WHEN YOU TAKE ON THE ROLE of parent, you take on an incredible amount of responsibility. One of those responsibilities is to thoroughly prepare your children for some of the dangers they may face as they transition into adulthood. We have no way of knowing what those specific dangers may be or at what point they might appear. Those things are outside our control, but we can control the amount of information we give our teens about predatory violence and how that material is presented. This all starts by removing some of the misconceptions we as adults have about crime and predatory behaviors in general. For now, it's time to put aside any preconceived notions you may have about who commits violent crimes and why, and focus on the basic concepts of situational awareness that will allow you and your teen to spot dangerous situations before they ever happen.

Our minds are filled with misconceptions, particularly in the realm of personal defense. Many people think that by enrolling their teen in a self-defense class or giving them a can of pepper spray to keep in their car, they're preparing them to successfully overcome any threatening situation. With the proper training, these things can certainly help keep them alive in a fight, but real personal safety starts well before a threat ever materializes. This is where situational awareness comes into play. I define situational awareness as the ability to identify and process envionmental cues to accurately predict the actions of others. Being aware of your surroundings isn't an overly complicated process, but because of the perceptions some people have, they equate it to some sort of super- power reserved only for spies and secret agents. This isn't the case at all, and as you're about to learn, there are simple steps you can take right now that will dramatically improve your teen's level of situational awareness. You can take some of these steps as soon as you finish reading this.

Let's start with the basics. Criminals are creatures of opportunity, and they'll do anything to avoid being caught. That's why they prey on those they consider to be unaware or unable to react quickly enough to protect themselves. This is book three in the "Heads Up" situational awareness series and I call it that for a reason. Simply lifting your head and paying attention to your surroundings changes how you are perceived by others, especially those with predatory intentions. It changes how you walk and gives you an air of confidence you just don't have when your head is buried in a cellphone. This simple action gives you a broader view of your environment and allows you more time to react should a dangerous situation present itself. From the perspective of a criminal, you now look harder to approach, so it's much more likely that they'll pass you by in search of a more vulnerable victim. Now that you have your head up and you're ready to step out into the world, you may ask yourself, "What exactly should I be looking for?" Before I answer that question, I think I should explain how I'll break this information down. I present the basics of awareness in two separate segments.

• Understanding the threat

• Building your situational awareness

Each segment plays a critical role in developing a well-rounded personal defense program, and I cover each of these extensively in book one of the series, Spotting Danger Before It Spots You. If you've followed the series up to this point, this information may seem familiar, but here I present things from a different perspective. Although the nuts and bolts of situational awareness remain the same, the lessons, examples, and practical exercises I put forth now are unique and geared toward the specific issues that teens routinely face.

How Predators Choose Their Victims

So, what should you be looking for? In the beginning, the more important question is, what are criminals looking for? To fully understand the process of situational awareness, we need to take a step back and evaluate ourselves, our movements, and how others perceive us. To do this, we need to understand what predators look for in their victims and why they choose the people they do.

We can divide predators into two categories: resource predators and process predators. Resource predators want something tangible from you, like your wallet, purse, watch, or anything they feel is valuable to them. Process predators on the other hand want nothing from you; they get off on the act of violence itself, and they can be much more dangerous people. One thing both types of predators have in common is that they always have their own best interests at heart. They don't want to get caught, and they don't want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Regardless of the factors that drive predatory violence, the result is always the same for the victim. The shock, emotional trauma, and physical damage of a violent attack can resonate with victims for years. For this reason, it's crucial that you have a good idea as to why you may be targeted. Predators tend to stick to a specific set of conditions when selecting their targets. Knowing how they think and what they look for is the first big step in achieving real situational awareness.

Just as criminals can be broken into two categories, they tend to view their potential victims in the same way. To them, you're either a hard target or a soft target. Someone is considered a hard target when there are obvious countermeasures in place that would deter a possible attack. They appear aware of their surroundings, carry themselves with confidence, and look like they could handle themselves in a fight. On the other hand, people are soft targets when they display none of the outward signs of awareness. They look easy to approach and ill- prepared to defend themselves. Predators prefer soft targets because they pose the least amount of danger. They carefully measure risk versus reward and will almost always take the easier path.

Predators are very good at choosing their victims. So good, in fact, that the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy once said that he could select his next victim by the tilt of her head. But what does that mean, and how do you avoid being selected? Predators choose their targets using what I call the seven-second PROD. This is the process by which criminals evaluate their potential targets and choose the one that poses the least amount of risk to them. PROD stands for Perception, Risk, Observable Value, and Defenses.

The above is an excerpt from Spotting Danger Before It Spots Your Teens, by Gary Quesenberry, Federal Air Marshall (Ret.) Publication Date April 1, 2022, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN 9781594398681.