How to Teach Your Kids About Stranger Danger
Most children are outgoing and friendly. They don’t perceive threats the same way that adults do. Unfortunately, in today’s world, children aren’t as safe as they once were. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) says that in 2018, U.S. law enforcement agencies received 424,066 reports for missing children. However, only about 115 children kidnapped in the U.S. are taken by strangers.
So, how do you teach your child to find a balance between being safe and remaining the happy-go-lucky kid that he or she is? Here’s how to teach your kids about stranger danger and what to do if they feel threatened.
Carefully Choose the Words You Use to Describe Dangerous People to Children
In recent years, many experts explain that you shouldn’t use the word “stranger” at all when teaching your children about personal safety. The words you use depend on how old your child is. Preschoolers don’t understand what a stranger is, so they can’t tell who is or isn’t safe to talk to.
Some suggest that describing dangerous adults as “tricky people” works better because this refers to both familiar and unfamiliar people. Many kidnappings aren’t stranger abductions but rather people who are familiar to their victim in some way.
Since children generally trust kind adults, the term “tricky people” refers to people who attempt to trick children into disobeying safety rules. Most of the people that abduct children are pleasant and approachable; they aren’t the monsters that children conjure in their imaginations. As a result, they’ll gladly follow a nice man with a puppy just like Joey Salads; a famous YouTube influencer proved this in his 2015 child abduction social experiment.
Begin the Conversation by Talking About Basic Safety
Start the discussion with your two- or three-year-old by talking about general safety. At this age, they can learn the right words for their genitals, and that other people shouldn’t touch them there inappropriately.
Around the age of four or five, children can understand the concept of a stranger. You can start by asking him or her if they know what one is. If they aren’t certain, explain to them that a stranger is any person, good or bad, that they don’t know. Don’t use scare tactics at this stage by telling them that all strangers are bad.
John Walsh, whose 6-year-old child was abducted from a Florida mall and discovered murdered, later helped found the NCMEC. He created a series called The Safe Side that many people use to educate their children on stranger danger and self-defense.
One part of the series, a DVD titled Stranger Safety, explains the difference between people that your child doesn’t know, some he or she is familiar with, and those who are deemed safe. It’s an excellent teaching tool for your children.
Explain to your children whom they can trust, such as another parent who is trusted or a teacher, and who authority figures are, such as police officers, store employees, or security guards. This differentiation helps your kids understand the difference between strangers they can trust and those they can’t. It also helps them know to whom to turn if they become lost in a store.
Children learn best using muscle memory, so role-playing a variety of scenarios is a way to teach them how to deal with personal safety and strangers. It also helps you keep this learning process fun and less stressful. Parents understand the seriousness of these situations, so they often use scare tactics or come across more serious than is truly helpful for children.
Set up specific scenarios to act out, such as if a stranger offers your kids candy or to leave a location with them to see puppies. Ask them questions to see how they would answer if someone approached them with these scenarios. Once you see how they respond, explain to them that you don’t take candy from people that you don’t know, without a trusted adult or parent right there with you.
Set Internet Rules
Internet safety is critical even for our older children. While the internet provides us with fantastic opportunities, it also makes it easier than ever before for children to become targets of online predators. It’s so easy that it’s scary. There are documented instances of children under the age of 10 becoming targets, explains Judith Cohen, the medical director over the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children & Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pennsylvania.
Place computers or phones that your children use in a common area like a family room or living room. This tactic won’t work as well for kids as they get older but will, at least, while they are younger and less able to make better choices. If children can’t take their phone to their room, they are less likely to engage in secretive conversations, although this method certainly isn’t failproof.
Explain to your children that they should never give out personal information or answer questions posed online. Also, tell them never to fill out forms online. Teach them about using the internet safely and online citizenship by using resources such as Common Sense Media.
On beautiful summer days when you’re taking your family to the park to play or camping with their favorite outdoor gear, the concept of stranger danger comes into play. This setting is a prime location for kids to encounter strangers alone, as they’ll be playing on equipment or going to the bathroom.
It’s even critical to talk about public restroom safety with your kids. Remain vigilant, if you wait outside, and tell him or her to yell if they need help. Tell your children to refuse help from others by telling strangers that their mom can help them or that they can do it alone.
It’s important that your children have clear and easy-to-follow rules to abide by in case you get separated from them. These rules help reduce the risk of being kidnapped or assaulted.
Your family’s safety is paramount. See what personal protection is available to help keep your family safe.