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How We Created a TV Show to Save Children From Predators

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My wonderful mother, who had the best of intentions, scared the bejezus out of me regularly in her effort to keep me safe. Growing up I was told stories of kidnappers, terrorists, strong undercurrents, coyotes who would eat small children, kids who drowned in pools, bathtubs, sharks, barracudas, snakes, bears, lions, hijackers, hitch hikers, fires, earthquakes, nuclear war possibilities, you name it. Before I had reached kindergarten, I was a pro at the “what if” and, my mother argued, I was better off for it. “What if a fire started in this theater?” she would quiz me. “I would run towards the stage exit,” I answered automatically. Right. “What if a person pulled their car up and tried to take you?” “I would drop my weight and scream and try to get away.” Truth is, I was haunted by the scenarios she “prepared” me for. And frankly, few of them were even likely.

As a mother, I sought a better way to prepare my children for potential harm. But I didn’t know how. How can we teach kids about the dangers in the world without scaring them? How can we help them remember how to keep themselves safe when we aren’t around? I wanted my daughter to both trust her fear and weigh the danger of any situation.

Six years ago, when my daughter was three, I attended a neighborhood talk lead by Safety Expert, Pattie Fitzgerald. Sitting in a friend’s living room, 15 parents of young children listened as Pattie started rattling off statistics.

  • There are 6 million reports of child abuse a year and 90% of those are with someone the child already knows. “Stranger Danger” is an outdated concept that helps no one.
  • 7 out of 10 children get lost in their lives. Teaching children to look for a police offer won’t help them if they’re lost in most places (look up now – is there one near you? Nope.)

Pattie’s approach was eye opening and smart. Her language was wonderfully child-friendly and un-icky. She empowered us with concepts like “children need to know they’re the boss of their bodies” and “they should trust their fear – which to them is an ‘uh-oh’ feeling.”

I was eager to pass down Pattie’s teaching to my child. But there was no book. And since my daughter learned quickly from media, a video would have really helped. (The one show that was available didn’t mesh with the smart teachings from Pattie – and it actually really scared my kid with a crazy, over-the-top gorilla character.) So, right there and then, I vowed to one day make a show to help a generation of children – and their parents – keep themselves educated about safety. That was six years ago.

Last year, funded by parents who also shared the need for this show and the others we’ve produced at The Mother Company, Sam, my partner, and I sat down to figure it out– with Pattie on board as our expert. Pattie gets a lot of requests and we were honored she chose to work with us.

We talked about the 4 main things we wanted children to take away from it:

  • to know they are the “boss of their body” and no one is allowed to hurt them
  • to listen to their “uh-oh feeling” and trust their gut when anything felt wrong
  • to know what to do in case they get lost
  • to always “check first” with a safe adult before going anywhere unexpected

We felt those four things were the basis of Pattie’s teachings and the most important information to get across. If our mission was to truly save lives with a children’s show, these messages were the most vital.

We wrote and re-wrote, added, and edited. We tested for “ick-factor” – we wanted this show to cause no squirming. Zero ick. And when we thought our little script was Emmy worthy, we raised more money to make it. Under Sam’s wing as the show’s director, we started putting it all together.

We knew we needed to address some form of stranger-danger but didn’t want to scare kids (or parents!) since this whole show is about empowering them. The fact of the matter is that 90% of the time, it isn’t the “strangers” that harm our children – it is someone they know. Our show reaffirms how crucial it is for kids to listen to their fear (their uh-oh Feeling) and check first with a safe adult before doing anything unexpected.

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Among my many favorite parts is the segment about what to do when you get lost. I exhale a little when the mother empathizes after finding her daughter “that must have been so scary!” I hope other parents adopt that approach. So many parents get mad at their kids when they get lost. It’s a natural reaction from a parent since we’re upset – and often feel it is our fault but want to blame the child for wandering. Getting lost is scary!

One challenge we had in writing this show was to get the right messaging around a kid who was being touched in ways he didn’t like – without it being creepy. So we brought back our favorite character from “The Feelings Show” (and from our best-selling book “When Miles Got Mad”) and made it his birthday with an overly excited family who pinched, tickled, and noogied him. It’s a delicate subject because we didn’t want to say that all affection is bad – only the kind that doesn’t feel right. This segment accomplished our goal with humor and understanding. Hopefully it will reaffirm for kids that their siblings aren’t allowed to hurt them in any way either.

For extra fun, we added in segments with kids talking – totally unscripted – about getting lost, and safety, and being the boss of their bodies. Kids are so wise and funny naturally.

One of my favorite parts of the show is actually meant for parents. It’s Ruby’s special good-bye where she asks the kids in the studio “How would you like to say good-bye? With a hug or a handshake?” As a child, I was strongly encouraged to “say goodnight” to everyone around my parents’ social dinner table before I marched upstairs to bed. I can’t tell you how many strangers I had to kiss and hug and how that sends the totally wrong message to children about trusting their instincts and respecting themselves when they don’t want to kiss or hug someone else.

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When Ruby asks the kids in the studio – she is giving them the choice of how to say good-bye – which as parents, we should offer to our kids too. It’s respectful and will help keep them safe. (I learned this from my daughter’s wonderful kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hamilburg.)

In all, as the show came together, Sam and I realized it was as beautiful and fresh and empowering as we had dreamed. It was the show I needed six years ago to help educate my daughter about her safety without scaring her. It is the show my three year old son now chooses to watch and sing along to.

It is our hope this show lives for generations and becomes a childhood staple. And it is our hope that the messages in it carry beyond childhood.

In talking about this show to a friend, she said “Gosh, if I had known I was the ‘boss of my body’ when I was in college, I would have been so much better off.”

Exactly.

(And good news- the show turned out to be Emmy worthy.)

Watch the trailer for Ruby's Studio: The Safety Show


See more at: http://www.themotherco.com

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