Stranger Danger! Two little words that can strike fear into the heart of any parent or carer. In this day and age of uncertainty and worry, we tend to be more cautious about strangers than our parents. Part of this is because of the rise of media and the wide spread reporting of crimes. Part of it is because our children, due to social media, are more likely to come into contact with strangers. So, as parents and carers, we know we need to talk to our children about stranger danger. After all, that’s what my parents talked to me about when I was young. BUT…is there a better way?
All strangers are dangerous!
Or are they? Do we want to teach this message to our children. Just think for a moment. Imagine this scenario. Your child is in a store with you and wanders away. He turns around to find you gone, and he’s lost. What does he do? We’ve taught him not to talk to strangers, so when a helpful store employee tries to engage him, he runs away crying. The security guard tries to help – but he’s another stranger so the child runs further away. He becomes frantic, not knowing who to turn to, but knowing he’s not allowed to talk to strangers!
Hmmm, am I being far fetched? Surely, you might say, your child would know that they were allowed to talk to a store employee! But are you so sure about this? Children, especially young ones, see the world as very black and white. They haven’t yet acquired to skills of making a judgement call – they just know they are not allowed to talk to strangers.
So…what’s the solution?
The first thing would be that you know your child. I know that Little Sir would be very reluctant to engage with any adult he didn’t know. Actually he can be reluctant to engage with adults he does know! But as for Little Miss. She’s a different kettle of fish. She would be, and has been, happy to talk to anyone who engages with her. It’s what makes her super vulnerable, and what makes me on edge every time we are out. How do I keep her safe?
Tricky adults may be the key!
I recently read an article about the idea of ‘tricky adults’, and it resonated with me in so many ways. The theory is that teaching children about stranger danger might actually put them into more danger. I don’t want my child assuming ALL strangers are dangerous. I want them to be able to call on an adult, even a stranger, if they are lost or scared. So, how do they know who NOT to trust? Well, we are teaching the children about tricky adults. We’ve explained to them that safe adults will never ask a child for help! If an adult needs help – whether to find their missing pet, to buy something in a shop, or to go and look for someone – they will NEVER ask a child. An adult, a safe adult, will ALWAYS ask another adult. That rule is pretty hard and fast.
Think about it, would you ever ask a child you don’t know for help with anything? Of course you wouldn’t! You’d phone a friend, the police, talk to a shop owner or a hundred other solutions. BUT – a ‘tricky adult’, one who is not to be trusted, may very well ask a child for help. So we are teaching the children the following:
If an adult you don’t know asks you for help, they are a tricky adult. No safe adults will ask a child for help. Always say ‘NO’ in a big, loud voice, walk away from them and go to a shop, a police station or approach someone with children and ask them for help.
It’s still not a perfect solution, but it does give the children a clear message as to those adults who are NEVER to be trusted. I don’t want to scare the children, and I don’t want them growing up thinking all strangers are dangerous. I do want them to be able to ask a policeman or a store assistant for help when they need it. Of course we still talk to them about stranger danger in a round about way. We don’t want them disappearing off with someone offering them sweets or to see puppies. But the ‘tricky adult’ scenario is one which, we believe, will help our children to begin to make clearer connections between strangers and dangerous strangers!
Do you teach your children about stranger danger? I’d love to hear any tips you have to help make it clearer for school aged children.
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