I wrote on Tuesday about a man who was once a part of our homeschooling group and his recent arrest, talking about how it rocked our group and shocked me personally.
This is still on my mind quite a lot. It’s made me do a lot of thinking about the people that I know, the people that I trust (or think I trust), and the new people that are bound to join our group (and some that recently have).
Until this happened, I hadn’t really given much thought to safety precautions when it comes to meeting new homeschooling families. I mean, it’s families – how unsafe can it be, right? That’s what I thought, but now that this happened, I’ve completely rethought that.
Despite how safe it might seem to meet families, we still need to use safety. We need to use common sense. We need to think of this as being much like online dating. You wouldn’t meet a man (or woman) that you’ve only talked to online in his/her home the very first time, would you? Of course not.
I have no hard and fast rules here. I only just started thinking about this myself. But I have come up with a few that I think would make a lot of sense.
- Make first meets in public places. Whether it’s you meeting a group for the first time, a new member joining your current group, or you and another family that you’ve met online meeting the first time, make meets in public locations: museums, parks, movie theaters, ice cream shops, libraries. Ideally, these places should be fairly highly trafficked. The point is to be visible, so a park that’s empty except for you and the other family isn’t really ideal. If it’s a group meeting, then safety in numbers would apply and you’d be okay in a less trafficked place.
- Consider group activities until you get to know them a lot better. When
you click with someone new, sometimes your instinct is to arrange get-togethers with just them so you can get to know them better and see if there’s a real friendship there. The smarter, and safer, choice would be to stick with group activities for a while. Watch their interactions with others as well as you. Do they treat everyone the same? Are they singling anyone out, whether for conversation or to ignore? Do they seem comfortable, happy in the group? Watching how they behave in the group and how they treat other people will show you much more about their character than the way they behave and treat you when it’s just your two families.
- Don’t go to their house until you know them better. Again, as with public places for first meetings, this has obvious exceptions. If they are inviting the group over, and multiple families are attending, safety in numbers applies and you don’t need to be as concerned. Homes make it far too easy to separate you from your children, and can leave you inclined to let your guard down because it seems so safe. If you feel ready to meet another family with just your two families, consider having the first few meetings at public places again, just to see how things go and make sure you’re still comfortable.
- Limit contact information. We have home addresses, email addresses,
phone numbers, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tsu…the list is endless of ways people can get hold of us. We’ve become so connected, and so accustomed to being able to reach people at any time, anywhere, that it’s tempting to give every possible method of contact to a new friend. The flipside to this, though, is that if things don’t work out – it can be a lot harder to get away from them. You have to block their number from your cell phone, change your home number, block them on Facebook, ignore them on Twitter, change your email address and create a new Google+…okay, maybe you don’t actually have to do all those things, but if you get a persistent one, you just might. And if you give them your home address? Might as well start packing now. If you limit the ways they can contact you, you also limit the ways that they can harass you if the friendship ends, and you limit the things you have to change if they harass you. It also makes it easier if you need a breather during the friendship – if they have your phone number, they can blow your phone up, but at least they can’t send you message after message on Facebook, fill your Twitter feed, and send you 5,000 emails, each more desperate than the last (trust me, I’ve seen it happen. Some people don’t know when to quit).
- Be cautious about sharing favorite places to go, or how close a place is to your house. You might have a favorite place to hang out with your kids – a local beach, a specific library branch, an indoor playground with the coolest equipment. Or maybe you have a fun place that’s super close to home that you want to share with your new friend. Consider this, however: if you share your favorite place, it might become their favorite place, too. If you stop being friends, or things get awkward, you might have to see them there all the time. That place so close to home? If you’re too open about how close to home it is (“Oh, it’s only five minutes away from me. I mean, I literally make only two right turns and I’m there!”), you make it so much easier for them to find you. This might not seem like a big deal at first, but once you start getting that hinky feeling that something isn’t right, it could become a huge deal. If you let your kids go out to ride bikes around the neighborhood with their friends, you could end up becoming utterly paranoid about it.
I realize that I might seem a little paranoid with my suggestions. And maybe I am. The thing is, what recently happened has made me realize just how relaxed I was. I trusted that the people we were meeting were good, decent people like I am. I ignored my gut instinct screaming at me that something wasn’t right with one of those people, and though he was long gone from our lives before we found out just what he was capable of, I’ve realized that things could have been very different. The fact that we lucked out (though, by no means do I feel any gratitude that it happened to this other family whose daughter chose to go with him) has made me hyperaware now that I can’t be so trusting.
I’ve come to realize that, as I mentioned earlier, this is a lot like online dating (or any dating, really). Perhaps safety should be even more crucial for this than for dating, because at least when it comes to a date, your safety is the only safety at risk. With this, it’s your safety and the safety of your children. Who wants to take a risk with that?
I’ve shared some of the new rules I plan to start implementing for my family when it comes to meeting and making new homeschooling friends. What rules would you add to this list, or which ones would you remove? I’d love to hear your thoughts!