Stranger danger is a phrase uttered on the news, at home, and in schools. I know that it is something that I have talked with my kids about from early on in their lives. It can be confusing for kids. I do realize how contradictory I sound when I discuss stranger danger. Mixed messages like: “Stay away from adults you don’t know, but go sit on Santa’s lap in this populated mall and ask him for things.” or “Don’t trust anyone you don’t know, but be nice and polite to all people.” My friend was testing her youngest about stranger danger by asking her questions. She asked her, “And what do you do if a stranger offers you candy?” Her daughter replied, “I say thank you.” Hilarious, but scary all at the same time. As parents, we can be confusing. So, for our little ones to stay safe in this world, we have to work with them on common sense, and I even think role playing is a good idea. My crew and I are pretty clear on at least three levels of danger. Being physically taken; strangers with candy/food; or staying home alone.
If a Stranger Tries to Physically Take Them
I’ve already mentioned my Nemo technique in another post. If one of my kiddos plays hide-n-seek in the racks, or thinks it’s funny to run away in a store, the Nemo trick works. But I have recently gotten very specific with my instructions. Stranger danger is hard to talk about (mostly for me because it is a big fear of mine), but I wanted them to know some things about this in case this nightmare were to ever happen. I told my kids, if a stranger were to try to grab them , they should make as much noise as possible: kick, scream, bite, punch, and make so much noise, no one would mistake that a child was being taken. I remember my oldest saying, “So, do everything you always tell us NOT to do, but do it all at once?” I had to laugh, but essentially, yes. I’ve had enough loud trips to the store with my kids, that they should be pros at escalating their noise level to be used as a defense mechanism. I also tell them to scream, “I don’t know who you are!” In 2012, a second grader did just what I have instructed my children to do in the case of a stranger grabbing them. This brave little girl escaped an attempted kidnapping. ABC News reported on this story, and I’ve linked it here. I have shown my kids the video of her escape, and I think it helps them take my warnings seriously.
My kids go to school in the same neighborhood where I teach. About once a semester, parents get a notice of a predator driving around trying to collect children. The area where we attend school is very populated, so it would be easy for a stranger to approach kids walking to and from class. Luckily, our school district works diligently on its stranger danger curriculum, so most of the kiddos know what to do. They run. They scream. They get out cell phones if they have them and begin calling. Just a few weeks ago, my co-worker’s sixth grade daughter was walking from one school building to another to get to her mother’s classroom, and an email was sent out that there was a stranger in the area trying to get the attention of kids. I asked my friend’s daughter what her plan was if she was stopped by a stranger. I was pleased to hear that she knew all of the survival techniques. I credit her parents, but also our school’s stranger danger awareness policy that they put into place in Kindergarten. I have recently come across a good article with even more tips to avoid abduction. It’s called 6 Tips That Can Save Your Child’s Life by Natasha Daniels. It’s terrible that our kids have to worry about abduction threats, but understanding that this is a reality is the first step in preventing dangerous predators from grabbing our babies.
Candy or other Promises
My kids love candy and all other food in snack form. I don’t think they’d willingly go with a stranger in any case, but the candy or sweets promise from any adult would be enough to make them hesitate. They have a neighborhood where every adult in it gives them snacks or food of some kind. It’s a great neighborhood for raising kids, but it does nothing for their street smarts. This is where I have included role play in my parenting arsenal. By role playing with them on what to do if they are offered an unsolicited treat, we have fun discussing possible scenarios, but we are also working through just what could happen. I think my two oldest kiddos think it’s silly, but I know it’s important for their sister to see scenarios played out, so that she can know what to do by taking her brothers’ lead. I saw a Dateline episode called My Kid Would Never: Stranger Danger where Natalie Morales put her own child in a stranger danger situation. There was a paid actor with an ice cream truck promising food and a view inside the truck. Natalie Morales was horrified as her son entered this staged abduction scene. All the stranger had to do once the boys were in the truck was shut the back door, and then they could have been gone. This is another video I have shown my children, and it really drove my point home.
My oldest has recently begun staying home alone for an hour or two every week. Each time I leave the house, I say, “And what if the doorbell rings and you’re sure it’s your friend what do you do?” He responds with a monotone voice, “I stay out of sight and don’t even go toward the door.” “Good, honey, now what if it’s Peyton Manning with a million dollars and a new Xbox?” I get a “Come on mom. I still don’t answer the door. I get it. I get it.” He better get it. We go over this each time I leave. Mostly it’s to poke fun at him. Each time Peyton Manning becomes a different sports hero he likes that month, but I also do it so he has a reminder right before I walk out. I also instruct him to keep the phone near him at all times. I may keep doing this until he’s twenty, we’ll see.
The world of online stranger danger is one that scares me the most. I am unfamiliar with growing up in a world that is as exposed as these kids are. This is where we’d like our readers’ help. Neither Kelly nor I have children to the social media stage. My fifth grader has just gotten a phone (that he keeps at home so when he stays home alone I can contact him), so I have made sure he understands texting rules, but he wants an Instagram account for this summer, and I know we’ll need a whole new set of Internet stranger danger rules. The only defense mechanism I can learn from my students’ social media, is set your profile to private and other than that, he knows I will have the password to his account. I see a social media blog post in our future, but that will be research based. What are tried and true techniques that you know to work for online stranger danger? Leave them in the comments or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get your ideas out there.