Teens Robbing Teens
Isaiah Witt was only 15 years old when he was stabbed to death during a teen robbery at a park. Ellis Thompson was threated at knifepoint for his possessions while playing an innocent game of basketball with his friends. These swarming-type robberies are a very real threat to teens. Here’s how to help you and your teen navigate the very scary situation.
It was around 6:30 p.m. when 14-year-old Ellis Thompson and three of his friends were playing basketball at Kew Beach, in Toronto’s affluent Beaches neighbourhood. A car pulled up and three teen boys, wearing hoodies and ski masks, jumped out and threatened Ellis and his friends at knifepoint. They demanded their bags, phones and money—one even demanded one of the boys’ shoes. When he refused, they slapped him across the face. While teenage testosterone can often run high in the face of danger, Ellis and his friends remained calm and gave the robbers what they wanted, except for the shoes. The robbers fled soon after that.
While teen robberies, or swarming-type robberies, like this, sound like something you’d watch on prime time TV, and not anything that would happen on the safe streets of Toronto’s Beaches area, this isn’t the first time teens have robbed teens in Toronto. In October of 2017, Isaiah William Witt was stabbed to death in Stan Wadlow Park in East York. Four men were arrested and two, aged 18 and 19, were convicted of second-degree murder. Isaiah was only 15.
While events like these can be scary to talk about with your teens—especially if they hit close to home—it’s important to talk to your teens about how to deal with the situation if it should happen to them. As parents, it’s also important to know how to help them deal with the psychological aftermath. Here’s what you need to know.
If teens ever find themselves in a similar situation, Constable Jenifferjit Sidhu of the Toronto Police advises to, “always give the robbers the money or property that they are asking for and comply, because your life is more important than that property—that property can always be replaced – your life cannot. If you want, throw it one direction so that you can run in the other direction—that’s one way but always comply with the demands and when it is safe to do so, flee.”
To prevent circumstances like this from happening seems impossible because they do happen, but there are steps to help avoid getting into a dangerous situation. Constable Sidhu advises, “One thing is that you always have to be aware of your surroundings, walk with a purpose, avoid isolated areas, parking lots, garages, alleyways. Always keep a distance, if you feel like someone’s getting too close walk across the street, go to a well-lit area. If your intuition ever tells you something doesn’t seem right, try and get yourself to a safe public area where there are people. Always tell somebody where you’re going and when you’re expected to come back and avoid being distracted like talking on your phone. If you’re ever a victim of a street robbery, get to a safe place and speak to someone and always contact police immediately! If the matter is reported to police, we have it on file and we can investigate it.”
From a parent’s perspective, it’s scary to think about what could have happened to your child. Ellis’s situation, thankfully, did not result in a devastating end, but ,for his mom, Paula, it was still very frightening.
“I think us parents were more upset because we were thinking more about if something went wrong or what could’ve happened,” she says. “There are always ways it could’ve gone terribly wrong and, as a parent, you keep running through these terrible scenarios. Ellis is very cool under pressure anyway and nothing seems to upset him. I think they were all angrier the next few days, but they weren’t scared off, they really felt like going back and reclaiming that area—maybe not the same area, but they weren’t afraid to get back out there.”
After a scary incident takes place, some teens may be more prone to anxiety or depression, says Gary Direnfeld, who has been a counsellor for 35 years.
“If you have a teen that, as a result of this kind of incident, is sheltering themselves, is withdrawing, is no longer engaging in activities that they appreciated and socially withdrawing—these are indicators that the event may be more traumatic than you would’ve thought and the teen needs additional support,” says Direnfeld.
If you think your teen needs professional support, Direnfeld also advises parents to recognize the fact that going to therapy can also be overwhelming for teens.
“It’s important for parents to know that for a teenager to go to a counsellor that too can be a scary event, because it could signal to the teen that there’s something terribly wrong with them,” he says. “No one wants to think that of themselves. Some parents say that they cannot get their teen to go—if that’s the case then I suggest to the parent that they go themselves, even in the absence of their son or daughter because the parents can learn other strategies from the counsellor to support their son or daughter.”
While no mother ever wants their teen put in this situation, Paula advises parents to let teens know that their lives are more important than any possession.
“Nothing is worth getting hurt over,” says Paula. “Make sure your teens know that possessions aren’t important, and they can always be replaced.”
And to teens, “If teens do shut down, I would encourage them to spend time with the same friends that had the experience with and talk about it! With boys at this age I think hanging out with their friends, things will just naturally come out, so I encourage parents to encourage their teens to hang out together and have a chat.”
Today, Ellis is more determined than ever to get back out and have fun with his friends.
“I probably wouldn’t go back to the same place again, but I didn’t shut down or feel paranoid,” says Ellis. “We have a couple of places that we go to play anyway.”
When asked what his advice to other teens would be, Ellis advised, “I would tell other teens to stay calm and not panic or do anything irrational because most likely what you’re giving to the strangers is not worth as much as your life. I didn’t think they were going to use the knives, but I wasn’t willing to take that chance. I didn’t want something bad to happen.”
When it comes to keeping safe in these scenarios, staying calm can make all the difference. It’s also sound advice for parents who are learning to navigate these scary situations.