Parenting colleges students after Idaho tragedy.
Before my daughter left for college in August, I gave her a Birdie personal alarm. It hangs on her keychain, and we have even practiced using it. If she feels threatened, she can separate the alarm box from her keychain, and it sets off a high-pitched, loud audible alarm and blinking strobe. It’s tiny but mighty. (You can purchase one from Amazon here.) It helps us both have a little peace of mind, but we also know she has to take lots of other measures to stay safe in the world. Haven’t we always worried about the safety of our kids in college? But now, with the murders of four college students in one house in Moscow, Idaho, I’m more concerned than ever, even though they have a suspect in custody.
I graduated from the same southern state university our daughter is attending…way back in 1989. Things were different then. We didn’t have cell phones. The university was less than half the size it is now, and there were dark areas in the parking lots. Sometimes, if I drove home from somewhere late at night alone, I would park across the street, in a two-hour parking spot, because it was safer. And often, in the morning, I would find multiple parking tickets on my windshield. I looked at it as the price to pay for safety. My dad was angry the first time he received notice that I had accumulated city parking tickets. When he asked, I told him I would pay them that day. At first, he started to talk sternly with me about the cost of the tickets, but I stopped him when I said, “Would you rather I park in the rape zone?” No, there wasn’t an area actually called the “rape zone.” It was just what I called dark, scary parking lots. And you know what his answer to that question was? “Absolutely not. You park wherever you need to park to feel safe.”
The world can be a scary, dangerous place, and hopefully, our college students realize that. The good news about that realization? If you realize it, then you can take precautions to decrease the possibility of your becoming a victim…like not parking in the rape zone.
The brutal murders of four college students in Moscow, Idaho, in November was a horrible crime, and while it likely frightened every student at that university, I can safely say it scared college students and their parents everywhere. My daughter, a college freshman, called me after hearing about it, asking, “Should I be afraid?” I explained to her that she should be cautious, but she should be cautious all the time. I’m the mother who always reminds her to be aware of where the exits are no matter where she goes…a movie theater, a bar, a hotel room…anywhere. It’s a practice I learned years ago when I was a flight attendant…always know a way out. Also, always be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to the faces around you; are some of them appearing too often in different places? There are so many things I have told my daughter over the years. I hope and pray she has listened.
But back to her question, “Should I be afraid?” Maybe “afraid” isn’t the right word. I told her to be extra cautious. I told her to take extra safety measures she should be taking in everyday life anyway. I remember Ted Bundy in the 1970s. He was in Washington state, then Utah, then all the way down in Florida. It’s a big country, but it’s pretty easy to move around in it unnoticed. Could the Idaho murderer have found his way to North Carolina? Georgia? Florida? Alabama? You bet he could have. Fortunately, they have arrested a suspect that the authorities feel pretty strongly is the murderer. Does it make us all feel a little safer? Yes, but there are lots of evil people out there in the world, and they’re not easy to identify. If I had seen Bryan Kohberger, the suspect in the Idaho murders, in a store or restaurant, would I have thought he looked scary or capable of brutally murdering four people? Probably not. He doesn’t look particularly strong to me. He doesn’t even look evil to me, but if he committed the murders, he is definitely evil.
That’s what that crime made us all realize. We can’t always recognize evil when we see it, but we can take measures to avoid it. I’m guessing college parents all over the country have been reminding their children of that very fact before sending them back for this upcoming semester. My parents used to tell me ways to stay safe. It’s always on my mind. My daughter now understands why I want her to text me a secret symbol when she gets in to her dorm (or a safe friend’s house) at night. Just sending me “I’m home” isn’t good enough. Anyone could text that from her phone, but not just anyone knows our secret symbol. When I see that symbol late at night, I sleep more soundly. Does she always remember to do it? No. In fact, last night was her first night back at school, and I didn’t get the symbol after she went out. Thankfully, I slept through the night.
Have the Idaho murders changed college students’ approach to safety? I hope so. My daughter and I discussed safety again before she went back to college yesterday for her second semester. I hope college students everywhere know they can’t share their door codes with other people. A secret isn’t a secret if more than one person knows it. Right? If you’re sending your child off to college for the next semester soon, remind them to be cautious. Remind them to walk with friends. Remind them to look out for each other. Remind them to always lock doors. Remind them to park in safe areas. Remind them to be cautious. Remind them that it’s OK to call the police if they are concerned about something or someone.
Tell them you love them every time you text or talk, and hug them every time you see them.