Yesterday, the only child of some of my closest friends, a very sweet and smart young girl, was stalked and attacked by an older boy, a stranger to her, as she walked home from her elementary school in the suburbs of a large city. The boy had in the past already made his presence known to her and her parents by following her, but had run off when questioned. This time, there was no one else around, and when the girl tried to walk away from him, he pushed her to the ground, taunted her, and then punched her in the face. She was terrified. Her parents, of course, called the police but nothing has come of it yet. No one knows who the boy is, or can think of any reason for his actions.

My heart is heavy, and my mind swirls with so many emotions and thoughts. It's likely that all of us have had some sad experiences with bullying or violence, and those experiences can leave deep emotional scars, not fully realized until perhaps years or decades later in life. Physically, we heal, but the mind will keep asking, "Why? Why me? Why didn't I do this or this or this? What if he had a weapon? What if it happens again? Is this how the world is going to be for me?" Children who experience bullying or violence are far more likely to turn those experiences inward, blaming themselves and internalizing the ugliness that is put upon them by others. It's often left unsaid to parents or teachers or counselors or friends, because it's either just too hard to talk about or the feelings are so overwhelming they can't even be identified.

As a parent, I am heartbroken and furious. I want to lift this lovely child, whom I've known since her birth, up and away from anything hurtful and set her down in Candyland, while I go find and throttle her attacker. But I can't do that. What I did do was speak to my middle son, Mr14, after he finished up school today, as I wanted to get the thoughts of someone close to her age. I respect his opinions on this issue particularly. He has now had 8 years of martial arts instruction, has earned a 1st degree black belt, and his fine program has focused a great deal on conflict avoidance and resolution, and how to react quickly in threatening situations. I've seen him handle difficult situations with grace and control because of it. Without saying any of my opinions, I told him what had happened, and then asked him for advice. I thought it was pretty damn solid, and wrote it down as he said it.

Me: So what do you think?

Mr14: The best thing is always to do the things so it doesn't happen in the first place! You don't know if the guy is crazy or what. You have to kind of think like he might be thinking to make sure you don't get hurt. You can do stuff and still, like, get around and do what you want to do.

Me: Cool.

Mr14: The main thing is to always go around with a group of people and always have a phone! Trust me, there's no bully who is going to mess with you if you are with a bunch of friends! They won't even bother. They only look for people who are all alone and can't call for help.

Me: The Buddy System!

Mr14: Right! It's more fun to hang out with friends anyway! Also, another thing to do is change what you do every day. Go home a different way sometimes or maybe stay later at school and do more work or take sports or something. If the guy can't predict exactly when you are going to be around, he'll give up. You can look different, too. Wear a hoodie or something.

Me: I like hoodies.

Mr14: I know, you wear them all the time! Also, maybe you can either ride a bike or take a bus to school so you are faster or with more people. You can have your parents take you to school and pick you up or take a taxi.

Me: I think that could get expensive.

Mr14: If someone is coming after you, the main thing you want to be thinking is, "RUN!" Running away is always better than getting in a fight, especially if you are smaller than the other guy. You can run into a store or a friendly person's house or run onto a bus or a school if you have to. You should also be screaming as loud and mad as you can the whole time, like "BACK OFF!" or "HELP!" A lot of times bad guys will go away if you make so much noise they can't stand it.

Me: I can yell REAL LOUD.

Mr14: I know! You could blow out a guy's ears!

Me: Thank you!

Mr14: When you are running or trying to get away, try to be unpredictable. Run in weird ways, like zig zags, or turning back. Never run into the street or an alley, though. If you see something you can throw at the guy to hit him or block his way, do it. It doesn't matter if it's a parked motorcycle, just do it.

Me: So what happens if you can't get away?

Mr14: Keep yelling as loud as you can. There are things you can learn to defend yourself, but if you can't and the guy keeps hitting you and you have no chance to get away at all, get into the smallest ball you can and protect your head and neck. You'd rather take a hit to your arm than your head. Try to pay attention to what the guy looks like with a lot of detail so you can tell the police. Always be ready to get away.

Me: What would you say to our friend?

Mr14: That it's not her fault at all and that she did a good job because she's still here and that there's lots of good people who will always want to help. Don't let people freak you out! Just be safe.

Me: Thank you, sweetie.

Mr14: You're welcome!

Please feel free to add your own advice or experiences in comments. It is appreciated.