The Don’t Talk to Strangers campaign taught generations of children to fear strangers – and don’t get me wrong there are bad strangers out there – but not all strangers are bad. The fact is you can’t tell what is in someone’s heart by the way they look on the outside. Abductions from strangers is what fears most parents, however, almost 90% of the time the child knows their abductor. This is part of the reason why we need to rethink teaching our children “Don’t talk to strangers.”
“Don’t talk to Strangers” is not a skill. It tells children what NOT to do. Children need to also be taught “what TO do”. So imagine this: your child innocently playing in the park and is approached by a stranger. The stranger asks them a non-threatening question (as most strangers, even the bad ones, don’t appear scary), what would your child do? What have you taught your child to do? You may have told them “don’t talk to strangers.” And you probably also told them to listen to their elders and not to be rude. Most children will be confused. They will not necessarily feel threatened by this “stranger” as children’s instincts are not fully developed until adulthood. So technically they might be left standing there unsure of themselves with no clear plan of action. So here is what KidSafe wants you to do: First, loose the language “Don’t talk to Strangers.”
It is not a skill
We don’t model “don’t talk to strangers” as we as adults need to talk to strangers every day to function in this world
Remember – 90% of the time a child is harmed by someone they know…NOT a stranger
Our advice…..change your language –Teach children what they should do. Teach safety skills by playing the “What If” game. Say to your child: “What if you are approached by a stranger, especially if being asked to be of help or being offered a treat, help me find my lost puppy, help me find my keys, let me buy you an ice cream, etc. what would you do?” Most importantly, listen to your child’s answer. I am sure they will give you the wrong one if you have not had a conversation about this. You should expect the wrong answer and not overreact. Now is your time to teach them how to make the safest and smartest choice.
Most children will want to help find the puppy, will want ice cream and will want to find the hard to reach keys. Children love to be helpful. We recommend you teach your children that adults they do not know should NOT be asking a child for help. They should be asking another adult. It is in situations like this that the children have the right and your parental permission to be rude, and remove themselves from the situation. No need for small talk, they can just walk, or run away, in the direction of other adults – preferably to their trusted adult (which for safety reasons should be in the vicinity.) Teach them that once they get to a trusted adult they should report what occurred. Simply state the facts – (parents don’t get overly emotional). Once your child reports to you – praise them for making the safest and smartest choice. Listen to your gut – if you feel that an unsafe person has just approached your child (also if the occurrence happens with someone in a car) report it to the police.