When some of us were younger, we had very specific and tried-and-true safety rules to follow:
• No swimming until at least a half hour after eating.
• Do not run with scissors, pencils, sticks, or anything else that can put your eye out.
• When the street lights come on, you come in.
• And, most importantly, do not talk to strangers, ever!
Well, it’s a new world. Science and society have changed, and the kids are so savvy and “meta” in so many ways. Science, for example, has proven you’re not going to die if you swim without waiting the 30 minutes, just maybe suffer from some cramps at worst. Society has shown us that a routine schedule is a little more dependable than streetlights with younger kids, and flexibility and discussion are important in setting curfews with older kids. Plus, we’re all a little more cautious/aware of where are kids are these days, especially with the help of cell phones and other innovations, including apps and gadgets.
Well, and as for the savvy kids themselves, they often know, at surprisingly young ages, not to run with pointed objects or to talk to strangers. And they even may counter with such chestnuts as: “I don’t need a pencil if I have an iPad,” “What if I’m lost?” or “Can’t I talk to a police officer?”
In fact, “Stranger Danger” as we might have once known it and talked about it has kind of fallen by the wayside. According to Kidpower “Stranger Danger” doesn’t really protect anyone as it should since most violence is caused by people the victims know rather than by strangers, and enforcing the idea that dangerous people called “strangers” are lying in wait everywhere can be emotionally unsafe for kids. They go on to suggest: “Instead of Stranger Danger, kids, teens, and adults need to know about Stranger Safety and to be prepared to use self-protection skills for avoiding and escaping an assault both from strangers and people they know.”
Kidpower says focusing on what to watch out for and preparing kids with skills before letting them go anywhere on their own, as well as ensuring they have skilled adult supervision while their own skills are still developing, is far more effective than just creating a sense of fear about all strangers. The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) (you remember McGruff, right?) has good tips on teaching kids the difference between strangers and safe strangers and how to recognize and handle dangerous situations. They also offer some good, common sense pointers/reminders such as: know where your children are, show them examples of safe places to play, teach them to trust their instincts and be assertive, and always encourage them to play with others (hey, safety in numbers, that’s one from the good old days).
Kidpower goes on to say, “Practicing Stranger Safety and self-protection skills successfully helps to increase confidence, develop competence, and reduce anxiety.” This is especially good if it is done in a fun, not scary, way.
Kidpower and the NCPC have some great resources, as do many other Websites devoted to child safety, everyone from Scholastic Books to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And of course there are helpful items at HCLS, such as the book Stranger Safety, and the DVD I Am Not a Target!. So check out some resources and remember we want our kids not to be afraid of strangers but smart about them.