How to Teach Kids Stranger Danger

Teaching Kids Stranger Danger
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A Missouri family made headlines for trying to teach a 6-year-old boy a “lesson” about strangers. The boy’s aunt arranged for a friend to lure the boy into his truck. Then, the boy was shown a gun and told he wouldn’t see his family again. His hands and feet were bound and a jacket was placed over his head as he was driven around for a while.

Then, the blindfolded boy was taken into the basement of his own home. At one point, a family member pulled down his pants and told him he was going to be sold into sex slavery. Eventually he was informed his family was behind the staged abduction and they lectured him about the importance of not getting into a car with a stranger.

The boy told school officials about the ordeal the following day. The school contacted child protective services and the boy was placed in protective custody. The family members, and the man who lured him into the truck, have all been charged in the case. The family reports they simply wanted him to learn that he shouldn’t be “too nice to strangers.”

Although it’s important to teach kids about the importance of being safe, this family crossed the line. Teaching your child about strangers should never involve intentionally scaring your child into thinking he’s been kidnapped. There are much healthier ways to teach children about the potential dangers of the world.

Messages to Give Kids About Strangers

Kids should have a natural discomfort of strangers that causes them to be a bit cautious with people they don't know. In fact, those who don't may have disinhibited social engagement disorder, a condition that causes them to become overly friendly with people they don't know.

Strangers actually pose little risk to kids as compared to other people. Statistically, kids are much more likely to be victimized by a neighbor, friend, or family member. So it’s important to avoid sending the message that, “Strangers are bad,” and “People we know are good.”

Instead, make it clear that most people are good—but every once in a while there are people who aren’t good. Make it clear that if your child is ever lost or needs help, it may be necessary to ask a stranger for assistance. Sadly, there are stories every year about lost kids who are too afraid to ask for help—or even kids who hide from search and rescue personnel because they’re terrified of strangers.

Establish Rules About Strangers

Tell your child that it’s not okay to give personal information to a stranger. Explain that giving out an address, phone number, or birthdate could lead to problems. Establish clear rules about online activity as well so your child understands that it’s not safe to post personal information on social media or in public forums.

When your child is old enough to stay home alone set rules about what you want your child to do if there’s a knock on the door. It’s also important to discuss what your child should say if someone calls on the phone asking for you when you aren’t available. Planning ahead about potential risks is the best way to prevent problems.

Role Play Various Scenarios

Role playing can be a good teaching tool—but it’s essential that your child is aware that he’s not actually in any danger. Say things like, “Let’s pretend I am a stranger knocking on the door when you’re home alone. What would you do?”

Talk about various ways unsafe people may try to trick kids. Use examples like, “What if I told you I needed help looking for my puppy?” Help your child practice standing up for himself and make sure he knows he can simply walk away from a stranger who approaches him without saying anything.

Talk About Strangers Often

Talking about potential dangers of unsafe people should be an ongoing conversation kids as they mature. Re-visit the topic as your child gains more independence. Discuss potential safety risks before you allow your child to do new things for the first time—such as going to the mall without an adult or walking home from school for the first time.

Keep the safety lessons focused on teaching your child the life skills that will empower him to stay safe, rather than trying to scare him into learning a lesson. Skills, such as problem-solving skills and impulse control skills, can help a child make healthy choices.

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