Stranger danger, or danger from an unknown person, is everywhere; on the internet, in large shopping centers, even at places that many believe to be safe, like schools or churches. In this day and age, protecting yourself and your children from danger can be difficult, but not impossible. There are several places where you, or your child, might be in more danger than others, such as:
- Online—ANYONE can anonymously log into an online profile, disguising their identity, and using their anonymity to contact any other individual that also has a social profile, such as Facebook and Twitter, or an email address. The internet is only lightly patrolled, and even registered sex offenders can get online and contact children and teens.
- Schools—when parents are picking up and dropping off children, it can easily become hectic in schools. Teachers are not able to keep an eye on everyone at once, and children have been picked directly up from schools by strangers before, never to be seen again. Security has cracked down in most schools, but stranger danger is still a present and viable threat.
- Malls/Large Stores—losing sight of your child in crowded or chaotic areas can be as easy as blinking. Children are naturally explorative, and parents often leave teens and pre-teens at malls and stores by themselves to shop and hang out with friends. Keeping an eye on rambunctious children is rarely fun, and can be stressful as well. But there are few places more prone to stranger danger than loud crowded areas.
- Friend’s Homes—simply knowing the name of your child’s friend is not really knowing them, and trusting your child to sense danger in a foreign home or environment is not practical or safe. As horrible as it may seem, there are people that harm children and teens simply because they want to, and you can never be too safe with your child’s welfare. Allowing your child to visit a friend’s, or to attend a sleep over, is a big step, and you are entrusting their safety into the hands of strangers that you know nothing about.
- On Field Trips/Church Retreats/Camp—at no point is your child more vulnerable than when they are away from home, where you cannot keep a close watch on them. Trusting your child to go on field trips, or on adventures like church retreats or to camp, is a big step, and once again you are entrusting their safety to people you either do not know, or do not know well. Teaching your child about stranger danger away from home is extremely important, and steps should be taken to ensure your child’s welfare while they are away from you.
- Parties—there will be a point in your child’s life where they will want to attend social functions, mainly parties, and if you feel comfortable letting them go, they will be surrounded by not just peers and friends, but also people they do not know and have never met. Children and teens are not the only people that are vulnerable at parties; anyone can become the victim of date rape or violence, and individuals attending parties should be made aware of possible dangers from unknown persons.
While it is impossible to know if someone is dangerous, there are warning signs to be aware of that could indicate that someone is planning on becoming violent or dangerous towards your child, or towards you. There are common indicators to watch out for that can act as warning signs or red flags, including:
- If someone keeps asking for personal information online, such as your phone number, address, or where you commonly hang out, and you do not personally know this individual, do not give it to them! Personal information can be used in a variety of ways, and giving your information to someone you THINK you know can be a deadly mistake. The internet allows people to have anonymity, and they can easily lie about their age, name, sex, and intentions.
- If someone becomes lewd or blatantly sexual towards you online or through texting, or starts speaking to you in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Never allow someone to text you or message you in a way that makes you feel vulnerable, threatened or uncomfortable. If they start using vulgar language, or try to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do, like send inappropriate pictures to them, say no and simply walk away! You have all the power, and can simply refuse to reply to them, or you can tell an adult and let them handle the situation.
- If someone is hanging around somewhere that they don’t belong. It may seem stereotypical, but if someone is frequently spotted loitering somewhere with no clear purpose, they should be closely watched. A childless individual that frequently hangs out around schools or playgrounds and makes parents or children uncomfortable should be reported to an authority figure; do not confront someone yourself, let a police officer or a teacher handle the situation instead.
- If someone is touches you or your child in a way that makes you or them uncomfortable. Your body is your own, and if someone is touching you in a way that makes you feel threatened or violated, tell them to stop immediately, or tell an adult so that they can handle the situation. Some people are naturally affectionate, and communicate through physical contact, but this is no excuse if what they are doing is not ok with you!
- If you are in a social environment, and someone is trying to force you to drink or eat something you do not want. Thousands of people every year report instances of date rape, or of being sexually or violently assaulted at parties or bars. If someone you do not know, or have only recently met, offers you a drink or food, politely decline and order or retrieve your own drink. Many date rape drugs are tasteless and invisible to the naked eye, and dissolve quickly in liquids. If you are afraid of seeming rude, DON’T; it is better to be safe than impolite!
- If someone keeps trying to interact with your child, even though you or your child have indicated that you do not want the attention. If you are in a crowded area, and someone that is unknown to you keeps trying to force their attention on you or your child, it is ok to tell them that you feel uncomfortable, and to ask them to stop. Again, you may feel you are being rude, but it is not ok for someone to make you feel uncomfortable or threatened with their attention.
- If your child suddenly seems scared or reluctant to visit a friend’s house. Often children do not like talking about things that make them feel threatened or scared. They do not know how their parents will react to their fears, and they may not completely understand WHY they are feeling uncomfortable or threatened. If your child seems reluctant to visit a friend’s or new acquaintances home again, ask them why directly. Open a window for communication with them, so they know they have someone to talk to.
While there may be some indicators that a person, or persons, mean to do you or your child harm, often predators are unseen and unknown. There is no way to be 100% safe from people intending to do or your family harm, but there are things you can do to make you and your family safer from strangers intending to do you harm.
- Never put personal information on the internet, such as your phone number, address, or daily schedule. Also try not to mention if you are heading out of town on vacation, as burglars use this type of information to find deserted homes. If you are a child or teen, do not publically advertise that you are going to be home alone, or that you are going somewhere alone, as this information can also be used to single you out to predators.
- If someone is becoming aggressive, or saying things that make you uncomfortable via texts or online messaging, block them and tell an adult, or if you are an adult, inform the police so that they are aware of the situation. Online harassment is still harassment, and can lead to dangerous situations!
- When you are filling out your child’s paperwork for school, make sure to explicitly name the only people that are allowed to pick your child up from school, and warn your child to NEVER leave the school with a stranger, even if the stranger claims to know you, or to have been sent by you. For extra protection, set up a code word with your child, so that they will know if the person has actually talked to you about retrieving them from school. When you are picking your child up, tell them to remain inside until you specifically arrive to get them.
- When you are in crowded places, such as malls or convention centers, always hold onto your child’s hand, even if they are older and insist that they don’t need the protection. Children as old as eleven or twelve have been taken forcibly from crowded stores, simply because they became separated from parents in the chaos. If you child refuses to hold your hand, tell them they must stay within 10-15 feet of you, well within your range of sight. The danger of separation is heightened during holiday shopping, or special events.
- When your child makes a new friend, always do your research on anyone else that is living in the house, including parents, frequent visitors, or brothers and sisters, and never send your child into a home that you have not personally entered yourself. Keep in frequent touch with your friend’s parents, to make sure that they are where they say they are going to be, and insist on both dropping off and picking up your child. If your child seems reluctant to revisit the home of a friend, ask them why, and tell them that if anyone ever touches them or says something to them to make them uncomfortable, that they should tell you no matter what.
- If your child is attending a summer camp, retreat, or field trip, go and visit the location that they will be at beforehand, even if it is a longer distance away. Make a point of introducing yourself to the staff, or to the parents that will be going on the trip with the children. Make your presence known, and be sure to give your child a reliable way to contact you if they want to be picked up early, or if something has happened to make them feel scared or threatened. If going with your child on a field trip or retreat is at all possible, do so! It will not only give you the opportunity to keep a watchful eye on them, but could also turn into a bonding experience.
- We all make mistakes, or bad judgments; remind your child that if they do something unwise, such as partake in underage drinking, or even doing drugs, that YOU are who they should call for help. Thousands of teens die every year from drinking and driving, or are the victims of date rape. Make sure your child knows that while you do not support and illegal activities they may take part in, that you are still there if they need you.
- Warn your children about the dangers of date rape, and make sure they know never to accept open drinks or food from people at parties or bars, especially if it is from someone they do not know, or have just met. The same goes for adults too; if someone offers you an open drink at a social event, and you do not know this person well, politely refuse.
Stranger danger is becoming more prevalent, and protecting yourself and your family is getting harder and harder every day. But there are ways to prevent dangerous situations; always know the situation, be on the lookout for warning signs, and take measures to protect yourself and your child BEFORE danger strikes.