I always get annoyed as people flip out when as child goes missing somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I feel terrible; it’s a horrible thing and the world is certainly not a safe place. But it’s also a relatively rare thing. The chances of a child getting snatched are astronomical, with the chances of a child getting sexually molested is 1 in 4. Usually by someone they know. So, when I hear women get hysterical, screaming about “Don’t talk to strangers!,” I roll my eyes. Head, meet sand.
I read an excellent and equally disturbing book a long time ago called Protecting The Gift by Gavin DeBecker. It’s not easy to read. It talks about the tough things. Perverts. Stalkers. Guns. Molesters. But it also gives insights on where the dangers really lie.
DeBecker talks about how school aged children were asked to draw their idea of “strangers.” They all drew scary men… pirates, even. Not corporate men in suits asking for help finding a puppy.
DeBecker also describes how confusing it is for children when they are constantly told not to talk to strangers and then see their parents continually talking to strangers… in the grocery store… in the elevator – or better yet, when parents entice their children to talk to those same strangers. I’d be confused too.
According to DeBecker, the “power” predator – one that physically nabs your child – is so rare that we probably could actually put it out of our mind as a possibility. But, since we’re parents, and we worry, he suggests talking to your kids about being aware of their surroundings, and in particular, if they get separated, teach them to select the person from whom they ask for help. He suggests looking for a “mommy” since something like 98% of sexual predators are heterosexual males. Now, we’ve had friends protest this as teaching children to be afraid of men, and while I see their point, part of me doesn’t care since apparently it’s men we need to be afraid of. [pause] OK, I was partially being facetious there! To play fair, we have told Declan to ask a parent for help if he is lost.
There is a section about “persuasive” predators – the one who somehow talks you away from your child, which are much more common than power predators, even though we all swear it would never happen to us.
He talks about gut instinct and how important it is to trust it.
Such an important skill as a parent, which we sometimes lose in the nicety of “playing along” with society. Where we may want to get caught up in drama of the extraordinary story that made national news, but we can’t face the horrible truth in our own backyard.
So. I read this scary book. Now what?
A friend recommended a DVD made by John Walsh (America’s Most Wanted) and Julie Clark (Baby Einstein) called Stranger Safety. It had this crazy girl named Safe Side Superchick and it was pretty silly, but Declan dug it. We learned a ton of practical skills that were extensions of things I had learned from Protecting the Gift. We talked about things that just don’t easily come up in normal conversation (I paused the DVD at least 10 times). I asked him how he would handle situations. And thank god I did, because at first, he answered every single question WRONG. But at the end, he got it.
And while the people who freak out and yell “Don’t talk to strangers!” and believe they are protecting their kids may think I discuss too much with my 5 year old son, *I* like to think he is better prepared. He understands better the shoulds and should-nots of the world around him.
And while no kid is ever “safe,” I’ll settle for “safer.”
*P.S. This was not paid for by Gavin DeBecker, John Walsh, Julie Clark -OR- The Safe Side Superchick. But any money they want to send my way can be mailed to the Greeblemonkey Super Safe College Fund, Denver, CO.