Plymouth safety instructor wants children to talk to strangers

Tanya Panizzo teaches kids to make decisions, physical moves to escape violence


PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Tanya Panizzo is passionate about teaching children to protect themselves.

Walk into Fighting Spirit Personal Safety in Plymouth, you will find her teaching kids safety education through the radKIDS program. Rad stands for "resisting aggression defensively."

"It's an empowerment program for kids that teaches them all kinds of safety education," Panizzo said. "Out and about safety. What to do if they find a gun out in the backyard playing. What to do if someone is bullying them at school. So it's all about safety."

Children as young as five can take her radKIDS program.

During the week-long summer camp, children learn decision-making skills and physical moves if they find themselves in an unsafe or violent situation.    After they learn the skills, they face an attacker through a simulation so they can actually experience what it might feel like to get away.

"What we do is we get them a little bit anxious and nervous. Even though it is a very safe and controlled environment and then we see, what did they actually do. And that's how we work through it and that's how they develop life skills," said Panizzo.

Panizzo also makes sure the children know what to do after they get way. She tells them to take a big belly breath before they dial 911.

Students who have participated in the radKIDS program said it was a good experience.

"I kind of had mixed emotions. Part of me was scared and part of me was really excited,"  said 10-year-old, Brandon Civitanova.

"It makes you feel good inside, because you know that you are safe. Not just safe, but you know your capabilities," said 11-year-old Giona Decina.

Panizzo, who has a daughter of her own, never wants a child to experience what she did growing up.  She was assaulted as a teenager.

"I was a high-level competitor. I was confident whenever I was doing my martial arts activities, but that's not what safety is all about, kicking and punching. I didn't know how to assert myself. I didn't really know how to ask for help," said Panizzo.

Panizzo also wants parents to teach their children to speak to the right strangers. Panizzo said parents need to focus on what is a good person, and what is a bad person.

"The best way for parents to start is to dispel one myth, and that is to stop telling your children not to talk to strangers.  That the majority of people who hurt our children are people that are in our lives," Panizzo said.

She tells kids a good person to ask for help is a policeman, a person in uniform, or a mom with children. Panizzo teaches them that someone you don't know can help you.

Louise Mann says radKIDS has given her daughter confidence at the least, and the power of possibly saving her own life.

"It's not going to prevent anything from happening but it will give them a much greater chance of getting out of anything, if it ever does happen," said Suzanne Stegeman, a mom who has three children enrolled in radKIDS.

Panizzo also recommends parents have the "Two Ps" with their children; that is, permission and password.   Children should never go with anyone unless they get permission from their parents and families should  come up with a password that only people who are allowed to pick up the children should know. Parents should teach their children to ask for the password before going with anyone.

This fall, Panizzo will be offering an introduction to radKIDS called Stay Safe for Kids!   For more information on other programs, click here.