Remind Your Kids of the Danger of Strangers

“Never talk to strangers” is a common mandate given by many parents when teaching their children about stranger danger. To children, the request is somewhat vague, and they expect to be able to spot a stranger like they would be able to spot a monster. Unfortunately, defining what a stranger is and identifying dangerous strangers is not as simple as that single phrase. We meet with and talk to strangers all the time. Children are constantly meeting new people, and a majority of those experiences are positive. Telling a child to never talk to strangers is about as effective as telling them to use an inside voice or to put their toys away when they are finished. Children do not always see the reasons behind what they are told to do and will often lack the foresight to know when they are being tricked by someone. A child cannot be expected to be told something once and take it to heart. Most instances of giving a child instruction require reminders and reasons for remembering later on.

Are all strangers bad?

Not all strangers are dangerous. In an emergency, fire fighters, paramedics and police officers are welcomed strangers who can be counted on to do the right thing. At school there will be teachers and administrators who are there to guide the child to make good choices and learn to the best of their ability. When a child is lost at a store, the strangers behind the counter will be able to help them find their parents. A child will invariably talk to a stranger or an adult they don’t know at some point, so asking them to “never” talk to strangers becomes a moot point. Instead, the focus should be on who is OK to talk to, what to look out for and what to do in scary situations.

How does a child know who is OK and who is not OK?

Children learn a lot by studying their parent’s behavior. Children pick up on some of the smallest details, so parents will see better results when leading by example. It is a good idea to introduce people who children can trust and explain how you met or how that person can be helpful in certain situations. This gives the child the ability to become familiar with people and their role in public situations. Pointing out people at places of business gives children the ability to recognize certain uniforms and gain awareness of who is in charge at certain events. When parents introduce people who are OK, it is easier for children to recognize strangers who are not OK.

What kinds of things should a child look out for?

A child should learn to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. At no point should an adult ask them for help or ask them to do them a favor. Giving the child examples of what to look out for such as a stranger needing help finding a lost puppy or carrying their bags to their car are signs of bad intentions. Children should defer questions from strangers to their parents, and should go to find their parents whenever they are approached by someone they don’t know. If they can’t find parents right away, make sure to stay visible and find someone in charge for help.

Is talking about stranger danger too scary?

Parents don’t want their children to be terrified of going out in public, but it is important for them to be cognizant of dangers that do exist. Of course not all strangers are bad. Children should know that their parents are there for them and as long as they are with their parents they are safe. Older children tend to meet new people without their parent’s supervision, but talking with them about stranger danger opens up a dialogue for children to discuss meeting new people with their parents. Parents should be informed when meeting people online and should never give out personal information without running it by the parents first.

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