Why “stranger danger” is not working and how to teach your child safety instead
Why is the concept of ‘stranger danger’ (or “tricky people”) not working for teaching kids safety?
We were watching a cartoon that was supposed to teach safety to kids:
- “Who is this?” – my 4-year-old asked, pointing at the person hiding behind a tree and holding candy.
- “Eh… a bad guy?” – I suggested.
- "A stranger?" - he asked.
Uh-oh, we need to clear the concept of a stranger, I thought. That's how this conversation started.
“Don’t talk to strangers” is an old-school rule sending confusing messages to your child.
Keep in mind that most products for teaching kids safety are outdated.
Modern kids need a modern approach to safety.
Why most kids do not understand the concept of “stranger danger”
Your kids are confused when you tell them:
- "DO NOT talk to a stranger"
- "DO NOT leave with a stranger"
Because kids do not understand who the stranger is!
Is a stranger a man or a woman?
Is he or she old or young?
Good-looking or ugly?
Nice or mean?
How does your child see strangers:
- Is a waiter a stranger?
- What about the waiter we see regularly?
- Is a teacher a stranger?
- What about a volunteering parent escorting kids to the restrooms during a camp?
- Is a friend of a dad a stranger too?
- But, is it safe to open the door to a dad’s colleague who brought something while parents are at work? Is he a friend, or just (maybe) working at the same company?
Are you confused? Your child is confused!
What are the safety consequences?
! Unprepared child
may not recognize an unsafe stranger and
may not respond in a safe way.
Why do bad guys in the movies and cartoons offer candy to attract a child?
Because most kids’ safety resources are outdated.
In the past, cities were small, and strangers were odd.
A stranger in a village was a big deal.
But modern kids interact with strangers every day.
The outdated scenarios mislead kids
What is your child thinking?
- “Oh, a stranger is a mean, ugly person wearing a mafia-style hat and a mask. He is enticing a child with a candy from behind a tree. No good”.
What does the child learn?
- “Watch out for the black-hats men offering candy!”
What is the conclusion your child makes?
- “But wait, I’ve got candy from all sorts of people on Halloween, and nothing bad happened. Mom is overreacting. I don’t think it’s dangerous”.
As a result:
- Your child is not considering strangers could be dangerous.
- He painted a wrong portrait of a stranger in his mind (white, middle-aged male in a particular environment and scenario)
The biggest safety problem with 3-8 year-olds
! Young kids understand the rules literally.
When you say:
- “Don’t take candy from strangers”
Your child depending on the age and safety level may act as:
- “It’s okay to go in with a neighbor to get some cookies”.
Because you didn’t specifically mention the neighbors and the cookies.
What does your child need to know to be safe with strangers (and other people around)?
Kids need to know the big picture of how safety works.
They need to be able to keep themselves safe when you are not around.
They need to know how to handle safety situations you have never discussed.
Enroll in a Free online course for parents of kids 3-10 years old
"Teach Your Child Safety With People"
Act, do not react.
I just wanted to tell you that you are an amazing parent because you chose to tackle a really challenging subject!
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Do you want to know how safe is YOUR child?
You can test it!
What parents say:
"The questions of this test made me think of how many important topics my kids yet need to learn about safety.
Thank you for bringing it to my attention"
- Laura Richards, Mum of two
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