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.
Here are our favorite resources for talking about strangers and body safety with kids in a non-threatening and age appropriate way.
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.
Safety rules all 4 year olds should know
Great article, I’m currently trying to backtrack as my kids are 5&7 and we just got out of an abusive (towards me not them) relationship so they’ve now considered abusuve behaviour as ok. It’s not and worse still when they do go see their father they’re left entirely to roam by themselves. I’m working on that too but until something comes to pass I need all the help I can get.
If they’re not safe at dads why do they go? X
Maybe you didn’t see the part where she said she was working on that. Their father has rights to them, as much as their mother, and she could get in trouble for keeping them from him until something is done about it! As parents, we should uphold her for getting out of the situation, and working towards getting her children out of the situation!
Vic, I too was in an extremely abusive marriage, and got out! I will be the one to say, I am so proud of you!! Keep fighting for those kids to be away from him!!! Good luck!
It’s wonderful that you have put your self in a safe position. Children learn most from the people they are surrounded by (Humans in general do ) . So by showing your children how you love and respect yourself by having respect for yourself and not staying in an abusive relationship you have taken a huge step in teaching them how to be safe. Good luck on your path stay strong and reach out for help when ever you need it.
Corinne Dany says
It might be good to mention Bravehearts.org They have videos and books and visit schools. Such an awesome program.
There is another hazard to stranger danger. When my grandson was young, someone pulled up in front of his house. I was on a ladder, and before I could stop him, he was at the curb. She drove off before I got there. He said that she was asking where someone lived. In this case, it was true, she actually went to the house. I talked to him about stranger danger. His response? She wasn’t a stranger, she knew his friend. I have never taught another child that idea. I had never considered how broad a child’s concept of stranger could be.
Chris Stralyn says
Despite the title, this book covers almost everything you mentioned in your post – including chapters on good touch/bad touch and getting lost. It discusses empowering kids by teaching them what they CAN do, rather than frightening them. It’s written by an award winning teacher and is aimed at parents of kids ages 3-8. Well worth taking a look at!
Kenneth R. McClelland says
When writing “Another Chicken Story: The Stranger Danger,” I’d considered many of the points that you make and decided that it was still a project worth pursuing – for more than a hundred reasons. The numbers that I’ve seen regarding the frequency in which a complete stranger with evil intentions abducts a child, seem to vary anywhere from 115 to 150 children per year in the United States. Some of those children are never heard from again, and the others who are found have to live with whatever horrors they’ve been subjected to. And while the number is small compared to abductions committed by friends, family members, or acquaintances, it still encompasses roughly 1% of all reported missing children – and that’s a lot of abducted children.
With that in mind, I didn’t think it prudent to ignore this message simply because the numbers of children abducted by strangers isn’t as high as everyone thinks they are, or because someone says ‘you’re going to scare the children and make them afraid of all strangers,’ which I do not believe for a moment my book would do. Just knowing that more than a hundred children each year are taken or lured away by a stranger was significant enough knowledge for me to write my book (and how many hundreds more are kidnapped in other countries?).
To help put it into perspective; according to The Center for Public Education, the size of an average elementary school classroom should contain no more than 18 students. Imagine that the number of children abducted by strangers – in America alone, would equate to 6 to 8 classrooms full of young children who are carried away from their parents each and every year. So while it’s true that the numbers of annual child abductions by strangers aren’t in the thousands, those numbers don’t mean a thing to anyone who’s ever had a child taken or lured away from them.
I realize that this is not an easy subject to broach, and I hoped to be inclusive with this part of the story “…if you find yourself being put on the spot, being pushed to say yes when you know you should not, get away tell your parents, or someone you trust, a teacher, policeman, or friend if you must.” And this would translate to any situation that children might find themselves in, whether that would be with a complete stranger, Cousin Louie, a neighborhood teen, or even another child who’s trying to get them to do something that they don’t feel right about doing.
I wrote Another Chicken Story as delicately as I possibly could, being mindful of how a child might react to the content (which is why the fox in the story didn’t die). And again, while it’s true that most child abductions are committed by people familiar to the family and the child, how could one possibly warn a child to be wary of Uncle Tommy, Cousin Louie, or even dear old Dad? “…do not get too near Uncle Tom’s Chevrolet, he may lock you inside and drive you away.” That would be a different book entirely, and not one that I think children would enjoy, and I wouldn’t want to leave them fearful that everyone near and dear to them may want to kidnap or harm them.
No matter what, with every child the subject should be addressed in some way, and perhaps my way could be that way. Please allow me to send you a copy of the book and judge it for yourself.
Kenneth R McClelland says
If you have children or grandchildren, a youth ministry or classroom full of children, let me encourage you to have them watch this Storytime Pup video of one of my children’s books, called “Another Chicken Story: The Stranger Danger.” Not only will it give you an idea of what the book is like, but the children will enjoy the story, the message, and the way that it’s told. Also, be sure to subscribe to Storytime Pup and watch the many other stories available on their site. Please share this with any others you know who have little ones in their care… because this story’s not only fun and captivating, but it could actually save lives. Much like a fire drill where we teach children what to do for an event we hope they’ll never experience, we need to also talk to them about this uncomfortable subject, letting children know that no matter who it is, they shouldn’t go away with someone or do something that they don’t feel comfortable about. This story will present the opportunity for you to have this uncomfortable conversation with your little ones. To quote Dr. Phil: “Teach your kids about stranger danger.”
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Cynthia Aldridge says
I have a nonprofit where I teach TRUE life, job and social skills to individuals with various special needs and their peers. Especially since we have not been able to have our classes/events due to COVID, it has been on my heart to come up with a ‘safety curriculum’ for them. However, the majority of what I find is geared to just teach typical ‘stranger danger, but these ‘kids’ are anything but typical.
I would love it if you would be interested in working with me on this. I’d appreciate any ideas you wouldn’t mind sharing.
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