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Stranger Danger

We’ve all heard the stories, but let’s be sure our kids are ready

Hooded stranger

Watch out for that ‘Paedo’. It seems that around every corner there are bad people waiting to prey on our children. It’s what we call stranger danger. It’s seems much more of a threat today then it did 30 years ago, which I think is due to our increased awareness through media.

Although I’m sure a higher percentage of ‘unsavoury’ adults exists today equally, through access to online sources and desensitisation. Whatever the reason, the threat is real. We need to teach our children to be prepared for how to deal with strangers, both those who we perceive as wishing to do harm or those who are just strangers who we do not have enough information on to make that decision.


Was it This Bad When We Were Kids?

When I was little I was told to never go with anyone who said ‘Hey, little boy, wanna see some puppies’ or ‘Would you like a lolly?’. I think most children are naturally wary of strangers, but some situations require them to put trust in someone they aren’t overly familiar with.

The balance here is that most people aren’t bad and understanding who is someone that can be trusted is tricky. A number of times I have found myself in a difficult position. I see a young child too young to be wandering around alone, either in shopping centres or on the street.

Sometimes they are distressed having lost mum or dad, sometimes not quite aware that they have even lost them. My instinct as parent is to go over, check on them and help them find their parents.

But this instinct is often over ruled by the issue that I may be perceived as a predator and the child may even start screaming putting me in a very difficult situation. So I tend to hang back and observe. If there are other adults around, I try to include them in the situation so multiple people are looking out for this child until their parents can be found. It’s a shame that this mentality has to be adopted these days.

road sign about strangers

It’s Happened to My Own

A couple of years ago, my son was riding home from school when a car slowed down next to him. A single guy in his 50s started asking him where he was going and drove along side him. Fortunately, my son rode off quickly, turned a few corners, then hid himself behind a bush. He watched the car drive round for a bit before disappearing.

This terrifying situation, naturally led me to calling the police, notifying the school and coaching my child through the aftermath. Explaining that what he did was the right thing, but also what else he might do in the future, if the guy pulled over and began to be forceful. I included all three of my children in this conversation. Interestingly, the next day I bought phones for all of my kids!

Boy lost in a forest

Educate, Talk, Be Open

Teaching children about "stranger danger" is an important part of their safety education. Here are some tips on how to teach your children about this important topic:

1. Start by defining who a stranger is: Explain to your child that a stranger is anyone they don't know. It's important to clarify that just because someone is a stranger doesn't mean they are dangerous or bad, but it's important to be cautious.

2. Talk about safe and unsafe situations: Discuss with your child the difference between safe and unsafe situations. Explain that they should always trust their instincts and that they have the right to say no to any situation that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

3. Role-play scenarios: Practice different scenarios with your child, such as what they should do if a stranger approaches them or asks them to get into a car. Encourage them to practice saying "no" firmly and loudly, and to run away and find a trusted adult.

4. Teach them about trusted adults: Talk about who are the trusted adults in their lives, such as parents, teachers, and police officers. Explain that they should seek help from these trusted adults if they feel unsafe or if a stranger approaches them.

5. Use age-appropriate language: Use language that your child can understand and tailor the conversation to their age and maturity level. Make sure your child knows they can come to you with any concerns or questions they may have about strangers or safety.

Girl taking candy from a stranger in a car

Not Just Brushing Your Hair

It’s worth touching on the topic of ‘grooming’ here. Some adults, usually people your kids know or trust might have an ulteria motive. These adults might try to befriend a child inappropriately, gradually sowing seeds that they are there best friend and are looking out for them, convincing them that they care more about them then their own parents or friends.

Eventually, the child becomes isolated socially and emotionally from everyone else. We tend to think of this kind of situation happening to vulnerable teenage girls, but it can happen to any child. Keeping open, safe communication, letting them know they can talk to you about anything is key here. Your child has to know they can trust you with sensitive information if they are going to be open with you.

Father and son reading a book

Re-visit Regularly

Remember, it's important to have ongoing conversations with your child about safety and to reinforce these lessons regularly. By educating your child about ‘stranger danger’ you can help them feel empowered and confident in staying safe.

Of course not all dangerous strangers are going to present themselves outside schools, in playgrounds or down dark alleyways. It seems that most the time our children are just as likely if not more likely to encounter potential threats online.

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As with any of my articles and posts, feel free to contact me with feedback or other ideas about things you'd like to see on my site.

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