Stranger danger

The words “ stranger danger ” tend to conjure up one thing in our mind – abduction prevention.

It’s a cute phrase that even rhymes, so it’s easy to get kids to remember it. But is it the best way to teach kids about the risks out there?

Experts are more and more saying no, it’s not. Here’s why:

1) Kids do not understand the concept of a stranger, and you don’t want them to believe that any person they don’t know is mean or has bad intentions. Secondly, and further confusing the issue, sometimes kids need to turn to people they don’t know for help. Lost kids need to be taught to seek assistance from a store clerk, police officer, or parent with children. In other words, it’s hard for young kids to understand the difference between helpful and potentially harmful strangers.

2) Focusing on “ stranger danger ” also ignores the fact that many – if not most – children are abducted by someone they know. Avoiding strangers will not help if the abductor is a family member, neighbour, or family acquaintance.

A new message

Instead of “ stranger danger ,” abduction prevention needs to focus on safety lessons that teach children how to recognise and respond to threatening situations.

Instead of: Don’t talk to strangers

Rather than saying “Don’t talk to strangers,” try saying, “Check with me or your dad or babysitter before talking to another grown-up.”

Kids take things very literally, and may be confused about what constitutes a “stranger.” You could instruct your child just to look at you, and you’ll nod or shake your head.

Instead of: If you get lost in a store, ask a trusted adult to help you find me

Perhaps a better way to word this one is, “If you get lost in a store, stay in the building and find someone with a name tag to help you.”

A child who is scared at being alone in a store is unlikely to be able to make a judgement call about whom they can trust. Some will even leave the store looking for their parents.

Instead of: Don’t take sweets from a stranger

Once again, kids may be confused about what constitutes a stranger. Try saying instead, “Don’t take anything from anyone except your parents, babysitter, teacher, or friend’s mom or dad on a play date.”

Instead of: Don’t keep secrets

Let your kids know instead that a surprise is the only secret that’s okay to keep.
Some parents use the two terms interchangeably, and that confuses kids. If you tell your child to keep a secret about Daddy’s birthday gift or Grandma’s party, you are undermining the rule that no grown-up should ever tell you to keep a secret from your mum or dad.

Other safety tips:

1) Create a codeword, and advise your child’s teacher of it also. Anybody who is collecting your child from school needs to use the codeword.
2) Teach your kids about dialling 111 in case of an emergency.
3) Make sure your kids know their home address, phone number, and parents’ first and last names.

Safety first: visit our Family Times safety section online.