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What to Teach our Kids about Stranger Danger

Okay Moms. Going about my business about the town I’ve seen a whole lot of stranger danger going on with the littles among us. And you know how I recognize it? Because my kids were the same way years ago.  And they’re a lot the same way today – but it’s not sweet anymore, nor appropriate. Or even excusable. And the problem is that I was the one who made them that way. 

I absolutely agree that we need to teach kids about personal space and boundaries and their power to say no. I agree that we need to somehow identify and describe to them what a stranger is. No. Let me correct that. I agree that we need to somehow identify and describe to them what a dangerous stranger situation is. 

Because the problem starts when their little minds see anyone other than mom and dad as a stranger.  I’m talking about kids walking with their moms into childcare at the gym each morning.  I’m talking about kids in the cart at the grocery store.  And I’m talking about kids in general

When my kids were little, there was a safety video series out about stranger danger called The Safe Side which was kinda scary in a funny sort of way.  The Safe Side Super Chick was cute and funny and always popped up to tell the kids when they were about to be bad news.  And y’all, we parked our kids in front of that thing a million times if we did it once.  And here’s what it ended up teaching them – that yes,

  1. there are people out there that you don’t know. 
  2. there are people out there that are dangerous and scary and prey on little children through trickery, candy, and lies.  And…
  3. that they should be afraid of anyone and everyone – including their teachers, parents of friends, and basically anyone that mom and dad didn’t share the secret safety word with. 

But what it didn’t teach them was how to respond in less than immediate danger circumstances and that not everyone on the planet is a kidnapper. 

As parents, we have to teach them safety.  And we try to teach them to be cautious, but what we teach them far too often is an unhealthy fear of others, fear of the unknown, and fear of putting any space between mom and them.  And I’m totally speaking from experience – at first, it looks like shyness.  Then by a certain age, it just looks rude. 

My kids did it.  I take a certain amount of responsibility for it, too.  And seeing that hindsight is 20/20, I wish I would’ve handled it differently.  Now, don’t get your picket signs and come stand in my yard, dear moms…. I absolutely understand that there are crazy people out there.  I know a few personally, but that’s a different story.  In fact, there are probably crazy people reading this post.  If you’re crazy, raise your right hand.  But somehow we have to get the message across to the kids that we all share the same world, and really, we can’t tell each other apart. 

I still worry about the kids, even as teens.  Especially as teens because their worlds are so big now.  And it wasn’t too long ago that we had the scare of our lives when Kid 3 didn’t come home from school.  Insert frantic searching the school, the neighborhood, and hitting the panic button when we were advised to call the police. 

But y’all, what we need to teach kids is not so much about being afraid, but about being confident.  And with confidence comes the ability to speak to a stranger with respect and courtesy, but to also set and enforce boundaries. 

Let’s say a nice man or woman speaks to your kid at the grocery store.  What should they do? 

  1. Run away screaming stranger danger?
  2. Go with said stranger to the back of the store to look at the bakery clearance rack?
  3. Say a polite hello, or other appropriate response, then say “It was nice to talk to you, now my mom is at the register waiting for me.”

Boom.  I think looking back from this perspective, which answer I would’ve guided my kids toward. 

All I’m saying is that there is a time and place to panic.  And the best tool we can give our kids is to teach them when and if to do it, and what to do about it.  And then teach them to handle the other 99% of situations with confidence and grace. 

I created a couple of kids that really struggle with communication when it’s not someone they’re already familiar with, and sometimes even then.  I created kids that never acted like they were so much afraid of strangers as much as they were annoyed by them talking to them.  I created monsters of the polite conversation variety.  And now I’ve been trying almost forever to undo what we did to them as littles.  

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