Do you remember growing up and hearing all about “stranger danger” from mom and dad? If you are like me it probably made you paranoid as a child, as if every one was out to get you, and only those that have taken the time to get to know you and the family were safe.
Now that I’m grown, I see so many flaws with this way of teaching kids safety rules. While I’m actively teaching my children how to be safe, “stranger danger” is a phrase you will never hear me utter around them unless it’s to correct something that they have overheard at preschool or from another child.
Maybe you’re already confused. . . Stranger danger seems like such a good idea right? Wrong.
Most “danger” doesn’t come from strangers – Statistically speaking most abuse, and all sorts of other bad things that happen to children comes from some one either in the family or very close to the family. Abusers generally take the time to get to know a family and get close to the kids, before they attempt to take advantage of a child. While I won’t be teaching my kids to be frightened of everyone that we call friend, instead I teach them boundaries, consent and show them that I am a safe place to turn to if something ever happens that they were not comfortable with, even if it’s from another trusted adult.
You see, the problem with stranger danger is that it puts guilt on children when things do happen close to home. We’ve spent all their lives telling them that big scary strangers are to blame when things happen, and that they must stay close to us to stay safe. But what happens when they are close to home and danger comes in? Most abusers tell children it’s their fault they were raped and that mommy and daddy will be angry at them if they tell… It’s vital that we communicate this is not true, long before the child ever has the chance to be abused. We do this by teaching them their boundaries, starting at toddlerhood.
It’s easy to ignore the uncomfortable fact that danger can literally come from anywhere, even from people mommy and daddy thought were safe. By teaching kids how they should be treated, and that they have the power to say NO, even to an adult, we empower them to protect themselves from predators. Teaching them they have the power to set touching boundaries themselves is another way we let them know that we will always be on their side, because danger doesn’t just come from strangers.
Teaching stranger danger is paralyzing to a child if they ever do find themselves in a situation where they can’t find mommy or daddy. We use so much energy teaching our children to stay with us in stores and outside, that we often don’t equip them for the moment that we might become separated in a store, amusement park or mall.
I don’t want my child worried about having lost me and then scared that everyone in the store is out to get them. In our home we frequently talk about if my children ever can’t find me or daddy, they are to look for another mommy with kids and ask for help. This clearly, isn’t a perfect plan, but I do find it better than teaching my 3 year old to look for some one in uniform since many types of people wear uniforms (and predators often use uniform-costumes to confuse children) and I don’t want them getting confused about what sort of uniform they are to be looking for.
I don’t want my children to walk around in fear. Being scared for their lives at every turn is not something I want passed on to my kids. I want them to be aware, to stay close to me (particularly while they are young) and to know safe boundaries. But assuming that everyone is out to get us is not something I want them to ever believe.
While stranger danger is a cute rhyming way of teaching kids, it skips over many of the most important parts of safety education for children, especially when it comes to tough topics like abuse and rape. While we might not be comfortable teaching our kids about these things, none of us like to think about our kids being in a position where they are scared for their lives, or being preyed upon by some one we counted as a friend. But it happens, it happens more than you would think.
If we only teach them to trust our judgement, we cripple them by implying that they would not be believed if they came to us with information about a trusted friend, family member or colleague.
Kids need to know that we are 100% on their side, no matter what. Kids need to know that they have the power to say no, even when it is to another adult or family member.
“No, I don’t want a hug.”
“No, I don’t want to be touched.”
“No, I don’t want to go with you.”
These aren’t rude statement, they are life changing words for kids, and they just might keep your little one safe from dangers you could have never seen coming.
Stranger danger is not the answer. Empowering kids to know their own boundaries is the answer. And it starts young.
I’m sure you can tell that this is a topic I am very passionate about. You can read more of my personal story and history as a child abuse survivor here, and why I’m so passionate about educating kids about how to protect themselves, while also doing everything in our power to keep them safe.
If you feel stuck with how to approach the topic of abuse with your young kids, I’ve compiled a list of books I recommend to start the conversation with your little ones. These can get you started with kids as early as two years old! Each of these talks about boundaries in a safe, age-appropriate way for young kids.