Stranger Danger

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.

This article has 31 comments

  1. J at

    I read this book awhile ago, too…and I wonder how to protect our children from the family and friends who do most of the abusing in this world?

    My daughter took a karate class once, which really wasn’t so much actual karate, and more ‘stranger danger’. The teacher taught them a couple of really good things, I thought.

    1. Listen to your gut. If your tummy feels weird, get out of that situation.

    2. How to yell for help. I knew this before, but he taught them to yell, “FIRE!” and “YOU’RE NOT MY DAD!!!” so people wouldn’t think it was just a kid getting in trouble with a parent if someone tried to abduct them.

    3. The scariest thing, for me, was when he taught them that truly, there isn’t much a child can do once they are grabbed by an adult, so don’t waste much time fighting. Spend your time a. not getting into that situation, by listening to your gut, and b. yelling loudly for help. It was kind of upsetting (brought tears to my eyes) when he demonstrated, by taking the biggest (mulit age class, she was probably 12 and some of the kids were 5 or so) kid in class, and having her try to get away. She fought, hard, and he stayed calm and made jokes. The kids thought it was funny at first, but as she tried harder and harder and he just stood there, calmly not letting her get away, they got the message, and got a little scared too. Took him a minute or two later to get off of the ‘bad guy’ side, and back into their good graces.

    He actually taught them a bit about not getting hurt/molested by family and friends, too. Well, maybe not a truly trusted family or friend, but he taught them not to take rides from teachers, even from him.

    Anyway, good post, and you’re right, the danger is so much less than everyone seems to think. It kind of drives me crazy to see people not let their child play outside anymore, because ‘things are different now’. I don’t believe it for a minute. Though I do live in a congested area, and would think twice about letting Maya play outside by herself. But not if we lived on a quiet street somewhere.

    Whew. Sorry for the novel there. 😉

  2. J at

    I just reread my comment…he didn’t single out teachers as folks kids shouldn’t get rides from. Also neighbors, etc. In other words, if you don’t have your parents’ OK to ride with this person, don’t do it.

  3. Sizzle

    these are good tips. i figure eventually we’ll be covering this with my nephew. as a self-defense instructor i figure i have a few things to show him about safety but the whole stranger issue is interesting to me for all the reasons you point out. we can send confusing messages to kids when we ourselves talk to strangers.

  4. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Jelly Jules, watch the DVD, it gives some really concrete tips. That there are only a few “Safe Side Adult” like 2 or 3 in a kids life that they are allowed to leave any place with. In our case, we told Declan it was our best friends and his guardians, Jeff and Danielle. So, I said, what if such and such (friend) showed up at school and told you I said to pick you up? Would you go with them? And at first he said YES! And then I said, is he your safe side adult? And then he started to get it, who he can leave with, and who is a “Kinda Know.”

    There was also a part about the kids having a safety circle or something – and that if you are in a park or wherever and someone enters your circle and you don’t have a Safe Side Adult with you, that YOU (the kid) should leave…

    Again, getting back to empowering the kids to preventing problems before they start. Maybe a bit paranoid, but I would rather be a little more paranoid for real problems, than grand statements, like strangers might grab you!

  5. Jodi

    Im actually not a fan of stranger danger and more a fan of good touch, bad touch. B/c most times a child is abused by someone they know.

  6. villanovababy

    wow… I have started reading a lot of “mommy” blogs since Tim and I are planning on starting a family soon. I feel like I learn so much about parenting from blogs! Thank you for this informative post…

  7. Gretchen

    Haven’t read the book, but we do have the movie and the kids watched it several times. It really opened up the lines of communication for us, and allowed us to talk about certain situations – good and bad.

  8. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Yeah, Jodi, agreed, I said that in the first paragraph. 😉 But I probably should have said more in the post about how the video talks about not letting people talk you into things, even people you think you know.

  9. Anonymous

    Thought provoking post, thanks.

  10. laughingatchaos

    I have to second the Safe Side DVD. My son has watched it since it first came out; I think it’s time for a refresher. There’s also a CD of safety songs and those are pretty popular around here too.

  11. Rachel

    My daughter loves the Safe Side DVD! Thank you for the rec on the book. I’ll have to get that on my next book store trip.
    Great informative post and I’m with you on the crazy parents 🙂

  12. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    that’s wild Candance, I must have had a 6th sense!

  13. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    and thanks everyone, for the feedback!

  14. Kelly O

    Did you read The Gift of Fear? Another book by de Becker that is a tough read, but so, so valuable. It’s mostly about trusting your intuition, not as a magical second sense but as your instincts processing information before your brain can discount it. Good stuff!

  15. Candace

    it’s preventing child abuse week at hannah’s school.
    “project protect” and it includes talking about sexual abuse. This post came at a great time.
    I too, feel the same way about the mixed message of “don’t talk to strangers” but be a kind person to everyone. It’s tough to navigate through.

  16. nutmeg

    I tell my kids if they get lost to find a mommy because a daddy will most likely get them more lost and then refuse to ASK FOR DIRECTIONS!

  17. Elaine

    I felt the same way after reading De Beckers book and will have to see if I can track down that DVD at the library. Looks brilliant and helpful!

  18. carrie

    I’ve heard really good things about the “Protecting the Gift” book — thanks for reminding me that I need to check it out.

    It is so hard, as your kids get a little older, to give them the freedom they need in order to gain independence and at the same time protect them adequately. We have always been super honest with the boys about safety and what is okay and what is not in terms of contact with other people.

    Inevitably the day came when I had to let go of the leash a little and let them go on bike rides — without me (but together, always together and with a cell phone). It pains me and at the same time, I know it is completely normal.

    Parenting is so hard sometimes.

  19. Queeny

    Honestly, I’d trust strangers around my kids better than I could some of my extended family members. I don’t “scream” about stranger danger, but I do preach it frequently when we’re out. And oh yes, the good touch-bad touch talk is a big one for me.

    I think I’ll have them watch that video, too.

  20. Fi

    Interesting post, you mention how kids see their parents talking openly with strangers and found myself going “oh yeah…we do do that don’t we” –

    I don’t think I’ve really discussed this issue seriously with our daughter and now I really think I need to – I’d be very interested to hear what her answers would be to the questions you asked Declan.

    Food for thought alright…

  21. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    mollyfa- I totally hear you. I don;t want that either. That’s why I like how the DVD sets up people you kinda know, you don’t know, etc and the appropriate things to do with them. It doesn’t make it seem like EVERYONE is horrible.

  22. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    and MB, i think she did a better job with these than Baby Einstein… 🙂

  23. zipper

    excellent post.

  24. Megan

    Yes, I agree – don’t talk to strangers is really confusing!!!

  25. Anonymous

    I need to check out that book and DVD – thanks!

  26. Lauren

    Interesting thoughts on bad touch good touch.

  27. MB

    Excellent post. While I’m not a big Julie Clark fan (but that’s another story), I’m going to find that DVD. I HATE this topic, mostly because I want to kill someone at the thought that anyone would ever harm my child. Deep breath. Okay. Yes, I’m going to get that DVD.

  28. Salty Miss Jill

    Thanks for these recommendations-I will certainly look into them and pass the info along to other parents. :)Wise woman, you.

  29. Mollyfa

    This is such a tough issue. There are bad people in the world, and kids need to know the rules, but I always wonder at what point I’m teaching them not to trust human kind.

    Jellyjules, I love that the teacher demonstrated how a kid cannot get away once they have been caught. My nine year old is convinced that he could fight off any bad guy. It’s difficult to help him realize that in real life, not even mommy’s strength is going to keep me safe. It has to be our brains.

  30. Karen

    Thanks for this post. I’ve always taught the children that if somebody touches them they’re to say out really loud, ‘You’re not allowed to touch my private area’, then at the first opportunity to tell either me or Andy. It’s something I’ve not shied away from with them. The only person who touches that area is a doctor or nurse – even Mummy and Daddy don’t touch, unless they ask us to if it’s sore or needs cleaning.

    As for stranger danger, if they’re in a shopping centre and get seperated from me, they go straight to the nearest shop pay point and stay with the assistant, because as they’re working they’re not allowed to wander out the store and to stay until I find them or the police are called.

    Out on the street, anybody approaches, they’re to scream out loud, ‘I don’t know how you are’ and if possible run to the nearest house and bang on the door.

    God forbid this ever happens.

  31. Marketing Mama

    Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll check them out. I have a 2.5 year old and I’m just starting to think about this stuff. I hate that I even have to.

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