[Editor’s note: This is a 6-part series regarding my views and plenty of common sense on how to keep your children safe in a dangerous world. It is generally geared toward children 12 and under. I hope it helps you.]
I’m not sure I can think of much in life that’s more disgusting than someone who actually wants to do harm to a child. These are horrible people and, while they’re a very small minority, they do exist and must be protected against. It should also go without saying that the vast, vast majority of people are good and well-meaning and would do everything they can to truly help your child should they need it… but not everyone.
So, what to do?
As always, it starts with talking to your children and doing so more than once. If there’s anything that kid’s need it’s repetition. The more often you explain “stranger danger” the more likely it is they’ll remember what you’ve told them when and if they ever need to rely on that information. Now, I’m not saying talk to them everyday or even each week. Heck, maybe once or twice a year is all that is required. I don’t know what works for you but I would suggest that if you can’t remotely recall the last time you might have said something then soon might be a good time to do so.
Now, ask yourself–better yet, ask your child–“what does a stranger look like”?
They might say something like “a stranger is mean, ugly, scary looking” or something similar. Obviously, the truth is that strangers look just like any normal person but the question we’re really asking is what does a “bad” stranger look like? Well, the answer is that they probably look no different than anyone else and, therefore, looks cannot be relied upon as a good indicator as to who and who is not a “bad” stranger.
Ask your child “who is a stranger”?
They might say something like “a stranger is somebody they don’t know” which is an easy answer but not quite what you’re looking for. Certainly, people like friends and family they know are not strangers. Their teacher and school principal are not strangers. But, what about people like police officers, firefighters, or the neighbor down the street they see but don’t really know? Are they strangers? Yes, they are. Make it perfectly clear precisely who is and who is not a stranger and why.
Ask you child “who can be trusted”?
Specifically state who in your life can and will relied upon to pick up and care for your child should you be unable to do so. Name them: mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, other specific relatives or friends, etc. Try to keep the list short so they can remember it.
Who are “safe” strangers?
Although people such as police officers and firefighters should be considered and taught as “safe” strangers, bad people have been known to impersonate these authority figures so your children need to know how to (1) identify real authority figures and (2) what is expected behavior from these authority figures. For example, teach them that a police officer will be fully dressed as a police officer with the cop car to go with it. And, if they’re not in the expected uniform (such as an off-duty police officer) then your child should request and expect that this police officer will call upon an on-duty officer with patrol car to show up… no exceptions. Likewise, you should teach them what might be acceptable behavior from a police officer. If that means ONLY calling you and then waiting for YOU to show up or if that means allowing the police office to give your child a ride, then tell your child that. Be clear.
Teach them what is acceptable behavior from “trusted” people as well as from “safe” and “all other” strangers
“Trusted” people, remember, are those people that your child knows well and whom are expected to deal with your child should you be unable to do so. Now, explain what is acceptable… are they only allowed to stay with your child until you arrive or can these people pick them up and deal with them as necessary? I would suspect “trusted” people should be expected to fully care for your child but who knows how you feel about it. Like I said above, what are “safe” people allowed to do? Spell it out. And, of course, what are “all other” strangers allowed to do?
Have a “security” word… maybe
It might also make sense to have a security word, a word that is known only to you, your child, and “trusted” individuals. This could be anything but shouldn’t be easily guessed, maybe something like “blueberries” or “sunset” or maybe something really weird if you think your child will remember it. Then, explain to your child that if this person knows that word then they’re ok to go with. Of course, there are some potential problems with this strategy as the aforementioned “bad” people are probably pretty cunning and may be able to either sweet-talk the word out of your child and/or convince your child that the word was “just recently changed” or something like that. Your kid has to be pretty resilient to use this method if you ask me.
How should they react to situations?
First, teach them about things like personal space or, better yet, instill a “safe distance” attitude in them with anyone they do not know (maybe 3-5 feet). Second, teach them what they can and should do if things go wrong and their safety is threatened. Should they kick the bad guy in the knee-caps, scream at the top of their lungs, and run the other way or what? Third, teach them that you will NEVER provide consequences for their actions if they truly felt the need to fend for themselves.
What about specific situations?
There’s a reason why the “bad” people use stories like “help me find my lost puppy” or “mom or dad are sick and I need to take you to see them right away” and that’s because they work. Talk to your kids about these types of situations and teach them it’s ok to say “NO” to adults under some circumstances. Consider role playing as a help.
Be even more proactive
Use sites like Family Watchdog to check for these people. You’d be surprised at how many sexual predators might be nearby, I know I was and still am anytime I decided to look at the site. They should list their address, place of work, convicted crime, and even provide a photo.
It’s not ALL bad!
Like a commenter pointed out in a previous “how to keep you child safe…” post, we have gone a bit overboard with the “stranger danger” talk. In fact, it seems that there are perhaps only a few hundred abductions in the U.S. per year with the vast majority of those being a result of a domestic disagreement (from someone they already know) so the odds of your child being abducted from someone they really don’t know are extremely low. I’m mean REALLY low. That said, I’d rather be safe than sorry and if you spend just a few minutes looking at the aforementioned Family Watchdog site then you might get a renewed interest in keeping your child safe from the “bad” people.
If you have your own suggestions feel free to share them below…