Friday, July 20, 2012

Teaching Stranger Danger

Do you find it hard to talk with your kids about stranger danger?  Do you wonder if they get it or if after years of reminding them they are blowing you off?

Natalie Morales is one of my favorite reporters and she did a special on stranger danger that I watched with my daughter.  By the end of the show, both kids were very somber curled up on my lap (yeah, not easy when she's almost as big as I am!) and I was in tears.  So was Natalie Morales as she asked her son "Why? Why did you get in that ice cream truck?".  Gut-wrenching mommy moment.  You could feel what she was feeling in that moment - she was so sure he knew what to do - and he did - but for a crucial moment the "coolness" factor took over and he put himself in a situation that would have been terrible if it hadn't been staged actors posing as the strangers.  Kudos to Natalie for putting herself out there so we (and our kids) can learn from it.  Here she is talking with Anderson Cooper about what that experience was like for her.

We had an excellent conversation about it and even my son, who I sometimes forget is big enough to understand these things, reviewed the rights and wrongs.  We watched that episode when it first aired and he mentioned it the other day when we were headed to a crowded event and I reminded him that he needed to stay with me "a'cuz there might be bad people who want to take me away from you and daddy and sissy and won't bring me back like on that show what we watched with the kids and you were crying, Momma!"

I will admit I am that mom who sometimes goes to the grocery store and when my kids are too engrossed in what's on the shelf and not listening to my reminder to come on, I will slip just around the corner or the next rack.  Out of their view but so I can monitor them.  (I know some of you are gasping in horror and others are applauding.)  I'll wait to see what they do and how long it takes them to realize they are on their own.   I only do this in the store that they are very familiar with and when there are not others around.  I don't want to really scare them.  But I need to see what they will do and what areas I need to work on.  And they need that little jolt of panic once in a while to remind them to be cautious in this world - not fearful but aware

My daughter is almost 9 and has always been an independent and thinker.  She's fairly cautious for her age but is very sociable.  I want her to gradually earn her freedom and greater responsibility (at her age, I was babysitting my little brother after school) so she has earned her way gradually from going down to the end of the same aisle where I am retrieving something to going to the next aisle away where I could hear her if she yelled for me and there is a definite amount of time it should take her to retrieve the item and meet me at the end of the row.  I know she is allowed greater freedom at school and daycare but those environments to me seem more managed.  My son being 3 is not there yet as far as freedom but we still talk about not talking to strangers (both of my kids are social butterflies) and they are reviewing it at daycare as well.

Its a fine line with some kids to explain about who is a stranger.  I've always taught my daughter that anyone she is uncomfortable with (including teachers or family) or feels she doesn't know she does not have to talk to or go with and she should find someone she does trust and tell them and then tell me.  Sometimes this may come off rude to people.  When she was 3 or 4, we would be in the store and the chatty cashier or little elderly lady would ask "what's your name and how old are you?" Princess would just stare at me with big eyes like she was asking me why would this stranger ask those things my mom tells me I shouldn't tell anyone?  I would often have to explain to the cashier that we are teaching about stranger danger.  Most people are shocked even if they never saw you before in their life that they are a stranger.  But they are.  My own grandmother would have responded by telling the person every detail about the first years of my daughter's life and mine.  Safety should never be a trade-off to politeness.  I can deal with the cashier who thinks I raised a rude kid but that creepo who is next in line who is crowding in a little too close will not overhear my daughter's name and age and where she goes to school so he can find access to her!

If you need help starting the conversation with your kids, or a reminder for older kids about what can happen, I highly recommend watching the Natalie Morales special with them.  Its appropriate for kids of all ages.  Its also something to watch with spouses or grandparents who think you might be overly cautious.  The parents of these kids pretty much all thought their kids knew what to do - the results are pretty surprising.  There are also some great examples of kids who did exactly the right thing to show what was effective in getting away from the stranger.  Here is also a great article from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on why stranger danger needs to be more than a slogan and even a printable to give your kids.  There's a great coloring book by KidPower that explains many scenarios that are hard for kids to decipher.

If you still think its not a talk you are ready to have with your kids, watch this clip of a 10-year-old and 2-year-old successfully escaping an attempted abduction and read the article to see how they knew what to do.  And realize that over 2,185 children a day are reported missing in the U.S.


Shawn said...

I wrote a post along similar lines recently and I just read another the other day. I think it's great to continue having this issue front and center as there seems to be an increase in crimes against children. I always say that the danger does not always come from a stranger--it is more often from someone a child knows and trusts. So it is very important for parents to make their children aware of what's inappropriate and what the child should do in those situations. It's sad that we have to even worry about this but it's our reality in the world today. Great post!

Rosilind Jukic said...

Wow - thank you for linking this post up. What a great lesson. I know I'm going to definitely need to teach this to my kids. They are both very outgoing. It's painful to read the news everyday and see how many children are missing...even here in Croatia we experience that. One can never be too cautious these days. Thanks again for linking up. Stop by today and link up again if you have another post about kids.

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