Now that my son is approaching three years old, I am already starting to think about how I will introduce an important topic….namely, staying safe, recognizing danger, and yes, strangers. Gavin is a pretty gregarious kid, and sometimes I wonder if I should be concerned about that. He is friendly, trusting, and does not have a fear of the unknown. However, at the end of the day, I would much rather have a happy-go-lucky and outgoing child, rather than a fearful, timid one. That is why it is so important that I work with Gavin on how to recognize potential dangers.
For those of you who keep up with this sort of thing (and I do because I work with children. Big children, but kids all the same), you might have seen that the newest buzz word is “tricky people.” Basically, when you are teaching your child about how to recognize potential predators, you want to ditch the notion of “strangers.” At the end of the day, the vast majority of strangers that your child will encounter are safe, kind people. Strangers typically don’t pose a threat. Tricky people, on the other hand, do.
I am going to tell you something that is scary, but true. Statistically accurate. Your child is FAR more likely to be kidnapped, abused, or victimized by someone they know. Why do parents not dwell on this more? Well, because it’s scary as hell. For the most part, kidnappers are not hiding behind trees in the playground, ready to snatch your kid. Yes, of course these things do happen, but they are extremely rare. Who can forget the Adam Walsh tragedy from the early 1980’s? The abduction occurred in a Sears store, and Adam was later killed. Obviously, this was a horrific story. Yet, one of the reasons that story has resonated for so long is because of its rarity.
If you want to find predators, look no further than your own community. They live and work around you, often in positions of authority that allow them access to children. Often, these people have families of their own.
Here is what you want to teach your child about tricky people:
- These people look nice. They are friendly and kind. Tricky people know all of the right things to say and do. Your child will most likely find them to be charming.
- Tricky people may ask your child to do things for them, or to help them. Common tactics are asking to borrow a phone, needing help looking for a lost pet, or offering candy. If you teach your child nothing else, teach them this:
Adults should never, ever be asking a child for help. With anything. Period. Tricky adults ask children for help. Trusting adults ask adults for help.
Hammer this statement into your kid’s head as much as you can. It is one of the best clues to identifying people with bad intentions.
- Tricky people might ask a child to keep a secret. Teach your children early on that secrets are not to be kept. Children should never keep secrets from their parents. Overall, I am not a huge proponent of secrets. Tell your child to say that they have a big mouth if they are ever asked to keep a secret. No good comes from them. Kids don’t need that burden of determining a healthy/positive secret, if there really is such a thing.
What Else Can you do as Parents to Keep your Child Safe?
- Rethink situations where potential danger lies, or situations that make you uncomfortable. For instance, are you okay with having your child go away with a different family for a vacation, or even spend the night at a family’s home? Some parents are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this notion, for various reasons. If you are one of them, that is okay. Make your own home inviting. If you have a bonus/media room, make it kid-friendly or teenager-friendly, so that your house is the cool place to be. Then you can keep any eye on your children and their friends. Money well spent.
- Teach your child the anatomical name of body parts. There is an abundance of research that shows that predators are far less likely to target kids that have this understanding. Perhaps these kids come across as more confident and knowledgeable, or perhaps predators recognize that these children must have involved parents working with them on this. Whatever the rationale, your child will have a smaller chance of being targeted.
- Single parents, take note. Particularly single parents in lower-class families, and especially families that are matriarchal in nature. Oftentimes, predators recognize that the child may be hungering for a father-figure. Single mothers may be busy working long hours, and have many other burdens or stressors in their lives. Don’t believe me? Look at the Penn State debacle. Many of those victims came from far less affluent families, and also lacked a male role model in their lives.
Obviously, if you are a single mom (my mom was), you do what you need to do. If you are a single parent, make sure you are communicating with your child. Spend as much time with them as your schedule allows. Work with their school on involving your child in available support programs. Enlist family or grandparents to help as needed. Know who your child is spending time with, and what they are doing.
- Teach your smaller children how to identify safe people if they are being threatened. Police officers, firemen, other mothers. That’s right…..out in public, if your child feels threatened, teach them to look for another mom to help. Run to the nearest lady with some kids or a stroller!
- Have a code word, that only a handful of people know. Mainly, those people who would be picking up your child somewhere. Teach your child that they are never, under any circumstances, to leave with someone who does not know this word.
- Online predators. Although I don’t have to worry about this yet (thank God), I realize that the internet is a scary world. More frightening….often online predators can be other kids! Monitor technology like crazy. (For more on my thoughts about technology and younger children, check out my post here.) Enable all the parental controls available, and for the love, DO NOT put a computer in your child’s bedroom. Computers/laptops/iPads should all be used in a central location. Homework should be done in a common area, within eyesight of parents. At night, cell phones are plugged into parents’ bedrooms.
- Be an involved parent. Reduce your own use of technology. Spend time together as a family. Talk to your kids. Have family dinners. For those of you not aware, experts are now saying that the family dinner is one of the most important gifts you can give your children. Family dinners have shown to decrease the likelihood that your child will be a victim of abuse. Eating as a family helps your children learn critical communication and coping skills. The latest?? Regular family dinners have a positive impact on your child’s SAT scores, and correlate with academic success in upper-grade levels and beyond.
Guys, it’s a crazy world out there. As a special education teacher, I have worked with several pre-teens and teenagers that have been victimized in some capacity. These kids will never entirely get over some of these experiences, and their lives may be forever altered. Talk to your child, know what is going on, and be involved.
For more articles on recognizing risk and identifying predators, check out the following articles.
Have a wonderful weekend, friends! If you are off on Monday, please enjoy an extra long weekend. And a big thank you to all of those who have served our country, or who have sacrificed their lives for our great nation.