June 11, 2008

Stranger Danger

According to the government websites, there is a registered sex offender living just one block from my house. There are three more who live surrounding the park I frequent. And less than a quarter of a mile away in the neighboring town, they are on almost every block. So it was finally time to burst my three year old's bubble and teach her about Stranger Danger. "What's a Stranger?" was her first question.
"Somebody that we don't know."
"Oh. Well I can just introduce myself." We obviously had a lot to talk about.

She was well primed for the discussion. A thief broke into our apartment garage a few weeks ago and she had to follow me around while I did my apartment management duties to get everything straighted out with the police and my tenants. Ever since when she gets into our car she worries that a Stranger may be inside and is vigilant that we have all the car doors locked at all times to prevent Strangers from getting us.

So I felt more than a little sad to have to inform her that Strangers were all around us, not just in our garage. I prepped her on the basics:

  • What to do if she lost me in a public place
  • What to do if a Stranger approached her and asked her to follow him
  • What to do if anyone touched her private areas
  • What to do if a Stranger picks up her and tries to take her away

We went over and over different scenarios and she very seriously listened and learned. Which leaves us with a problem. Do you know how many Strangers there are in Los Angeles? We went to a church fair a few weeks ago and she spent the entire time pointing at people with wide eyes, "is that a Stranger, Mommy?" I found it difficult to explain how sometimes there are Strangers we can trust so I just nodded and said yes and she stuck like glue to my side for the whole fair.

So how do I teach Pixie to discriminate against all the Strangers in her life. As we drive down the streets she points to houses, "does a Stranger live there? Does a Stranger live there?"

Of course, I could teach her some basic Criminal Profiling, but I'm sure it would backfire. After all, if the criteria is half shaved, underdressed men, my husband would be persona non grata just about every night. But perhaps a few stereotypes couldn't hurt. After all, Pixie is the same little girl that used to go running for the sleeping homeless men at the park every time we visited because she wanted to "snuggle" with them. Okay, so people who sleep in public places might be a good place to start. And men who drive Miatas. That's just creepy.


Jumbo Shrimp said...

We haven't had this talk yet but I'm sure it's going to be soon. I have tried to tell her that she needs to stay close because if she gets lost someone might take her home and I will never see her again. Then she says, "So you will just come get me right, mama?" The comprehension isn't really there. Glad that Pixie is on top of things.

Perla said...

This scares me so much and Grace gets SO scared about anything that she even perceives as a danger (her prayers at night go like this, "please bless that there won't be a fire in our kitchen or a fire in our bedroom, or in the laundry room, or outside, and bless that Andre and Addie won't ever touch matches or lighters, and bless that I will never see a fire or get close to a fire or that there won't be a fire in the bathroom or the closet...etc.etc." and that goes on with each of her various fears. So, I try to keep her fears allayed as much as possible, yet want to be vigilant.

Grace has had a lot of problems with "strangers" and who she might possibly trust in this world. I find that there is one positive stereotype that I have given her and I believe it is the safest one to give. If she can't find me and is around a lot of strangers, she should find somebody that looks like a mom and has kids with her. I tell her to keep an eye out for strollers. She has our phone number memorized and knows to run to the closest mom with a stroller if she ever got separated from me or feels in danger or scared.

I do have three children but she is the only one that will listen to me or has any fears. I'm working on the other two. Addie would sooner smack a stranger in the face than talk to anybody, including a nice old lady at Wal-Mart.

April said...

i have been working with my son on this a little. Instead of using "strangers" I just used "bad people" and how bad people can look like good ones. If me got separated of lost from me i have quized him in places like Wal-Mart on who to talk to. People behind counters in uniforms and mom's with young children. I have talked to him about who is allow to touch private parts (doctors) and how everyone else is not allowed. And what to do if someone was trying to force him to go with them.... but I try not to make stranger danger a part of it. I want him to still continue to make friends without a fear of them. Besides if he does need help I want him not to be afraid to ask an appropriate stranger for it :)

Hollywood said...

I like your take on this, April. "Bad Guys" is a lot smaller category in Pixie's life than "Strangers."

And the idea of running to a mom with a stroller if they ever get lost is really smart. I like the idea of quizzing my kids in public places of who they could trust.

That's so sad about poor Grace's prayers, Perla! Has she been traumatized by fire before? Why all the fear? All Pixie ever prays for is that she'll find her lost purple security blanket (alas, she lost it at Disneyland) but she's determined that if she prays hard enough, it'll turn up. I'm keeping an eye on eBay for a replacement so that particular prayer can be answered.

Great ideas, ladies.

randa_joy said...

"And men who drive Miatas." This is why you're the best.

Rebecca said...

I learned my safety lessons by listening to Safety Kids cassettes over and over again. Are those even around anymore?

Tash said...

I have had this same dilemma with my six and four year old. We were building and we were the first house so now they think all "Destruction Workers" are bad because I told them not to talk to them. Also when I said not to talk to strangers then when an employee of a store said hi to them they cringed and got really scared. It is such a fine line for the non reasoning mind of a child how can you make them talk and be cute when you want them to and not be so endearing to a pervert with liquor saturation who wants to buy them a toy or candy (true story) at some random store?
How do you make them Aware without the Scare??
Good Question!!!!

Heather said...

Wow. we also have not had the stranger danger talk. I know it will have to come up and I have taken your post and everyone's comments into mind to do it.

Susan M said...

Statistically, your kids are more likely to be molested or abused by someone they know than by a stranger. Be aware of what your kids are doing and listen to your gut.

S'mee said...

Back in the day we taught the kids our address and phone number by song, use the birthday song or any other tune that is catchy and easy for her to remember and add the info.

A stranger is someone who's first name we do not know.

Stranger are not bad, however persons in polite society do not talk without introductions, so don't talk to strangers without mommy or daddy introducing you to them first.

Bad guys come in all sizes and shapes. Sometimes they pretend to be nice.

Bad guys don't like children who scream and yell and run away. Bad guys don't like children who fight back. Usually a bad guy will not try to calm you down, Most bad guys will go away if you yell loud enough. (There are always exceptions, but fighting and yelling is a good idea)

Never go with anyone who wants to give you a puppy or who asks you to help find their lost puppy. (or any other animal)

Never get close to someone's car. Never talk to people who are in a car and stop to talk to you. Stay far away from a person or car that stops to talk to you. Run/yell if they open the door.

NO ONE (except mommy or daddy)should ever touch your body anywhere your bathing suit covers. Not even a doctor or nurse UNLESS Mommy or Daddy are with you. This is YOUR body and no one gets to touch it, tickle it, or play with you where your bathing suit is. NO EXCEPTIONS! (We had a pediatrician at our medical office who was discovered for child porn and other child crimes...he actually taught pedophiles how to train children for abuse and to abuse without leaving "signs". NO ONE, except mommy and daddy!)

I wish I could say everyone at church and/or school is great, but we all know that is no longer true either.

If you are in trouble and can't find mommy or daddy go to a mother with children or a gramma.

If someone takes your hand YELL as loud as you can: "THIS PERSON IS NOT MY MOMMY or THIS PERSON IS NOT MY DADDY!" and keep yelling it as loud as you can.

Try to run away as fast as you can.

Never let anyone "interview" you or ask you questions without mommy or daddy...even at school. Call mommy first. Even if you think you are in trouble with the principal, call mommy before you answer questions. (Think of this as having your lawyer before you answer anything. Mom should always be in the office before the kid is questioned. Trust me on this one.)

Anonymous said...

I agree, men that drive Miatas are very creepy! :)

Anonymous said...

I don't remember where I read this, but someone mentioned that it's much more likely your kid will get lost and need to approach a "stranger" for help than a stranger approaching them and abducting them.

It's a tough lesson, but teaching them to approach people in uniforms or moms with lots of kids is a good way to help them know that they can still be safe even if they get lost.

Hollywood said...

There's no winning, is there.

I guess I should just get t-shirts made up for my girls that say "please don't molest me" on them. That out to take care of the stranger problem.

And yes, the sad, sad fact is that the chances of molestation happening by a stranger and not someone she already knows is only 10 or 20% or something ridiculous like that. This world is jacked up.

April said...

Another thing to talk to them about is how they feel inside about a person. If they don't feel good about somebody, it doesn't matter if there is a reason or not, they have permission to so whatever it takes to get away. Heavenly Father can do a load to help a little kid out especially if that kids knows to follow instincts (which are there for a very good reason and are more often right than wrong)

Perla said...

S'mee, thanks for that fantastic list! I am going to print it out so that I can teach those things to my kids. Hopefully if I can do it when an occasion comes up as a teaching moment rather than having to sit them down to tell them. That would give my 6yo a heart attack.

Hollywood, we had two houses catch on fire in our neighborhood within 6 months of each other. Nobody was hurt or anything and it was two years ago. But Grace is still freaked out about fires. But fires aren't her only fear. She has LOTS of them. We have to be super careful about what she sees/hears/reads and she can only sleep with a children's lullaby CD to help keep her calm. It makes me sad.
Anyway, thanks for the good advice everybody!

The Motherboard said...

I have DRILLED into my kids head that grown ups do not need help from little people. Grown ups need help from grown ups. If a grown up asks a little person for help, then they should run the other way as fast as they can. We also go over "safe houses" that they can go to if our house is too far away.

I have also taught them to look for people with kids to ask for help. Moms are a great place for little lost kids to get help! As a Mom I would do everything I could to help a lost little person... Anytime we go someplace new, we decide together a "meeting" spot if I get lost (thats less scary than telling them THEY are lost), and I point out the people that they could ask for help. That has always worried me... my kids getting lost, but being afraid of "strangers" so they don't ask for help, or hide from them.

I also use the bad people vs. good people. Because there ARE good strangers...

I actually went to our local Children's Justice Center and got this great book for kids. Its in story form, and teaches them all about good/bad touching. It gives them what ifs, with what they can say to the person and how to get out of the situation. My kids LOVED this book, and asked us to read it to them every night... with the youngest wanting to do it over and over again. She would YELL out the responses-- it became very interactive for her, and it was a fabulous teaching aide! It was a very healthy, non scary way to talk about all this stuff. You may check into that. I am terrified about all this too, but I am a firm believer that knowledge is power. We, unfortunately, have to empower our children. The book I mentioned above is a great way to do it without scaring the bajeezus out of them!

Methodical wormer said...

Don't forget that 80% of molestations occur by people who the children know. This article might be helpful.


Julie said...

You need to check out the RAD kids website! Jeff and I are RAD kids instructors and it's a great program. Better than "stranger danger" because then the kids are afraid of EVERYONE! It's a nationwide program and there is a lot of good information on the website.

Julie said...

It's nice to have the website to look at it. Forgot that
You won't be sorry!!!!!!

Kari said...

Miata drivers, ROFL!

I am ordering the John Walsh Safe Side video to help w/ the discussion w/ my kids. I have heard from several of friends who own it that it's a good resource for this kind of talk. Here's the link:


Kind of funny though, my friend was teaching her son about "stranger danger" and drilling it into his head that you shouldn't trust strangers, etc. She should have shared her plan w/ her husband though, b/c she found out that when her son would go to her husband w/ a question about strangers, he was telling him "strangers are just friends we haven't met yet." Omg!!! She wanted to strangle him!!

Maren Hansen said...

Check out "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin de Becker. It has some good ideas... :) I've never liked men in Miatas either. Or pink Avon cars...

Anonymous said...

Hollywood, I do have a blog here BUT - for what will soon be obvious reasons - I'd rather post as an 'Anonymous'.

My parents gave me all the right talks too. Unfortunately, the bad guy was not a stranger; he was married to my mother's cousin. My father thought of him as a brother.
He was an important businessman and a 'distinguished' member of his community - charming & popular.

He also molested me for FIVE years, every two weeks, like clockwork; that is how frequently my parents would make the long drive to their town and spend the day visiting. I was THREE when he began his little hobby.

I repressed the memories, but had nightmares until I was an adult and converted to the Church. I did not remember what happened until something triggered the memories while I was serving a mission.

I am still screwed up. My advice, aside from constant prayer? LISTEN to the promptings of the Spirit and teach your children to do the same. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, that something bad is about to happen - RUN! GET OUT!

Oprah did an entire show on how we often put our lives at risk when we repress our instincts of danger in order to be polite. I can't remember the name of the man who wrote the book she was alluding to.

Just love your children and, like a famous HP character always says:

Also, to everyone, if your child begins to change his/her behavior, if an extroverted, happy child becomes introverted and withdraws, that is a RED FLAG.

Sorry if I upset anyone here. In the end, people still have their agency, but the Lord will always warn us of incoming danger.

May none of your children ever suffer what I had to suffer.

Maren Hansen said...

The guy that the previous poster referred to that was on Oprah is Gavin de Becker (see my earlier comment). He also wrote a wonderful book called The Gift of Fear, in addition to the one I cited (Protecting the Gift) that is a little more general. Both are an education.