Thursday, 13 August 2015

Stranger Danger!

Sadly it is common now to see reports of kidnapping, abduction or even the latest approaches towards children in the news. Even on sites like Facebook you find parents sharing letter’s sent from schools that warn that pupils have been approached.
One thing stands true: Stranger Danger is REAL and is something that we, as parents, should make sure that children are aware of.

I have, for the last 2 years, been trying to teach the importance of Stranger Danger; firstly with William and then jointly with James.
I always made sure that it was clear that being approached by a stranger was a bad thing and that we should never do anything that we didn’t want to, like get in a car, with a stranger.

William quickly picked up that strangers were bad and that he, and then James, could get into trouble if strangers approached them; the problem I had was asking questions after I taught them
If I asked him directly a question like “What do you do if a stranger offers you sweets?” or “If a stranger asked you to get in their car, what would you do?” He said he would firmly say Noand look for a responsible Adult, such as a Teacher, TA, School worker or a Friends Parent.

Yet, once he understood this I would ask a question: “What would you do if a stranger approached you with a present?” (This being a completely different terminology)
Sadly, and scarily, his response was always “What kind of present is it?”

Despite this I have tried every few months to have a conversation about strangers, who they are and what not to do; this all stayed pretty much the same until recently.

We were in our local second-hand bookshop looking for the latest deal. The boys were just over a metre away from me standing like little angels waiting for their Daddy to stop taking so long!

An old gentleman approached them and commented, very kindly, how well the boys were standing and waiting. I instantly looked round with a smile of pride on my face but what happened next amazed me.
William looked at James, James looked back at him, and they both turned and starred at the man. William opened his mouth widely and with a deep breath screamed “Stranger, Stranger, Help!” James then instantly copied.

I immediately went over and told the boys how proud I was of them and they did exactly the right thing.
(A woman at the back of the shop instantly ran over, which was amazing in itself that she came to the rescue of the boys)

The man looking rather uncomfortable and slightly red in the face started to apologise and explain that he had no malicious intent. I told him that I understood but I hoped he could see that they also had done EXACTLY what any child should; I added that maybe he should have approached the parent first. Luckily he understood, he turned and then asked me if he could speak to the boys, I agreed. He, again, very kindly spoke to the boys and congratulated them on being brave, strong and oh so clever and he hopes he hadn’t scared them but he’s glad that they shouted for help.
This brought such relief that they had finally started to understand the concept behind it; despite this though I will still continue to teach them the importance of Stranger Danger.

So what can and should we do?

It is important to cover these basic points when teaching Stranger Danger.
  • Don't talk to strangers
  • Don't walk with strangers
  • Don't accept gifts from strangers
  • Don't accept food or drinks from strangers
  • Don't accept sweets from strangers
  • If ever approached by a stranger, tell a parent or an adult whom you trust
  • Don't get into a car with strangers
  • If you are approached by a stranger near your school, immediately return to your school and tell a staff member
  • If approached to be assertive and say no. If feeling scared or unsure to shout loudly for help alerting anyone that there is a stranger
In addition to teaching children how to recognize and handle dangerous situations and strangers, there are a few more things parents can do to help their children stay safe and avoid dangerous situations.

  • Know where your children are at all times. Make it a rule that your children must ask permission or check in with you before going anywhere.
  • Point out safe places. Show your children safe places to play, safe roads and paths to take, and safe places to go if there’s trouble.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts. Explain that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, they should get away as fast as they can and tell an adult. Tell them that sometimes adults they know may make them feel uncomfortable, and they should still get away as fast as possible and tell another adult what happened. Reassure children that you will help them when they need it.
  • Teach your children to be assertive. Make sure they know that it’s okay to say no to an adult and to run away from adults in dangerous situations.
  • Encourage your children to play with others. There’s safety in numbers!
The Dad Network


Simon said...

The threat of Stranger Danger is vastly over stated compared to the fact that most cases of abuse come from people known to the child. Child abduction is relatively rare, and about as many are parental than not. Also, by making children fear strangers - what happens if they get separated from their carer? They'd be too scared to ask a stranger for help.

Yes, many points you state are valid to raise with children (food, getting in car, etc.), but I feel sad that your children's reaction to someone paying them an innocent compliment was to assume they were a danger to them. While I of course want my daughter to be safe I also want her to feel happy about the world about her, and be optimistic about life - not petrified that strangers are going to hurt her.

Unknown said...

Great post Martyn. I was just talking to a friend about covering this topic with Oliver, something I'd like to take into schools.
Also huge well done to the boys :)

Martyn Kitney said...

How can it be vastly over stated. Over 10, 000 children were approached by a a stranger last year. Locally there has been 186 cases this year alone. This is from small children up to 16 year olds. 
As for statistics of abuse. Firstly I didn't mention abuse, it could be any form of Stranger interaction. However, you are right children who are approached and abused are more likely known to the child than strangers. The stats say 66% are known where there's on 34% that are unknown. 

There's a difference between strangers and people of responsibility. If we were at shops both boys know to approach a shop assistant. If we are separated they know to head into a shop and ask for help. They are also aware of community workers, Police and other emergency services. 

If it's around a school environment they know to head back to school. There's loads of alternatives that are safe and reassuring that are not strangers! 

I don't think it's sad at all. An innocent stranger giving them a compliment is a massive no no in my books. So if some one complimented your daughter you would be fine with that? So when you're daughter is playing with friends and see this person again and they do the same then that's ok? What if it happens a third or fourth time? 
Sweet words from the lips can be just as enticing as gifts and food. 

My back was turned and although I knew where they were I didn't have line of sight. They were approached. Yes innocently but how would you distinguish that to a 6 and 4 year old? 
My boys are optimistic about life and they meet lots of new people and do so with parents and loved ones. But they should also feel that they can say no or be able to speak clearly if something upsets them. I'd rather them be confident and vocal than to believe teh innocence in anybody they meet. 

Sadly srager danger is very real. I have a close friend who's daughter was abducted, hurt and abused. You can turn your back on the concept just because you believe it's over stated.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Tommy. It's an important topic to cover. So think Oliver would do it well!!

And thanks I was super proud of them.

Plutonium Sox said...

That's amazing Martyn, you've taught them so well. In my previous line of work I had a lot to do with protecting children and I really wish all children were taught to do this, it could save lives.x

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Natalie! I had done the normal things but I didn't believe it ever really sank in. I'm pleased in that case that it did. Between teaching, working in therapies and through some personal experiences ive seen far too much of the harsh realities in this world, including strangers. It could save lives and importantly keep children safe.

Unknown said...

Always good to teach kids these things, and great that your boys have picked it up. It CAN happen so they should know what to do; but I would have to say that, statistically, I do agree with Simon. The threat of strangers to children has been very much exaggerated. & that is unfortunate, as it contributes towards those cases where the real risks to children are missed until it is too late. (Furthermore, the media is always highlighting those unusual stranger cases - precisely because they are unusual & therefore a better story - whilst the children killed every week by their parents go largely unreported. Not to mention the even higher numbers abused each week by parents, family and carers. That is something that makes me very angry because those are the cases we should be most horrified by, the biggest tragedy of all - children who die at the hands of the people they loved & trusted, who should have protected them.) This issue is also a real difficulty these days for schools, which I know from my family who work in education. Because, if a child is to be abused or hurt in any way, it is most likely it will be by someone they know, probably family, yet it is only encouraged to teach them about stranger danger. So how then do you teach children the importance of telling someone if somebody close to them harms them? Quite understandably, however, parents are not keen on schools teaching children that their families may harm them! It's a very tough dilemma, I think, what to teach children on this topic. I also believe that Simon makes a good point, and one that has been argued many times: that overstating to children the degree to which they need to fear strangers can mean that they will be afraid to turn to strangers when actually they need help (if lost, separated, have an accident, etc). Personally, I think there is an in between approach. I think children can be taught these skills, but not made to think that such things are common occurrences; and can also be taught how to read situations for the likely level of concern, and how to judge the people they are most likely to be able to trust if they need help too. That's what I feel anyway. But it is an emotive issue, and one people are always going to disagree on. Ultimately, what is most important, of course, is that the people arguing about it are doing so because they want to protect their children, wherever they personally feel the dangers come from. At the end of the day, everyone should do what they feel comfortable with to feel like they did their best to protect their children. You have done that, and your children have responded well, and I respect that regardless of my views on child protection issues. #bigfatlinky

Unknown said...

I always wonder what my kids would do in a situation like that. I'm worried they would be a little too trusting. I hope I never have to find out. #bigfatlinky

Luke Strickland said...

Important thoughts Martyn. We've got a helpful book telling stories about what to do with strangers, which we read regularly with our daughter... need to go through it with our son though! #bigfatlinky

Unknown said...

I must admit I sit on the fence with this one too. I think you have taught the boys amazingly well and you must feel reassured now about their knowledge. I would want my daughter to understand too and be aware of the risks and keeping herself safe. But I wouldn't want her to be scared to approach someone for help or I someone made innocent conversation. I'm one of the people who makes random compliments to children in the park if they are playing in the park. I'm just chatty! Eek! Obviously I can see you point there is a fine line! Interesting post as ever xx #bigfatlinky

Unknown said...

God my typos and repetition lol sorry. X

Unknown said...

It would be nice if we could teach our children to differentiate between a situation such as the bookshop scenario and being approached by strangers in an unsafe setting. Sadly I don't think my kiddies are sophisticated enough for that. I need to investigate their thoughts on all this a bit more. #bigfatlinky

Unknown said...

I understand what you're driving at but I don't think I'll adopt your method exactly. I want my child to be aware of the dangers and methods used by malicious strangers but not be scared of everyone on the street. I think a balance is important.
I read somewhere also that advising a child who feels lost or threatened to find a mum with children can be a good idea.


Unknown said...

It's an interesting topic Martyn and a fine line. It's great that your children understand the whole stranger danger thing and you have clearly taught them well and great that the old man wasn't too shocked when he got screamed at and was understanding. My daughter has always been with me or my husband when strangers approach and compliment her and I always encourage her to reply. I want her to be confident and be able to chat to adults when asked questions - and not fear people - but I obviously want to protect her from any danger too. Working in the media, I know how we jump on the more extreme cases of child abduction when often it is someone they know. I vividly remember stranger danger being drummed into me as a child but I do remember having a slight fear that someone was going to try and lure me into a car with some sweets everyday after school. I'm not sure how healthy that was... I wasn't great at talking to adults when a child either. I'm a bit like Sarah and like chatting to kids at the playground- eek. We have had a couple of those scary notices from the nursery about instances with strangers hanging around which does bring it home. I have yet to instill it all into my daughter but will be looking at your tips when I do! What age did you start doing it? Thanks #bigfatlinky

Simon said...

Stranger danger is vastly overstated as the predominant threat to our children - especially in the media - when it isn't. Your stat of 10,000 kids approached by strangers last year? Approached how? Like the man you mention in the shop? If so, it's a flawed stat that doesn't mean anything dangerous or threatening happened.

Why is the shop assistant less of a 'danger' in your scenario? Those who prey on children probably have jobs too, and good luck finding a policeman on patrol these days.

I'm sorry you've had experience of child abuse in your network. I have not (knowingly), or know of any instances of children being approached. But children I know have been badly hurt in many others ways from food poisoning to road accidents (including me being run over by a lorry).

Stranger danger is real in the way that Islamic terrorism is. Should I raise my daughter to assume Muslims are a danger to her as well, that any she thinks are acting suspiciously are terrorists? (The answer is a definitive 'no' as far as I'm concerned).

People we've never met compliment my daughter all the time, and I think it's wonderful. I am raising her to live a life of hope and optimism.

I'm going to share this on my networks, as I'm genuinely interested in what my community thinks about this.

Unknown said...

It's a lesson we all have to teach our kids and children get approached all the time here in London - we'll be at a bus stop and someone 'dodgy' looking will start to chat to one of the kids...I can't tell if they're 'dodgy' or not because I don't know them. Likewise I'm sure other people might think I'm dodgy! Great post and well done on the boys :)

Babyfriend said...

A thought provoking post, and one which has obviously hit a few nerves.
my first reaction was to think your children's reaction a little extreme, especially as you were so close by and I wondered if perhaps you had done too good a job and made them a little too scared, but then, at their ages, they are a bit too young still to appreciate the differences in safe and unsafe situations.
I am glad that you have gone through lots of safe alternatives to approach if they are worried, such as shop keepers, security staff, teachers etc and I like one of the previous comments about finding a parent with children.
I wonder if it would be possible to teach children that talking and exchanging pleasantries was ok, but that there were different rules for if the adult wanted the child to go somewhere with them ?
With my step daughter, by age 4 she already knew that it was ok to talk, and say hello etc but that she was NEVER to go with any adult unless they knew the secret password. She understood this very easily, and we used to play games where we would pretend to be talking and then try to persuade her to go somewhere to look at puppies, or buy sweets, or say that Daddy was ill and she had to come and see him in hospital etc. Every single time she clocked what we were doing and asked for the secret password. We then tried arguing that Daddy had been too to tell us the word, or that we had forgotten it, every excuse we could think of, but in the end she got the concept so completely that she never slipped up.
Luckily, she has never had to use it, but It did meant that we felt she was as protected as we could make her without making her scared of talking and interacting with people.
We also had talks about people we knew asking her to do things that made her unhappy, and we specifically taught her that no one should ask her to take off any of her clothes without us around, no matter how well she knew them, and we also taught her about which bits of her body were 'her very own' and should never be touched by anyone unless it was a doctor and we were with her. We used a lot of role play to get her to understand these concepts because they get stories and play better than just talking, as it gives context to situations, and is the way they best make sense of the world.
It is such a difficult topic because the thought of the consequences if it does happen are just too terrible to think about.
Thank you for raising the subject and giving us a prod to really think carefully about this uncomfortable subject.
Sarah x

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Mike. I'd rather my.children be safe. It's a horrible scenario to be in if it did happen.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Luke. We've read several books from the library that have helped.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Sarah. I think there is an extreme fine line here. The problem o face is how do you exain to a 6 and 4 year old the dangers. Like most topic the older they get the better refinement you can have on expanding it more.

For being chatty and complimenting I suppose it's depends on the circumstances. I wouldn't compliment a child playing by themselves and slightly out of eye shot of their parents. If I ever would it'd be where a child is next to the adult and I'd always address the adult. Maybe that side is possibly a gender thing?

Martyn Kitney said...

Ha! Think mine are getting as bad!

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks morna. That's my problem. At 6 and 4 they're still too young to have that sophistication. I'd rather teach them some protection that can then be refined later on.

Martyn Kitney said...

I agree. I think children should be aware of malicious strangers but it depends on how you teach small.children on identifying that.

I do like the adult with a child method though! That's a good point!

Martyn Kitney said...

The stats are being included with adults who that have approached children and offered treats, gifts, used these to entice, have asked to go to places, taken their hand or arm and tried to lead them places, ones who show inappropriate body parts or asked for personal information.

I agree about police on patrol but that was just an example to show that they can see alternative adults that are safe. I also see your point about shop assistants not necessarily being safe but I won't be making the children believe that every adult is evil either.

I wonder though that as you haven't experienced anything within your network that is why you don't necessarily feel how much of a threat it is?
Locally there's a shopping complex, my cousin was walking with her little girl (who was just in front of her 1 meter or a bit more) when a couple forced their way between them. Assulted my cousin. Grabbed her daughter and tried walking off. Her daughter screamed stranger and help and a few adults came and helped. Possibly saving her life.

As a disabled parent how would I protect mh children if this happened? I'm sure you could jump in and help if someone snatched your daughter, or you could run after them? I don't have that options. Then there's when they're older and not with me.

There has been a lot of these style of appraises in our area alone besides from a men approaching 12-14 year old girls that have asked them to get in that car. It's a real and scary world. If you haven't experienced it then fab but doesn't mean though that it's not as strong necessarily.

As for Muslims and Islamic terrorists. Of course not!!! But I don't think I've once suggested that every adult is evil either. I've clarified taht there are adults who will be friendly and care. And others who are not.

People compliment my boys two but they don't scream at everyone. It's not something that happens every day!! Which by the sounds of what you're saying is what they are doing. Really not!

They talk to adults when we're shopping or at a till paying. They are confident at talking to adults and being happy and funny. I'd much rather though with or without me scream for help if scared rather than be quiet and end up in danger.

I think painting my boys as terrified children who cry and become distressed at every adult is massively misrepresenting who they are. They are happy and can comfortably talk to adults but they are also aware of strangers and the dangers and if they're scared. This was an instances where they were scared and shouted for help. Which I'm pleased tht they did. I'd rather them feel secure and safe than in fear.

Martyn Kitney said...

I agree about stars and especially with abuse if children being higher from family members. That's clear.
You're right it is an emotive topic as we want to look after them.

I think like most things we have to look at the age of the boys. Every year I'll teach them to refine what we know so they are safer and can do what's best. I want to keep the boys safe in whatever form.

Unknown said...

Good post and great tips too! I need to warn my kids about the danger of strangers, although not all of them are bad but at least if they're aware of the possible risk, then they should know what to do in the middle of the situation... #bigfatlinky

Emma said...

Finding the right balance with stranger danger is such a hard thing to do. I drilled into my seven year old the importance of stranger danger but she then wouldn't speak to any stranger, even when we were there with her. So we explained that is fine to speak to a stranger if mummy or daddy are there and slowly she has started being a lot more outgoing with people she doesn't know. What a lovely man though to be so understanding. #bigfatlinky

Unknown said...

Great post Martyn! I've been thinking a lot about how to approach this conversation and this is great advice! I love how your children reacted in the shop. Even though it was uncomfortable for the man they did exactly the right thing! I'm glad you praised them first before addressing the embarrassed man too. Well done! #bigfatlinky

Unknown said...

Yup hubby Agrees with you totally on the gender things....he wouldn't either! I reckon I will refine stuff as my daughter ages. Xx

lynn @more4mums said...

Really interesting post. My girls are older than yours now and we live in a small town/village with quite a few elderly people who love to chat to all the children that are passing or out playing. We have now taught them that it is ok to be polite and chat but if they feel uncomfortable etc to just walk away. Also never to go into a house or car etc. There is a fine line between stranger danger and feeling safe in your community and it is difficult to know exactly where to draw the line. #bigfatlinky

jeremy@thirstydaddy said...

My first thought also was that this seemed a little extreme, but I get where you're coming from. #1 You aren't able to reach them as quickly if you get a bad feeling about somebody that they think is innocently chatting them up. #2. Its better to be safe than sorry. As they get older and understand better you can help them learn to differentiate the difference ways they can be interacted with. #3. The fact that you know somebody that this horrible thing has happened too will forever give you a different perspective than other parents, which is both reasonable and expected. My daughter is extremely sociable. Its made it hard to teach these lessons, and still have her know its OK if she wants to talk every cashier and waiter's ears off

Martyn Kitney said...

Just to add I found the article relating to my cousin.

This is a sad truth and the fact that she screamed increased her chances massively. I know that this statistically is rare but it can happen and until my boys are old enough to distinguish more clearly id rather them know what to do if scared.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for the comment. I have always encouraged communication with adults when I am around. Ie at a counter or restaurant. They are great in those cases.
I think there is a fine line between doing this and I definitely don't want to spread fear to them but I also want them to be as aware as possible. With time and age appropriate teaching there will be refinement and added understanding that I would hope would support appropriately.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks. I think there is a level between approaching that might be less distinguished within this post. But the point is that it's a lesson that I'm glad I have taught the boys. Importantly I am pleased that they responded well.

Martyn Kitney said...

Great comment thank you. I definitely have distinguished difference between adults and they do talk to them safely.
I really like your password suggestion. This is one that I would definitely try. I think with them being so young that it would difficult to distinguish a lot of factors. Yet with time and continued teaching I feel that this could happen more and more. I think every parent has their own view point on how to do it. And I agree that it's an extreme fine line between them. We all do what we can. It is a harsh reality if the consequences were real and I'd rather the boys be prepared than not.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thank you. I think that's the general point in my post. For whatever reason the boys didn't like that the man approached them and it made them uncomfortable. I think due to that they responded and I'm glad they did. It's difficult to teach but of they are in the middle of something then at least they are aware in some ways.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks. Isn't just a tough thing to do. I would rather them be aware than not though. Sorry that you had to help your daughter understand more, yet I am sure I will be continuing this topic with the boys as they get older and can distinguish more. Luckily the boys are still quite friendly to adults they know and will talk to adults like doctors, cashier workers etc.
He really was lovely and completely understood which was fantastic.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thank you Emma! I think they did too. And far from nervous or scared either. I had to address them first as I didn't want to undermine their worries in that situation. Thanks again!

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks for your comment. I hadn't before publishing thought of location as making a difference in how to approach the topic. But can see from comments that I think location would be different. Being in a small town I can understand why you have that level of community and within that you have approached it differently. And if I was you id probably do the same. There is definitely a fine line and we are only ding what we can for our children to keep them safe as well as happy.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Jeremy!! That's EXACTLY it! And am so pleased you have commented with that. I'm sure from my comments that I have made it clearer but I also didn't want to write a drastic scary reason into the post either. Knowing someone this has happened to has definitely made me me caustics and especially made me question what I would be able to do in the scenario. But that has fueled me to make sure that the boys are safe and in the case of my cousin the fact that her little girl screamed made all of the difference.

I understand the struggle with sociable children as both the boys are confident and chatty especially with cashiers and waitresses etc I still believe that they have that I'm them and are aware as what it makes them feel.

Tubbs said...

It's a fine line I think. You want them to be street-wise and keep themselves safe, but you don't want them so fearful that they won't speak too or trust anyone they've never met before. Excellent, thought provoking post

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Sarah. Glad Hubby agrees on the gender stance. I think like most important topics that they should always be repeated and refined every time it is appropriate.

Martyn Kitney said...

Thanks Mrs Tubbs. It is a fine line. But I also know deeply that the boys are equally are confident to speak to adults when they are comfortable.

Michelle said...

I, too, talk to my kids. There was a video that went around Facebook about a guy who did an experiment on just this thing. Many parents told him that they talk to their kids about stranger danger and their kids wouldn't go with an adult. He pulled the ultimate card though, using a pet. My youngest LOVES animals and when I watched it, just knowing my son would help anyone claiming to be looking for their lost dog, would help. I showed this video to him. I've been criticized for it but I don't care. I am ever vigilant about how much information my kids actually take in. Sometimes, we as parents don't really know how much our kids are really listening until something happens to test that theory. Your kids obviously listened to you and that is so wonderful but for you to keep that open and ongoing dialogue with them is amazing! Thanks for sharing at #thebigfatlinkyoftheweek.

Plutonium Sox said...

I find it so sad that people underestimate the danger that their children face. This is more of a danger now than ever in the light of internet grooming. That said, abductions still happen in a split second, always originating from a "friendly" stranger. The reality is that people don't just grab children or they would scream. There was a video recently of a researcher who went to a park, spoke to children and investigated whether they would go with them. Virtually all of them did. The people who are criticising your approach here frighten the hell out of me. We should all be protecting our children to the best of our ability, each and every one of us.

Unknown said...

Great advice and good for you to successfully teach your kids the potential dangers for kids when dealing with strangers. We keep trying with ours but I'm just not sure they are getting it. #bigfatlinky

Through Ami's Eyes said...

such a great post Martyn! You should be so proud of your boys for rememeber what you taught them. This is something that scares the life out of me and especially now as bubba is starting to walk I am already looking at reins so that he can't got hat far whilst he is too young to understand.
A very good message!

Random Musings said...

Great post! After reading a few comments where people thought this was an ott reaction, surely it's better to have a bit of an over reaction to an innocent comment than an under reaction to danger! Thanks for hosting #bigfatlinky