Stranger Danger for Kids: Beyond Not Taking Candy From a Stranger–How To Teach Stranger Danger to Your Children.
Everyone who is a parent now that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s remembers Adam Walsh. I still get a little chill every time I even hear the name Adam. For those of you born after the 80’s, Adam Walsh was a 6-year-old boy from Hollywood, Florida who was abducted while shopping with his Mother at a local Sears store in the mall in 1981. He was later found murdered and decapitated by some local fisherman in the Vero Beach Canal. The details of this horrific crime were played out in the movie “Adam” in 1983. Everyone watched this movie. Kids were terrified of being kidnapped, and parents all held their little ones a bit tighter after Adam’s story became a national tragedy. His father John Walsh later went on to fame as the creator and host of America’s Most Wanted. His still speaks out on child advocacy to this day.
I remember my own mother threatening me with, “you don’t want to end up like Adam, do you?” Begging me and my younger brother to stay close to her when we were out in public. I was a year younger than Adam was at the time, and trust me I had the very real fear that a stranger could leap out of no where and grab me, toss me into the back of his dirty van, and take me away forever. Of course most kidnappings of young children happen because of a parent in a custody situation, or a family member takes the child. Most of the time child abduction occurs when the child is familiar with the kidnapper thus making it easier for the child to be led away by a familiar face. Yet unfortunately, there still are total stranger kidnappings everyday. Not all abductors are looking for little kids either. Plenty of teenagers and young adults are being lured away as well. So the tips that you learn when you are young can carry you throughout your life. So what’s the best way to prepare your young child to face a possible abduction? How do you teach “stranger danger” without scaring them half to death and making them afraid of everyone they encounter out in the world. Before you even get to having the discussion with your children there are a few things that you should do as a parent.
First of all when you move to a new neighborhood, you should do some research to find out who in your area might be a registered sex offender. This is very easy to look up. There are many different websites that detail exactly where these offenders reside. Check out a few different ones. One of the best ones out there is FamilyWatchdog.us. This site allows you to type in your exact address, which then pulls up a map of all the registered offenders in your area. Then you can click on their exact address on the map and find out how far away from you they are. This is a free service and lists people that are on the National Sex Offender Registry. The map also details the locations of various schools in your neighborhood and the proximity of sex offenders.
It’s also a good idea once you move to a new neighborhood to get to know your neighbors. The more people you learn to trust in your neighborhood, who also get to know your kids, are extra eyes and ears when it comes to keeping your children safe. Don’t underestimate the power of a neighborhood watch. We should all be aware of children and how to keep them safe in our neighborhoods. If you see something or someone suspicious lurking around, trust your instincts and call the non-emergency line of your local police department. More then likely they will send out a patrol car to go through the area and that alone can help deter possible lurkers who shouldn’t be there.
Before you even begin to teach your child about stranger danger you should also teach them a few other basic things. Even children as young as three-years old can learn these things. Teach your child their full name and birthdate. This may seem like an easy one, but a lot of young children have trouble saying their last name especially if it’s a complicated one. If your last name is Smith, you might have an easier time. Also make sure your children know your first name, and your spouse’s first name. Then move on to teaching your child their phone number. Or if you don’t have a home phone, teach your child your cell phone number. Practice having them call it. Don’t assume that they will actually know how to dial it if they need to. Their home address needs to be memorized next. You can make flashcards and make a game out of memorization which is fun.
Next you need to teach your child who exactly is a “stranger.” Remember the old adage “never take candy from a stranger.” This is a good phrase to start with. Tell your kids to not accept candy or food from people they don’t know. Also teach them that adults don’t ask children for directions or help with finding anything lost. For example the “help me find my puppy” lure is meant to tug at a child’s heart. This does not happen in real life, and is often the means to get your child away from their safe area, like the school yard or a friend’s front yard. Establish safe consistent routines for pickup from school or play dates. Make sure your child knows exactly who is picking them up. Whether it’s you, your spouse, a nanny or friend. They need to know not to go with anyone who is not specifically supposed to be picking them up.
Teaching your kids to act in the face of “stranger danger” starts with a phrase that the National Crime Prevention Council (www.ncpc.org) advocates. It’s called “NO, GO, YELL, TELL.”
NO– kids need to learn to say “NO” loudly in a dangerous situation.
GO– Run away fast to a safe area.
YELL—teach them to yell loudly to draw attention to themselves.
TELL—report what happened to a trusted adult.
Now you need to role play with your child different scenarios where they might need to use this valuable phrase so they build confidence when faced with danger. Here are some examples:
*Standing in line waiting for the bus and a stranger approaches you.
*A normal looking stranger comes up to you at the park and asks for assistance in finding their lost dog or cat.
*A woman who lives a few doors down but has never been introduced to you before asks you to come over and have a cookie treat.
*A stranger asks you if you would like a ride home.
*You think you are being followed by a unknown vehicle while walking home from school.
*Walking home from a friend’s house a man in a van pulls over and asks you for directions.
*You are at the community pool and some stranger asked you to show them where the bathroom is located.
These are all easy examples of scenarios that you can practice with your child to get them into the habit of knowing how to protect themselves in real life situations. Here is also another type of stranger danger for kids that we didn’t have to worry about growing up. Online predators. Even very young children are starting to play on the internet and they need to know how to avoid stranger’s online that might want to harm them as well. As a parent, the first way you can protect them is to be totally aware of their online activity. Keep all laptops, computers, Ipad’s, and Ipod’s with internet access out of kid’s bedrooms and in areas of the house where you are and can monitor them. Kids when they are online don’t realize that it is incredibly easy for predators to contact them, pretend to be one of their friends and obtain all kinds of personal information about their life. Teach them to never give away personal information online to anyone.
Stranger danger for kids is one of the most important conversations and learning experiences you need to teach your children. It’s unfortunate that there are very real predators out there after our little ones. Hopefully your child will never be the target of a predator, but using these tips and advice will go along way in keeping your child out of harms way.