Any parent understands the anxiety felt when worrying about your child’s safety. In a world that is increasing in density, with more people and more distractions than ever before, letting your child roam on their own can feel like a bad idea. The last thing you want to hear is that your child had a scary encounter with a stranger while out at the park, while playing in the woods behind a friend’s home, or while on a school trip in the city.
From decades past, we have all heard the phrase “Stranger Danger,” invoked by our parents while we were children to make us fearful of potentially dangerous strangers. While this phrase has been burned into our collective minds from a young age, it might not hold much weight. As a child, it is smart to still be wary of strangers, as we should all learn to trust our instincts when interacting with people we do not know, but most assaults against children are not performed by strangers. Truthfully, most abuse cases—both against children and adults—tend to come from someone the abused knows.
While stranger danger is still an important conversation to have with your child, there are other supportive conversations that can be more beneficial. These supplementary conversations can explore the ways in which children can interact with strangers, what signs to look for when interacting with seemingly troublesome people, what boundaries should be established when interacting with older people, and ways in which they can protect themselves if utterly necessary.
Some schools are taking the responsibility to begin talking to younger students about such topics, as certain news stories emerge into the public sphere, whether discussing personal safety or consent-based conversations. Here are some basic steps you can take to protect your child, teaching them the finer details about stranger danger and beyond.
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Discussing Good and Bad Strangers
While stranger danger is a useful phrase to keep in your child’s head, it’s best not to make them fearful of all strangers, as not all strangers are bad people. When you’re out in public with your child, it’s worthwhile to take the time to discuss which people can and cannot be trusted. You should point out strangers that your child can rely on if ever needed—people that society often trusts above all else. These people include teachers, librarians, customer service members, firefighters, police officers, and other parents with their own children.
While all of these people should not be completely trusted, as every person is different, it is worthwhile to talk with your child about why these people are often trusted, and why they can consider reaching out to these people if they are in serious need. Bad strangers, on the other hand, are people who should be avoided, and these are often people who will approach your child while voicing their intentions and dismissing the child’s and parents’ concerns. These include strangers who ask your child to keep a secret, disobey your established rules and orders, or ask for help with an activity—e.g., “Could you help me look for my dog? He happened to run away and I need to find him.” It is imperative that you discuss the difference between both good and bad strangers, and how to tell that the latter people should not be trusted or approached.
Protecting Yourself with Self-Defense Classes and Devices
To ensure your child’s safety, it is important that you teach them the basics about protecting themselves physically whenever necessary. Self-defense classes such as karate make for a wonderful introduction to protection and safety against others, all while teaching your child about the greater good of having a discipline that can be followed for life.
Self-defense devices can also be given to your child as a means of further ensuring their protection, but you should take noted measures to ensure that they understand the severity of having such an item on them. Simple non-lethal self-defense protective devices such as pepper spray, which can be stored within their backpack, can be deployed if they need to truly fend off an attacker. Similarly, basic stun devices can be employed if necessary to ward off an aggressive adult.
With both of these items, you should understand that you are handing your child a great deal of responsibility. They should not be allowed to hold onto the item if you ever believe they might use it on a friend or treat it as if it is a plaything. It should be instilled in them that these self-defense devices are meant just for that: They are a last line of defense if they are truly scared and do not see any other way of protecting themselves from an aggressor.
Safety Rules to Follow at All Times
In the end, it’s important to talk to your child openly about things they should look out for when interacting with strangers—when they should be wary of a stranger and what they should do to protect themselves at all times. In particular, it’s best to set up a list of rules that your child should attempt to follow. These rules should define the things they must keep in mind when interacting with strangers in public, along with taking measured steps to ensure they are considering their personal safety above all else. These can include:
- Trust your instincts, above whatever a stranger attempts to tell you.
- Do not trust an adult who has a “secret” to tell you.
- If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, attempt to get attention from bystanders, either by yelling or calling attention to yourself.
- Never be alone if you’re outside; have a friend with you at all times.
- If you ever become separated from your parents, do not wander off. Instead, stay still and wait for your parents to return, or seek out the help of a good stranger to try to find your guardian.
Child safety can feel difficult to discern, but, with some simple rules, conversations, and training, you can help to make sure your child is prepared to protect themselves at all times.