Once again, the beating of a teenage girl in South Florida has demonstrated to us that we are failing to protect our children by not teaching them to protect themselves and those around them. In this case, Josie Lou Ratley a 13 year-old middle schooler in Deerfield Beach, FL was brutally beaten and kicked by another teenager wearing steel-toed boots. She survived the attack, but is going to be permanently faced with challenges, included things like learning how to walk and talk again. (Here’s a link to a CBS News article, sorry it’s the earliest one I found).
Earlier this week a psychologist assigned to evaluate her accused assailant (Wayne Treacy), has testified in court that Treacy is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the suicide of his brother and that text message between him and the victim could be what sparked off his attack on Ratley. (Source Article Here: AOL News). What happens to Treacy as a result of either conviction for the attempted murder of Josie Ratley or confinement based on mental illness (and the fact that he isn’t able to stand trial) is up to the courts. There is no dout, however, that he is a deeply troubled youth to have committed such a heinous crime.
Before the attack took place, text messages between Treacy and Ratley definitively indicate that something wasn’t right. In fact, according to police, the final text message Treacy sent Ratley blatently stated that he was going to kill her. From there, according to reports, Treacy texted others saying essentially the same thing; that he intended to do harm to Ratley. This is what makes this story all more tragic. That there were others surrounding both the victim and the accused assailant that failed to stop this situation from playing out.
Certainly, those involved that didn’t take action when they knew that something bad was going on will be plagued with guilt for a very long time to come. My article today is NOT about blaming them for her brutal beating, but to bring to light that once again we are failing to arm children and young adults with the ability to 1) protect themselves and others from the physical dangers in the world and 2) arm them with the confidence to stand up and do what’s right; not just morally, but also to speak out to protect others.
Here are some things you can do to help your child NOT be the victim or the bystander in a tragic play such as this one:
1) Pay Attention: Without a doubt, this situation could have played out differently had a culture of attentiveness been prevalent on both sides. What I mean is simple – were everyone that was involved not so wrapped up in the day to day minutiae of life they could have seen that there was a ripple in the force, something out of the ordinary that could have been picked up on and then investigated further. I’m certain Treacy’s parents knew he was upset about his brother, but perhaps in their own grief or in trying to get back to the everyday pattern of life they missed how deeply affected this young man was by his brother’s suicide.
2) Create a Culture where it’s never alright to joke about doing someone bodily harm: When I was a kid, we had toy guns and water pistols. My mom made it an absolute rule that you could NEVER point or pretend to shoot another person. That was because my mom didn’t want us to even play or pretend that killing or hurting someone was an okay thing. Now, this rule comes from a family that self-protection training is an everyday part of life (I come from an entire family of black belts and career martial artists) where we practice techniques that can seriously hurt people. However, the value of life is so great that we didn’t even pretend or joke about what we were going to do to someone. Therefore, if we got this kind of message via text it would have raised a red flag. If everyone adopted that mentality—that it was never okay to make jokes like that—perhaps those that had received texts or messages from Treacy about what he was planning wouldn’t have ignored what obviously, according to the psychologist assigned to evaluate him was a cry of “Stop me. Stop me. Stop me. I need help. I need help. I need help.”
3) Make sure that your kids know that you’re their best resource in dealing with a situation that is beyond their control: Sure, you’ve told your children that they can always come to you with anything, but have your actions in the past indicated the exact opposite? Many kids feel as though they have to handle life’s situations on their own, which in most cases they don’t. They have a support network that’s ready to be activated and take action on their behalf when the situation gets too big for them. Really knowing that they have back-up, that an adult they trust will help them through whatever situation can give teens the confidence they need to speak up when they’re aware of a negative situation in their peer group. Had anyone involved in this tragedy spoken up and told an adult they could trust that something out of the ordinary was going on, this brutal tragedy could have been prevented.
4) Enroll your teen in some kind of self-protection and personal development training: There are many great programs out there that specialize in teaching youth how to recognize and deal with verbal, physical, and cyber threats. Chief among those is your local martial arts school. Many of these schools teach not only great self-defense skills and fitness habits, but teach personal development components right along with the punches and kicks. Emerging studies are finding that this increases confidence and makes children and teens less likely to be physically assaulted or bullied. I can tell you, that as someone that has been a part of martial arts training for more than 20 years I’ve seen over and over that this is the case. Perhaps, just perhaps, had anyone involved in this tragic situation been a black belt at a martial arts school (including the victim and the assailant) maybe it wouldn’t have happened because they would have had the confidence to say something. In Ratley’s case, perhaps should could have fended off Treacy. Or, in Treacy’s case, maybe the sense of self-worth that comes from consistent martial arts training would have led him to be more open about his feelings and seeks out proper mental healthcare. We’ll never know what the outcome had this factor been the case. For all we know, someone may have had martial arts training and still said nothing, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that teens that enrolled in schools across America are preventing thousands more tragedies like this one from occurring.
The most important piece of advice, one that is often repeated but not necessarily heeded: Talk to your kids and really listen to what they have to say. Offer them advice when they want it, less-often when they don’t want to hear you preach, but learn as much as you can about what’s going on in their lives. They’re smart, but not necessarily emotionally mature and you’ll be able to gain insights into what’s going on and if need be, protect them from others or even themselves.
About the author: Manny Cabrera III is an expert in self-protection, fitness, personal development, and is a life-long martial artist. He serves as chief instructor at Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers with locations in Lithia, FL and Tampa, FL and has written for multiple publications. Mr. Cabrera resides in Brandon, FL with his wife Jessica, their twin sons, and an energetic Austrailian Cattle Dog. Follow Mr. Cabrera on Twitter.
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