I walked into a public bathroom this morning, and a little guy, maybe 4 or 5, pointed at me and asked his mom “Hey, who’s that?”.
I smiled at him and was just about to say “My name is Megan, what’s yours?” when his hurried mom said “You don’t need to know. She’s a stranger.”
Maybe she was just having a bad morning, or maybe she prefers that her little guy not talk to strangers. And that’s certainly her right.
But I don’t agree with telling kids not to talk to strangers and here’s why:
1. Adults talk to strangers several times each day, from the grocery store cashier, to the gas pump attendant, to the new clients at work, there’s very rarely a day when I could go without talking to a stranger, out of necessity and out of common courtesy.
2. Kids need to be able to ask for help when they need it. If a child is lost at the mall, or if they hurt themselves outside riding their bike, or if they have a substitute teacher at school, they need to be able to ask strangers for help.
3. Stranger danger gives kids the idea that they can trust implicitly anyone they’ve already met. This puts them at a huge risk for abuse.
So if I don’t teach my kids stranger danger, how do I keep them safe?
I’ve tried to teach them strategies to use when they do need to speak with strangers. And the older they get, the more often that is going to happen.
If they are lost: find a mom with kids to ask for help. Statistically this is the best chance for help. Finding a police officer (like we were taught to when we were kids) isn’t always possible in a small town, and they could easily mistake a security guard for a police officer because the uniforms tend to be similar. And while many police officers and security guards have thier own kids, they may not have as much motivation to make sure that a child is reunited with their parents as another mom with kids might.
If they feel uncomfortable in a situation: leave however they can. I am a strong believer in instinct. I believe God gave us the ability to subconsciously notice body language, voice intonations and eye contact that is odd or out of place for a reason: to alert us to possible danger. So if they feel uncomfortable or their stomach “feels weird” or if they feel like something isn’t right, they know to leave however is possible. This applies to any situation involving any person whether they already know them or not, and even if they may be in a position of authority.
Use the buddy system: stick together and stay with a sibling or friend. For us it’s more likely to be a sibling because friends don’t always have the same rules as our family does.
This perspective seems far more practical and realistic than simply saying “Don’t talk to strangers.” and it seems to work for us.
What do you think? How do you teach your kids about personal safety?