“Don’t talk to strangers” – it’s a rule that many of us learned early and have been quick to pass on to our kids. I remember telling my husband shortly after our first child was born after an unfamiliar car and driver sat parked outside our house for an hour one night, “Suddenly, every one I don’t know is a potential predator.”
But as Lenore Skenazy points out in a post at Parentdish, stranger danger not only doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, it might be dangerous.
Let’s say that some day (a) girl really does find herself in a tight spot. To jump to the ultimate nightmare, let’s even say that one day there’s a van following her — a white one, without windows (the predator’s vehicle of choice). The girl can keep walking, trusting no one and hoping to God she’s safe. Or, she can run to the stranger pruning his hedges and say, “Let me stand next to you till that guy leaves!” She can run into the store and tell a stranger, “Call 911!” She doesn’t have to wait for a policeman. She can ask for — and get! — help from any stranger because the vast majority of strangers are not predators. They’re like you and me.
The National Crime Prevention Council agrees with Skenazy. The idea isn’t to teach kids not to talk to strangers — because the world is full of strangers, most of them trustworthy. Instead, we need to teach kids how to find help when they need it.
Here are some tips from the NCPC webpage:
Teach your kids that life isn’t like a cartoon — we can’t tell the good people from the bad by looking at them. Instead, we need to look at their behavior. Is a stranger acting weird or asking you to do something you aren’t supposed to do? Go find help.
Teach your children how to find help. Point out that police, firefighters, teachers, librarians, and others are easily recognizable strangers they can turn to for help. Point out stores when you’re driving through town and mention that they should walk into a public place and ask for help if necessary.
Teach kids about suspicious behavior. A safe stranger will never ask them to disobey their parents, to get in a strange car, or to keep a secret. Safe strangers do not ask kids for help.
“No. Go. Yell. Tell.” If kids are approached by an unsafe person, they should say no, run away, yell loudly, and tell a safe adult.
For more on teaching kids about strangers and tips for keeping children safe, visit the NCPC website.