But yet, we all engage in conversation with strangers on a regular basis - at the store, in line at the coffee shop, on the train. There are, in fact, a lot of good people in the world to counteract the bad. The stories of heroes that rescue complete strangers from a car accident, or return lost jewelry found on the sidewalk. So, how do we navigate this world, and in turn teach our children about strangers in a way that empowers them to be confident enough to seek help - from the right person if they may need it, and avoid possibly dangerous people?
First, A Look At Statistics
Take those 115 cases divided by the roughly 73 million children in the United States and the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are .0001%.
Of those stranger abductions, 20% of children were ages 0-5, 25% ages 6-11, 45% ages 12-14, and 20% ages 15-17.
In terms of where the child was abducted: 16% were in their home or yard, 40% were on the street, in a car or other vehicle. The remaining percentages were too low to be considered as reliable.
In 49% of those abductions the child was sexually assaulted, 33% were physically assaulted, 20% were robbed, and in 49% the perpetrator had a weapon.
in 57% of those episodes the child was returned alive, 32% were injured, and in 40% of cases the child was killed.
Considering the number of children above the age of 12 - that should definitely understand the risk of strangers, it is definitely an issue that is worth talking about with our kids. Especially with increasing numbers of internet predators targeting children, there is greater access now for a stranger to lure a child through developing a relationship online.
Talking to Strangers
The Polly Klaas Foundation states that using the word "stranger" can confuse a child, if a child has spoken to a person once or twice they may no longer put them in the 'stranger' category.
in Gavin de Becker's book, Protecting the Gift, he encourages parents to teach their children to talk to strangers, and talk about strangers - who looks like a person that child could go to if they need help. Essentially, teaching children how to use their instinct and assess people.
In particular he wrote an article with this advice:
Start with easier situations for your child and then make them more challenging (she may need to do each more than once for practice):
- Have her approach a stranger to ask for the time.
- Have her approach a stranger to ask directions (i.e., to the nearest ice cream place).
- Have her enter a store with you nearby to buy gum or candy.
- Have her enter a store by herself to buy some gum or candy.
- Think of your own relevant situations.
- Why she chose who she chose.
- How the exchange went.
- If she felt comfortable with the person she spoke with.
- If that person was comfortable with her approach.
- What, if anything, she could have done differently.
A child that feels confident talking to a stranger that they sense is a safe choice increases the odds that they would be able to get help and not become a target for a predator who may notice a scared child and approach them - which is not what any parent would want for their child.
Go to A Woman
"If your child becomes lost, the first thing he or she should do is to approach a woman and ask for help. Women are more likely than men to become emotionally invested in your child and are statistically almost never sexual predators. Plus, women are almost always around and easy to find."
Many parents tell their child to look for a police officer, a guard, or a store clerk, but the reality is - there are not usually police officers around and many mall guards or even store clerks themselves could be a predator and take advantage of their authority over the child.
The "tricks" of Predators
“If any adult or older kid offers you anything without asking me, step way back, yell, “NO!”, run away, and tell.” (This applies to candy, pets, treats, job offers, photographs, rides on motorcycles, etc.)
“If any adult or older kid asks for your help without asking me first, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away and tell.” (This applies to mailing a letter, picking something up for an injured person, approaching a car to give directions, doing yard work, looking for a lost puppy, etc.)
“If any adult or old kid asks you to keep a secret, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away, and tell.”
If any adult or older kid touches your private parts (parts covered by a swim suit) or asks you to touch your private parts or somebody else’s, step way back, yell “NO!”, run away and tell.”
Trusting Their Gut
Children have instincts too - and they should be encouraged to listen. Much like when a child is forced to hug or kiss a relative that they don't really know or feel uncomfortable around - a well-meaning parent may try to force that affection for the sake of the recipient, but they're ignoring the child's right to feel safe. This may be a small example, but essentially it tells a child that they need to submit to adults and that they are not in control of how people treat and touch their body.
Beyond "Yell, Run, Tell"
telling the person that they need to ask their parent first, that they're sick, want some water, or need to use the bathroom.
Any excuse they can come up with to get away from the person.
Passcodes & Safe Words
Alternatively, give your child a safe word so that if they are ever in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, sad, or scared they can call you, or talk to you (if it's a group situation like a family party) and get your attention that something is bothering them, without having to announce it or draw attention to themselves.
Go the Opposite Way
The Buddy System is Still Cool
Whether it's a trip to the bathroom or going to the mall, kids and teens (and adults too) of any age should know that it is best to travel in pairs and stay together. As a young adult I traveled through Europe and one of the men in our group was robbed when he went to use a bathroom by himself. Adults can be a target, too - and the more public the place, the more opportunity for predators of all kinds.
Take a Self Defense Class
Practice, Practice, Practice
Remember, That They're Only Kids
Overall, it could be said that parents do a great job keeping their children safe from strangers. We cannot remove all risk from life - putting a child in a bubble may keep them alive, but that isn't the same as living.
Keep it in Perspective
“child is vastly more likely to have a heart attack, and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents (correctly) never even consider the risk.”
That doesn't mean that we let our kids roam a carnival by themselves or ride their bikes all over town without checking in, it means that we have to remember that stranger danger should not consume our lives to the point where we're scaring our children to death that the second they're out of our sight they're going to be abducted, or that a young child needs to be 'taught a lesson' because he's too friendly with strangers.
And seriously, read Protecting the Gift, by Gavin de Becker.