or place herself in potentially dangerous situations."
Safety issues depend on where you live and where your child wants to go. To evaluate how much independence your child is ready for, Statman says, add these questions to your list of concerns:
What's your child's track record as far as using good judgment?
How have you prepared her to respond in situations where she feels uncomfortable?
Who are your child's friends and how do they behave in public?
Slowly let out the reins as your kids show you they can handle small doses of freedom, Statman suggests.
Other safety tips for walkers:
Walk with confidence and remain alert.
Don't lag behind your friends.
Stay away from the curb.
For more safety information, contact KidWISE toll-free at (888) 543-9473. The institute's Web site is www.kidwise.com.
Can you help?
My precocious 4-year-old daughter refuses to answer the good-natured queries of acquaintances and friendly strangers (at the grocery store, in the neighborhood) and turns her head away or just stares when someone greets her, This isn't a simple case of a child who smiles shyly while hiding behind her mother's skirt. When her dad asked why she doesn't talk to people, she said, "I don't want to answer people who have nothing real to say." Help!
-- A Mother in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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