I remember the first time my son was invited to a play date at a friend’s house. It sounded fun! So why was I uneasy? I wanted to keep my kids safely in my care. I wanted to guide them and protect them!

The reality is, my son knew how to make good choices. I knew that! I taught him to be a good friend. I modeled it in my own friendships. He knew to listen, to share, to forgive. He had manners and, more importantly, he had a good sense of knowing right from wrong. However, over time, I found there was a missing piece to how I had equipped him. I discovered it through a situation in my neighborhood.

“While you guys were gone, the neighborhood boys were playing and one of them pulled up pornographic images and showed them to everyone,” my neighbor said. “My son was there, and he didn’t know what to do, so he began pacing around while the images flipped on the screen. I know your son wasn’t there, but I wanted you to know since it could happen again.” I was stunned. These boys were eight and nine years old. My heart sank for them, and yet I was thankful we had happened to be out of town that day. But one phrase kept circling in my head: “He didn’t know what to do.”

So often we are good at equipping our kids to know right from wrong and giving them a strong moral compass. We even share the “why” behind the reasoning. So, in the end, many kids want to be obedient. They desire to make good choices. However, when they’re actually IN the situation, they don’t know HOW. How do I get out of this situation? How do I not look at that image? How do I leave?

My husband and I sat down with our son. We shared what had happened in our neighborhood. We talked about how he will be faced with hard situations at school, at a neighbor’s house, maybe even at church. You never know what someone is going to say, want to do, want you to do, want you to look at. So, we did some role play. We practiced what it might look like for someone to want to show an image to him on a phone. We practiced his responses and equipped him with ideas. (Which started with not even looking at someone’s phone before asking what’s on the screen.) We then discussed how to get out of uncomfortable situations. Did you know the bathroom can be your best friend? “Oh man, I gotta pee!” It gets you out of the room, into a room by yourself, and gives you a moment to think about how to handle the situation. We also created a “safe word/ phrase” that he could call us with if he wanted to be picked up.

When this began, our son didn’t have a cell phone, so if he was at a friend’s house, he would have to ask to borrow a phone. We had a hamster named Percy, so we decided if he wanted to be picked up—for any reason—and didn’t feel comfortable saying it out loud in front of his friends, all he had to do was call and say, “Hey, Mom. I forgot to feed Percy! Can you feed him?” And I would know that he needed to be picked up immediately. As he got older and got a cell phone, it became easier since he could quietly text us. These tools proved so helpful to my son in the coming weeks, months, and years as he then became equipped on not just which choices to make but, practically speaking, how to make them.

Maybe you have modeled all the right behavior. You have taught right from wrong. Appropriate from inappropriate. Sometimes the missing link between the head, heart, and body (action) is the practical. The how. The role play and practicing and safe words. Will our kids be perfect? Never. Will we offer love and grace when they fail? Absolutely. But let’s bless them by equipping them the best we can. We are all in it together!