Remember when your child was two and you used to boast about their highly adept social skills. No matter where you were – your child never met a stranger or a person that they couldn’t make smile with their charm. Your outgoing little angel was a social butterfly and had absolutely no fear of other people. Now suddenly you realize that their charm could easily get them lured into trouble. With every newscast around the world, there is news of a child being harmed, intentionally manipulated by an adult. Often kids know these adults but many times, they do not! Educating your children about strangers should start early in life and should teeter on instilling caution without excess fear! It is also a parents job to try and prepare a child, no matter how young for the worst case scenario and give them ideas that can help them help themselves should the need arise.
Let’s first consider the risks of not associating your child with the dangers of strangers. The FBI reports that of the almost 1 million people each year who come up missing, 85-90 percent of these people are children. 50 percent of these children are abducted or otherwise abused by people they know, while the other 50% fall prey to the hands of total strangers. This seems to shout that not only should children be educated about strangers, but they should be thoroughly educated about safety in general including the differences between good and bad touch.
So many parents skirt the subject thinking that because they are always present, their child is not in danger. When you consider that upwards of 75% of all sexual molestation cases involving children under 12 occur with people they know (and the parents trusted), leaving out this valuable information will do nothing to keep your child safe. The question may be how to talk about these things without giving away too much information for young ears as well as make an impression that helps them identify with danger. That resorts back to the balance.
According to the director of a child safety program called Run, Tell, Yell- safety begins at home. Keeping up to date pictures of your children, reporting incidences of strangers in the neighborhood rather than think you are being over protective, having your child finger printed are precautionary measures. Children should also be educated that it isn’t just strangers who pose a threat. Remember that many predators and abductions occur because the person knows some personal information about your child. They may tell your kid that they are an aunt or uncle or that they were sent by their mother to get them which disarms the child right away from thinking this grown-up is a stranger. Also, try to always keep your child aware of what is going on in their life so that they will be thoroughly prepared for each and every day. This way they will be empowered to recognize something that seems off.
So how to breech the subject? When you are educating children about strangers, you are encouraged by professionals to be as honest as possible. Tell them what could happen and share stories about what happened to other children. Explain situations that could lead to danger and teach them to trust their instincts as well. Be descriptive about good touch and bad touch and always make sure they understand that they are not supposed to go with someone, get in a vehicle with another adult unless the ADULT INC CHARGE is aware of it. You also need to show them how to act and hold mock abductions at home. Teach them to run, yell, and scream for help if they are approached by a stranger. Even if the stranger turns out to be well intended it is better to be safe than sorry. Parents need to show children very specifically what to do should a stranger approach them in an uncomfortable manner. In addition to that, you should role-play and pretend that something has happened. Empower your children with options, choices and make sure they learn vital information like phone numbers as young as possible. Another thing to consider is that many children become lost each year. Would your child know what to do and who to turn to if they were lost at the zoo or in a large store? In fact, staging a lost episode under supervision may help teach your child what to do.
When it comes to scaring your child you should. In fact, most agencies involved in child protection admit that children need to be strongly cautioned to the point of fear, so that they will act appropriately. It can be difficult in the midst of teaching your children about manner to suddenly recant what you have said about talking to other people. The thing is that your child HAS TO KNOW that they have rights to ignore, run away and not listen to adults if they are placed in an uncomfortable situation. While it is great to have children who trust others keeping them naive can turn out to be problematic for you and them.
Educating children about strangers is a constant lesson. Just because you have went over a protocol for action once doesn’t mean that it is enough. Allow your child to ask questions about strangers and as you are out in day-to-day life, present them (not constantly) with what if situations to see if they are getting it. Being clear and to the point will make a grave impression on your child and empowers them to listen to their instincts as well as offer them that 1 or 2 second opportunity to get away. Abductors and other adults who set out to harm children are looking for the most innocent, the least informed child that they can find. They are looking for that one kid who will approach their car and take their candy. Adults, even those that may be trusted who are looking to sexually abuse your child know all the tricks and the kid who is strong and informed enough to pull away is not a viable target for them. Make sure that your children are also educated that secrets (except about birthday presents) are not acceptable. Warn them that people who tell them ‘not to tell mom or dad’ are possibly doing something wrong and you will no doubt hear about it very quickly.
The last bit of advice when it comes to educating children about strangers is to believe in your child. If you are just filling them with fear and apprehension you are not helping them become capable of escaping danger. You should also believe things your child says and listen to their inklings about others in their life (strangers or otherwise) that may give clues to potential dangers your child is in. The biggest part of keeping your child safe from strangers is constant, competent, and responsible adult supervision. No matter where you are or what you are doing never feel so complacent that you don’t keep your eyes on your child at all times.