DEAR ABBY: You were way off the mark in your response to "Scared in Pennsylvania," the seventh-grader whose school was full of weapons and drugs. Since "Scared" wanted advice on how to protect him or herself, I hope you will publish the following tips as soon as possible. Platitudes like "be brave" mean squat when you're facing a knife or worse. Kids do need to know these skills, whether or not adults consider it necessary.
(1) First, take a self-defense course at your local YMCA or community college. If it's not offered, they'll know where it's available. Your school might offer something similar, maybe boxing or karate. I was no athlete, but neither was I known as a couch potato. Make certain you aren't perceived as physically vulnerable, especially if you're a girl. (I am.)
(2) When someone approaches you about drugs, don't look at him or her if you can avoid it. Shake your head, say no, and keep walking. Be matter-of-fact, calm, and don't worry about appearing impolite. Politeness isn't important to people like that.
(3) Same with fights. GET OUT OF THERE! You might not know whether the involved parties have weapons, but don't stay to find out. "Cool" kids will probably watch, but smart ones won't. (Gawkers can get shot or stabbed just as easily as the idiots who are fighting.) NOW is the time to tell an adult -- any adult -- but don't offer your name to that person if you can avoid it. A simple, "There's a fight down there," and a pointed finger will do.
(4) Learn which adults are cool about not naming names and get to know them. Those are the ones to trust in a tough spot. But be selective about how often you fill them in. If you're pegged a snitch, the rest of your time in that school will be miserable, if not dangerous.
(5) On the other hand, if you're ever backed into a corner, scream your head off! It will draw attention and make you a less easy victim. If you're shy, or afraid you won't be able to scream, PRACTICE. (Just warn your family before you start.)
(6) Finally, be alert. If you see hands flashing in ways you don't understand, go the other way. Don't go in or stay in stairwells or restrooms alone; even if you're not with a friend, walk quietly behind a group. If you can't avoid being alone, be prepared to walk into a classroom if you're followed. It's hard to do if you're shy, but teachers will understand if you tell them what's up.
If, after graduating, you feel your school is not a place you would want to send your kids, then try working within the system to change it, or consider moving. I did the latter, and I have never regretted my decision. -- BEEN THERE
DEAR BEEN THERE: Thank you for an excellent and informative letter. Your suggestions are sure to be appreciated by many teens who feel threatened at school. It's a long way from my high school days, when chewing gum in the classroom was considered a major infraction.