Videos of social experiments like those by YouTuber Joey Salads have gained a lot of attention for showing just how easy it is to convince children to leave a playground with a stranger, especially if the stranger is holding something to entice the children like ice cream or a puppy.
In Joey’s video, the parents were visibly shocked with how willing their children were to go off alone with a stranger. With this in mind, let’s explore how you can address the topic of stranger danger with your children.
Who is a stranger?
A stranger is anybody who you don’t know well, meaning until you’re introduced to people you have a right to be wary if your child is talking to them. Children, especially younger children, often believe that dangerous strangers will look ‘evil’ like the villains in the films they watch. This can be a damaging misconception for your children to have, so it’s important that you explain that nobody can tell if a stranger is nice or not nice just by looking at them – meaning they should be careful around anybody they don’t know.
However, there’s a fine line between making sure your children are wary enough, and scaring them into never wanting to explore or meet new people. Not all strangers are going to be bad, so don’t make it seem like they will be. If your child is hurt, lost or scared, often the best thing for them to do is to let a stranger know. Encourage them to be aware of which strangers are more likely to help them, such as authority figures like police officers, teachers or shop keepers.
Are there safe strangers?
As we’ve mentioned, authority figures are often the best people for your child to track down if they find themselves lost or worried and away from anybody they know. Whilst teachers and police officers are probably the most obvious examples of safe strangers, anybody who your child can recognise as being at work is likely to be able to help them. Make sure to stress to them that they should try to be in a public place when they ask for help.
You can encourage your child to recognise safer situations like these by asking them to point out people they might consider ‘safe strangers’ when they’re out in town, and show them places they can go like local shops or the homes of family friends.
What dangerous situations should you be aware of?
One of the most effective ways of keeping your children safe from strangers is to teach them to be wary of potentially dangerous situations. Go through the warning signs of suspicious behaviour and teach them to recognise when they’re starting to feel uncomfortable.
Situations you might test them on would be things like a friendly looking stranger approaching them and asking them to help find their dog, or a stranger asking them if they want a lift home from school. Teach them to use the ‘No, Go, Yell, Tell’ rule for if they find themselves feeling uncomfortable with a stranger nearby.
What else can you do?
There are other ways that we as parents can protect our children from stranger danger. These include pointing out safe places to them and safe routes to take when travelling alone, teaching them to trust their instincts and know when they feel scared, teaching them to be assertive and not to go along with everything a stranger says simply because they’re an adult, and encouraging your kids to play in groups as there is safety in numbers.
You should also know where your child is at all times. New tech advancements such as smartwatches with GPS can help make this much more feasible.
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