Teach children about 'stranger danger'

  • Published
  • By Sheryl McMullen
  • Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
The term "stranger danger" has become commonly used in American culture.
However, some organizations such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children do not support the stranger-danger message. Most children are actually taken by someone they know or who is familiar to them.
Children need to be empowered with positive messages and safety skills to build their self-esteem and self-confidence while helping keep them safer. They shouldn't be told the world is a scary place. They hear the news, hear adults talking, and may even experience violence firsthand. They need to know their parent, guardian or another trusted adult is there for them if they experience trouble; and that most adults they encounter in their lives are basically good people.
The Safe Side, a stranger safety video designed for elementary school children, offers parents an alternate model for teaching children how to be safe and suggests dividing people into three groups:
Don't Know: Any person a child does not know.
Kinda Know: Someone a child might recognize, but who is not a Safe Side Adult.
Safe Side Adult: A person a child can always trust to go with or talk to, identified and agreed to in advance by a child and caregiver.
Parents and guardians can make child safety part of a child's everyday life in a non-threatening way by practicing some of these skills. Make outings to a mall or park an opportunity to reinforce these skills. Do this on a regular basis to make sure it becomes second nature. At the same time, reassure them you are there for them, and remind them there are other people who can help.
We can make sure we are arming our children with relevant, age-appropriate messages that will empower them in staying safe.