“Stranger danger.” It’s short. It’s simple. It even rhymes! But is it really the most effective abduction prevention lesson for our children?
Many believe that strangers are mean, ugly people — so the nice man asking for help to find his lost puppy? Not a stranger.
Further confusing the issue, Lost children should be taught to ask for assistance from a store clerk, police officer, or parent with children. These people are strangers, but in this situation children should be encouraged to talk to them. It may be hard for younger children to understand the difference between strangers who may be able to help them and strangers who could potentially hurt them.
Focusing on “stranger danger” also ignores the fact that most children are abducted by someone they know. Avoiding strangers will not help if the abductor is a family member, neighbor, or family acquaintance. Instead of focusing on people, abduction prevention safety lessons should teach children to recognize and respond to threatening situations.
Although “stranger danger” seems like an easy way to teach our children basic personal safety, it actually puts them at a disadvantage. Children who are taught stranger danger may:
- Be afraid to ask helpful strangers for assistance when they need it
- Not know how to recognize and avoid risky situations
Instead of teaching “stranger danger,” try the following tips when talking to your child about abduction prevention safety:
- Don’t say: Never talk to strangers.
- Say: You should not approach just anyone. If you need help, look for a uniformed police officer, a store clerk with a nametag, or a parent with children.
- Don’t say: Stay away from people you don’t know.
- Say: It’s important for you to get my permission before going anywhere with anyone.
- Don’t say: You can tell someone is bad just by looking at them.
- Say: Pay attention to what people do. Tell me right away if anyone asks you to keep a secret, makes you feel uncomfortable, or tries to get you to go with them.
In addition to these conversations, use role-playing scenarios to help your children practice their abduction prevention skills. The more children practice, the better prepared they will be to respond to an emergency.