Growing up I’m sure many of you were taught “Stranger Danger”. It was catchy, short, simple and even rhymed. However, many people don’t know that Stranger Danger is no longer advised to be taught in our schools and groups like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are strongly against it. Statistically less than 1% of kidnappings occur by a “stranger”. The message of “stranger danger” can mistakenly convey to children that only strangers harm children and teaching kids to “never talk to strangers” can prevent ways that can assist a child in staying safe.
Adults need to also understand that the risk to children are FAR GREATER from someone they know. When we tell our children to never talk to strangers, we have eliminated a key source of help for them. We are essentially telling them all strangers are bad. For example, if your child is lost in a store they may be surrounded by “strangers” that are also available rescuers that could assist them when they are in trouble. Stranger Danger has been known to prolong the amount of time a child was missing in certain situations because the child was afraid to ask people around for help. Instead of saying “Never talk to strangers.”, educate your children to know not to approach just anyone if they are lost or in trouble, but to look for a police officer, a clerk with a nametag or a parent with children. Also be sure to teach them the importance of staying still if they get lost. If they begin to wander around to search for you it will take finding them even longer.
Instead of Stranger Danger, children need to be educated on how to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Talk to your kids about ways to stay safe. Let them know the importance of getting permission before going anywhere with anyone and that they should always tell you right away if anyone asks them to keep a secret from you or makes them feel uncomfortable. When you are out and about with your child find teachable moments, take time to point out places they can go for help in different environments. Identify people (store employees, police officers, etc.) that they should go to if they ever need help. Tell them the importance of using the buddy system. All of these conversations and teachable moments will help prepare your child in case they find themselves missing or in a dangerous situation.
For more resources and helpful tips visit www.kidsmartz.org