Defending Your Family

Dear Mr. Dad: Every day there’s a story in the news about violence—whether it’s a terrorist, a mass shooter, or some other nut job. I feel bad for the victims of this violence, but I’m also feeling extremely helpless. I’m thinking about signing all of us up for some kind of martial arts lessons but I don’t want to teach my kids to be violent. I read in one of your columns that you have a background in martial arts. Do you recommend a particular style?

A: I completely understand your feelings of helplessness. Every time I hear one of the stories you’re talking about, I experience exactly the same thing.

Martial arts are wonderful for many reasons: they’re often a great workout, help build coordination and balance, increase self-confidence and self-esteem, improve memory, instill discipline and respect, and, of course, teach you how to defend yourself. But martial arts—particularly traditional styles—aren’t magic. First, no amount of martial arts training will protect you from a bomb or a sniper. Second, most martial arts are a sport, which means they emphasize safety and fair fighting (more on that below). You’ll need to practice for a very long time before the techniques you learn will be useful on the street.

The one exception—the skill you can learn right away—is perhaps the most important one of all: “situational awareness.” Like it sounds, situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings, observing other people’s behaviors, recognizing potential threats, and identifying potential escape routes. Situational awareness (which includes keeping your cell phone in your pocket when you’re walking around) will help you avoid many dangerous situations before they even happen.

My frustration with the lack of practical skills in traditional martial arts is what led me, after years of experience with Tae Kwon Do, to Krav Maga, an Israeli style that’s essentially street fighting—no choreographed forms (kata) or metaphysical discussions. I think I learned more practical techniques in my first month of Krav than in a decade of TKD.

As great as it is, Krav Maga focuses on defense—reacting after someone has started to attack you. The problem with that is that if you’re being attacked, chances are the stress will make you forget all those fancy weapon takeaways, joint locks, and other multi-step techniques. So I became interested in a new approach that’s becoming more common: a totally streamlined system that’s designed to do as much damage to your attacker as possible.

I had a chance to experience two of these, and they were both great. Damian Ross’s Self Defense Training System ( teaches a small number of brutal strikes (including punches to the throat and eye gouging) that are easy to learn, can be used in almost any situation, and are absolutely devastating.

Tim Larkin’s Target Focus Training ( has a similar philosophy: “Violence is rarely the answer. But when it is, it’s the only answer.” The goal is to reduce your attacker to a “nonfunctional” state by methodically and viciously attacking vital targets.

One thing you’ll have to overcome if you’re opting for Ross’s or Larkin’s approach is your natural aversion to hurting other people. In martial arts, when you’re sparring, you land a blow, score a point, and then back out. The idea of gouging eyes and breaking knees seems unfair. In the ring, that’s true, but in a real-life attack, your attacker won’t be playing by the rules and you can’t either. So you’ll have to get comfortable with the idea that to protect your family from violence, you (and they) may have to do severe, possibly life-threatening violence, to someone else.



Photo credit: Martin Kníže

Emotional Safety + How Teaching Works

Joshua Straub, author of Safe House.
How emotional safety is the key to raising kids who live, love, and lead well.
Issues: Why emotional safety matters; understanding your parenting “story” and how it affects you and your child; building a safe house with four walls: explore, protect, grace, and truth; the science of emotional safety.

Elizabeth Green, author of Build a Better Teacher.
How teaching works and how to teach it to everyone.
Issues: Everyone agrees that a great teacher can have an enormous impact. But is it simply a matter of natural charisma, or can it be taught to millions of people who make up the American teaching workforce?

Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving

Tim Hollister, author of Not So Fast.
Parenting your teen through the dangers of driving
Issues: How brain development affects driving; what driver’s ed doesn’t produce safe drivers; how and why to prepare a “flight plan” for each drive before handing over the keys; how an when to say no.

Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life

Jason Hanson, author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life.
Safety and survival techniques to keep your family protected
Issues: Picking locks; essential items to carry at all times; know when you’re being followed and how to lose your tail; preventing home invasions, carjackings, and kidnappings; traveling safely no matter where you are.

My Progressive Drive Safe Today Day Pledge

stop sign - from photos-public-domain-comI’ll admit it: Before I had kids, I drove like a maniac. Yellow lights meant “floor it” and red lights and stop signs were often optional. I spent my junior year of college living in France and got a job with a cousin of mine driving all over Paris making deliveries. One of his favorite lines was that he’d never get into a car with me without a second pair of underwear.

Not surprisingly, I was pulled over plenty of times and did get into a few accidents, although, amazingly, only one of them was my fault (I was driving down San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley on a gorgeous, sunny day, got distracted by an equally gorgeous girl in an outrageously short skirt, and rear-ended the guy in front of me. I tried to blame the accident on her, but the cop just rolled his eyes). Miraculously, I never killed or injured anyone.

speedometer - photos-public-domain-comBut I still remember where I was when the realization hit me (better a realization than another vehicle) that I had to make some changes. My first child was due in a few weeks and I had responsibilities—people needed me to be alive.

zoe at ERIn the years since that little epiphany, I haven’t had a ticket and have been involved in only one accident: Some jerk (maybe a young me) ran a red light and t-boned me, then drove off. My car was totaled and my youngest daughter and I were carted off in an ambulance. In yet another minor miracle, with the exception of my back still being in near constant pain, both of us have fully recovered. Chalk up another victory for seatbelts and sheer luck.

progressive drive safe logoBecause two of my three kids are driving and the third is just a few short years away from getting behind the wheel of a car, I’m taking a pledge to be a better driver. I know that’s a phrase that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But for me, it simply means paying more attention to safety and the basic things I can do to make our roads safer for my kids and yours. So no texting or checking email or using GPS or making phone calls—even if I’m just sitting at a red light. No fishing around on the floor for something I dropped. That’s a lot of Nos.

On the Yes side, I pledge to cut other drivers some slack. The woman who cut in front of me so rudely? The kid who nearly sideswiped me? The old guy who was going 45 in the fast lane? Instead of flipping them off or leaning on the horn, I’ll take a few deep breaths and, like Queen Elsa in Frozen, I’ll just let it go. I can’t control how other people drive, only how I react to it. And sitting behind the wheel of a 2,000+ pound weapon, the potential to do instant, permanent damage is huge.

hospital ER sign - publicdomainpictures-net

I invite you to join Progressive and me on September 3rd, 2015, for Drive Safe Today Day. Take the pledge to make the roads safer. Learn more about the initiative by liking Progressive on Facebook and following @Progressive on Twitter. Stay alert, focused and calm while you’re on the road—and help as many people as you can do the same. To paraphrase Smokey Bear (who said, “Only you can prevent forest fires”), only you can make our roads safe. The life you save could be your own—or your child’s.


This post was written in partnership with Progressive Insurance. I have been compensated, but the thoughts and ideas are my own. For additional driving safety tips, check out Progressive’s Drive Safe Today Day program.



Water Safety:

water safetyDear Mr. Dad: My 4-year old twins are crazy about swimming or floating or doing pretty much anything in and around water. On one hand, I’m thrilled. I swam in high-school and college and I’m looking forward to having them follow in my footsteps. On the other, I’m scared. I’m a stay-at-home mom and there is no way I can keep an eye on them every second. How do we make our house water safe?

A: You’re absolutely right to be scared. Keeping an eye on one child is hard enough. The fact that they outnumber you and can head off in different directions makes your situation especially challenging.

Being in the water, whether we’re swimming, wading, or just splashing around can be wonderful fun, especially for little kids. But those same activities—and anything else you could possibly do around water—can be extremely dangerous. Every year, about 375 children under 15 drown each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). About 280 are under five, and 95 percent of those deaths happen in swimming pools. Another 4,100 children under five end up in hospital emergency rooms every year after what the CPSC euphemistically calls “non-fatal submersion incidents.”  Sometimes the result is permanent brain damage.

The only way to keep children from drowing or being injured around water is to keep them far, far away from it. But that’s just not practical. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risks. Here are some general guidelines. We’ll get to specific pool-related steps after that.

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