Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Is Your Child in Danger?

Teaching Stranger Danger in a Whole New World

I made a parenting mistake (one of many, I’m sure). I had gotten so wrapped up in making sure that my kids are safe online, that I didn’t give due diligence to safety in the real world. It’s not like I encourage them to run with scissors or run into the crosswalk without looking both ways before crossing the street. But I didn’t give the same attention to their “stranger danger” skills in the real world. Parents today are so inundated with safety concerns about the online technology world in which our kids live, that suddenly the real world is so much more comfortable. I got complacent. And then I hear of young girls missing like this precious girl in Colorado, and I look at my own children and wonder just how safe they are.

Stranger Danger Redefined

Sometimes my brain feels like it is about to implode with all of the parenting information I feel like I must not only acquire, but somehow intelligently transmit to my children. I grew up in a generation that was told to not take candy from strangers. Sound advice (yet I allow my kids to be pelted with suckers at parades). Now I am a parent and I have to know as much as parentally possible about all things related to technology. Instagram, Facebook, digital reputations – these advancements haunt me.

I’m also most likely not the only parent who has been worrying more about online dangers compared to real-world dangers. In fact, when I went searching for resources about “stranger danger” I found what I thought would be a great piece of information put together by the National Crime Prevention Council. It is advertised toward parents to help them help their kids “boost street smarts.” But the guide (as good as it is), is about online safety.

Defining “Stranger” for Kids

It is vitally important that kids know that strangers are any people they don’t know. Strangers don’t have a special look about them, smell differently, or wear armbands that signify they are strange. Perhaps one of the most important things we can teach our children is how to recognize dangerous situations, instead of focusing on trying to determine who might be a dangerous person.

  • Strangers can be very nice, like the same hobbies, and have cool cars.
  • Strangers might ask for help looking for lost items, figuring out how to get their cell phone voicemail to work, or need directions.

Dangerous situations can more easily have telltale signs:

  • adults asking kids for help or assistance (finding a lost pet)
  • adults asking kids to do something that kids aren’t typically equipped to do (giving directions)
  • adults asking kids personal questions when parents aren’t with them (How old are you? What do you like to eat?)
  • adults asking kids about their parents (When will your parents be back?)
  • adults asking kids to keep secrets (beyond birthday gifts that should be a red flag for kids)

Tools for Teaching Kids about Personal Safety

Not all strangers are dangers, and that can be hard for kids to understand. We need to give our kids the tools they need to distinguish between safe and questionable situations and behaviors.

Role Play – Use some seemingly harmless examples of how strangers might approach them for conversations. Focus on the conversations, and not the attributes of the stranger. Most conversations are safe – but because not all people are safe for our kids, we need to let our kids know that it is OK to disengage from a stranger. Even though we so often tell our kids to be polite and converse with people (and get away from that computer screen!), we also need to give them permission to walk away from a conversation that has red flags.

Talk about safe boundaries – I use the yardstick bubble rule (my younger kids love to measure – and sometimes whack – things with a yardstick, so this is a good frame of reference for them), but you can choose any object that makes sense to your child and is about 3 feet. Teach kids to avoid being in the personal space of strangers within that bubble, and to guard their own bubble. This is especially important when there is obviously enough large, open space and the stranger doesn’t have a need to invade that personal space.

Develop signals – I have developed with my own kids certain code words and signals they can use within our family to alert each other to an uncomfortable or possibly dangerous situation. Keep your codes private, and review them when you review things like your fire escape plan (feel that implosion rumbling, again…).

Give them permission to scream – Kids need to know that they can yell and it is going to be OK. Our daughter tested our teachings when she was much younger and shrieked in the mall because she thought she was lost. We praised her for using her voice (instead of chastising her for making so much noise in the store).

Additional guidelines to teach kids from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children include:

  1. Always check first with a parent, guardian, or trusted adult before going anywhere, accepting anything, or getting into a car with anyone.
  2. Do not go out alone. Always take a friend with when going places or playing outside.
  3. Say no if someone tries to touch you, or treats you in a way that makes you feel sad, scared, or confused. Get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
  4. Tell a parent, guardian, or trusted adult if you feel sad, scared, or confused.
  5. There will always be someone to help you, and you have the right to be safe.

Related posts:

  1. Changing the Way You Pay Attention to Your Child
  2. Is your child overscheduled? Signs your child is too busy to be a kid.
  3. Is Your Child Strong?

View full post on Parenting Tips For Raising Successful Kids |

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