Why Teaching Kids ‘Stranger Danger’ Might Actually Make Them Less Safe
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What are important things to know in order to keep your child safe?
Worrying that a random adult that your child chooses to talk to will turn out to be a kidnapper makes very little sense. Kidnapping by stranger is a scenario that is scary and thus gets a lot of attention, but, statistically speaking, it almost never happens.
These days pretty much everyone above age 10 or so has a mobile phone, so the best way of making it easy for lost children to find you again is for your kids to know your phone number and to know to ask any adult to please call you.
Parents who teach their children to be scared of strangers in general are doing them a disservice. Most strangers are entirely safe, and conversely, the vast majority of the adults who abuse children are not strangers. Children should not learn to consider all strangers to be dangerous and everyone well-known to be safe; instead they should learn that certain behaviors are warning-signs: for example, telling kids to keep secrets from their parents, disrespecting boundaries or enticing them to go anywhere without telling parents about it first.
I think it’s also good for children to know that they’re allowed, and indeed encouraged to break the rules in what they deem emergencies. We spend a lot of time telling children to behave, and yet in the (admittedly unlikely) event that someone tries to take advantage of them, this conditioning can be harmful.
If the house is burning, yes you can break a window to get out! If a stranger tries to make you comply and come along with them even though you don’t want to, yes you can scream and shout kick and bite, and purposefully knock over that giant stack of cornflakes-boxes in the store. Doing so will get the attention of other adults and that’s a good thing. In short, normal rules apply in normal situations. To an adult it may be obvious, but to a child it’s not always clear that there’s exceptions to “behave,” because we’re seldom in situations where we have opportunity to explain to our kids that this would be a good situation to misbehave in.
But it is not at all dangerous for a 6-year-old to approach a random mall-employee and say: “I can’t find my daddy, can you call him for me? Here is his number.” That is an entirely reasonable thing to do in that situation. The odds that the mall-employee happens to be a kidnapper who decided to skirt work for the rest of the day in favor of kidnapping your child are next to none.
Contrary to what people commonly believe, being a child today is pretty safe. The biggest dangers are child-abuse of some sort coming from the parents themselves or someone else the child is close to. “Abduction by stranger” probably does not even make a top-100 list of bad things that happen to children.