Amber Alerts, news reports about missing children, and posters with children’s faces seem to be a daily occurrence. The term “stranger danger” is often used in reference to child abductions. But statistics today tell us that most child abductions are carried out by a family member or a family acquaintance.
While only a small percentage of child abductions fall into what is called a “stereotypical stranger abduction,” it is still important for parents to include stranger danger in the safety skills they teach their children.
Focus on Empowering Your Child
We want children to learn that most people are good and most strangers are good. Rather than focusing on all the bad things that can happen, focus on the skills that children need to be safe. Use a calm and caring manner when teaching these concepts. The goal is to empower your child rather than frighten him or her.
Teach the concepts you feel your child is ready for, and add more information later. Make this an on-going process as your child matures.
Basic Concepts to Teach
- A stranger is anyone you don’t know.
- The rules change when your parents aren’t there; it may be OK to talk to a stranger when you are with your parents, but not when you are on your own.
- Never give your name or address to a stranger.
- Never get in a car or go anywhere with a stranger.
- Never take anything from a stranger.
As your child gets older and is away from you more to walk to school or play in the neighborhood, teach additional concepts.
- Use the same route when going to familiar places.
- Walk home with a friend whenever possible, or call home when you leave so your parents know when to expect you.
- Play where there are people around.
- Avoid playing in secluded areas.
- Be cautious in public restrooms; use the family restroom if possible or go with a friend.
- If you need help, go to someone “official” like a store clerk rather than asking a stranger.
Your Older Child Should Know:
- How to call for help in an emergency from a landline or cell phone
- His or her full name, parents’ names, address and phone number, including area code
- How to reach parents at work
- How to make a long-distance call
- How to answer the door or phone safely
Other Safety Tips
- You may want to have a “secret” family password that parents can give a person who may have to pick up your child unexpectedly. When your child hears the password, he or she knows it is OK to go with that person.
- You will also need to establish family rules for use of the Internet.
- Since a fair number of child abductions are carried out by a non-custodial parent, and if your family is in this situation, you may need to teach your child some specific skills. The Polly Klass Foundation has some good tips.
- Parents need to know their child’s location and who they are with.
- Be involved in your child’s activities and meet their friends’ parents.
- Question any gifts your child brings home.
- Avoid putting your child’s name in a visible place like on a backpack or on clothing. This allows an adult to gain your child’s trust by calling him or her by name.
- In addition, law enforcement suggests parents keep updated information including a current photo of your child, and height and weight information.
This information is very scary for parents to think about. Remember, the incidence of stranger abduction is very small. Teaching prevention skills can empower you and your child, and can help reduce anxiety for your family.
In our next blog about safety, we will talk about Internet safety, how to teach action skills to your children, and how to teach skills to help your child resist sexual exploitation.
Safety First Series
This post is part of a “Safety First” series on children and safety. Check out these other safety-related posts: Poison Prevention Guidelines, Safety First: Could Your Child’s Toys Be Dangerous? , Safety First: Using the Right Crib and Safety First: How to Protect Infants and Young Children from Suffocation and Strangulation Hazards.