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Scary man symbolizing the stranger danger myth.

Tips for Parents—Stranger Danger | PDF

Español/Spanish: Consejos para padres - Extraños peligrosos

Stranger Danger is an ineffective way to teach our children about how to be safe. But here are some Tips for Parents to better teach stranger danger.

Children imagine strangers as scary, creepy people.  When kids were shown pictures of a variety of people they didn't know, only the ones made to look scary or strange were identified as strangers that might abduct or hurt them.  They weren't concerned about grandmotherly or pretty women, or kind looking men. 

Statistics show that many more children are molested/abducted/killed by people they know than by strangers

Often, it is an acquaintance or friend of the family, or even a relative, that harms a child.  Many child sex offenders are especially good at attaining positions working with children such as teaching, counseling, or coaching.  Accused sex offenders are often described positively by people who knew them before the crime was made public, "He was such a nice person.  I just can't believe he'd do something like this."  Be extremely careful about who you teach your child is a "Safe Grownup".  Just because they are in a position of trust (doctor, pastor, counselor, coach, etc.) doesn't mean they are Trustworthy.  The most important thing a parent can do when they aren't sure who they can trust or not is to accompany the child.  If you're unsure about a new coach, stay with your child at practice.

Certain types/personalities of children are more susceptible to abuse

They include children with special needs, children in foster homes, shy children that don't fit in well socially, and children whose mothers expose them to many different boyfriends.  This in no way means these children are somehow asking to be abused, it just means that sex offenders, like predators in the wild, prefer to attack those they believe to be weaker.

Here's what the experts recommend:

  1. Teach children what kind of touching is appropriate and inappropriate.
  2. Show kids how to say "No!" and get away fast if someone does or says something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  3. Help kids understand who a safe grownup is.  Let them know who the trusted adults in their lives are.  Remember, however, that many adults in "trusted" positions hurt children.
  4. People who hurt kids often scare them by saying they will hurt their parents or other loved ones if they tell.  Don't believe them.  Kids can and should always tell a safe grownup if someone does something that hurts them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
  5. Teach children to always let a trusted grownup know where they are going.
  6. Kids should play and travel in groups.  Being alone makes them more susceptible to being hurt.
  7. Abductors often trick children into going with them quietly.  Teach your kids that adults should ask for help from adults, not children.  Abductors have tricked kids into going with them by offering candy, toys, saying that their puppy is lost, or asking the child if they want to see a baby animal or if they can give them directions.  If an adult is asking for help, they should say "No!" and run away to tell a safe grownup.
  8. Some abusers pay extra attention to one child, or give the child gifts for no reason in order to build trust with the child before they hurt them.  Teach your child to tell you right away if someone gives them a gift or extra attention. 
  9. If the worst should happen, and an abductor is actually grabbing a child, they should fall on the ground, kick, scream, bite, and fight as hard and make as much noise as they can.

It's important to role play with your child

Practice dangerous situations with your child and show them how to say "No," how to run away, and how to make a bunch of noise.  Don't assume that once is enough.  Take advantage of opportunities to discuss this issue with your kids regularly.

Be aware that talking about these things can frighten your child

Be sure to talk to them in a calm tone.  Don't try to terrify them into being safe, and be careful not to let your fear frighten them.  Explain that like a fire or earthquake, these situations probably won't happen to them, but that they should be prepared just in case.  Help them understand that worrying won't keep them safe, but knowing how to act will help protect them.

Here are some great resources for talking with kids about this issue:

Stranger Quiz
Tips written for Kids:
McGruff the Crime Dog's Stranger Danger for Kids

You may also find these Tips for Parents helpful:

Tips for Parents: Latch Key Kids

Tips for Parents: What Age Can My Child Stay Home Alone

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