Growing up in a rural Mississippi town, in the early 1960s, I had no concept of “stranger-danger”. Kids played outside all day with their only parental admonition being, “you’d better be in this house when the street lights come on!”
My brothers and I were part of a street pack of kids who spent each day together. We delighted in our imagination. One day we sailed the seas as pirates on a treasure hunt. Another day, we trudged through the scorching dessert sands investigating the mummy’s curse. We laughed hard, played hard and dutifully returned home at dusk.
Even before I could run with the pact, I enjoyed the outdoors. My mom would put me on a blanket in the front yard while she worked in her flower beds. When she relayed this practice to me, I asked her if she ever worried about my safety. She laughed and said, “not with Sweetie-Pie next to you.
Sweetie-Pie, the family hound, apparently counted me among her pups. She exhibited great patience as I hugged her, kissed her face, tried to ride her…you get the picture. She never so much as growled no matter how much I “pestered” her. However, according to my mom, when we were outside, she guarded me. As I said, Mom would place me on the blanket while she trimmed the bushes. I would sit and play with my toys. Next to me, Sweetie-Pie would lie, deceptively docile.
However, anyone strolling the sidewalk in front of our house, received a low guttural growl as a warning. Should their foot step on our yard, they would receive a loud rebuke in the form of loud barking.
She never left my side, never went after anyone. But my mom said, she knew Sweetie-Pie would not allow anyone to get within 3 feet of me.
Most families do not have a Sweetie-Pie to protect their children from harm. And frankly, It’s not the 60’s anymore. The freedom of children to run free all day with no supervision no longer exists in most places. Too many predators roam the streets, like lions, just looking for the weak and vulnerable.
Today, I am exploring the rise of child predators and how to prepare your children to protect themselves when you are not around.
The threat of outside child predators has risen over the past 4 decades. Knowing you cannot always be with your child, it is important to arm them with the knowledge to protect themselves.
When my daughter was 4, she left the comfort of the home day care setting (that she shared with only 4 other children) to attend Pre-K at a medium sized school. Her world, which had been incredibly small, grew at least five times larger. I knew she would come in contact with more children and adults on a daily basis than ever before. The school would supervise her, but I wanted her to learn how to protect herself as well.
At that time, there was a “Winnie-the-Pooh” video called, “Too Smart for Strangers”. Presented in song, dance and story, the video did not instill fear, and my daughter enjoyed it. We watched it several times together. The message produced a mantra that was both catchy and yet important.
TELL A FRIEND
After the first viewing of the video, we talked about it. She had questions, which I answered in terms she could understand. She was not frightened, but she was prepared.
That video probably no longer exists, but there are still ways you can communicate to your children the importance of safety from Strangers.
1. Ensure them that they are safe with you, trusted friends, or family members they know. You do not want them to live in fear.
2. Encourage honest, open communication. Let them come to you with any questions, concerns, feelings and listen actively. The more they believe you will listen without reaction, the more they will tell you.
3. Teach them a “code word”. Some predators will tell a child that their parents are sick, in a wreck etc and that because of the emergency, their family sent this person to pick them up. The child can ask for the code word. If the adult doesnt know it, the child can run away and tell a trusted adult.
4. Talk to your child about “scams”. Many predators use the “can you help me find my puppy” scam. Some still offer candy, snacks, video games and other enticements. Children who know these are scams can run away rather than be drawn in.
5. Talk to your child about the importance of the buddy system. If they walk home from school: Have them walk with a friend or even better a group of friends. This goes for the mall, the park etc.
Open Communication, active listening as well as sharing information are the keys to protecting your children from Stranger Danger. But, those same keys can also build and strengthen a trust based attachment between you and your child that can span a lifetime.
Sadly, while the number of predators are on the rise, and it is important to teach them children to protect themselves against “stranger danger”, the majority of child victims are actually molested by family members, friends, or even adults in authority over them. The very ones that are supposed to keep them safe.
In next week’s blog, I will delve into protecting your child from non stranger danger.