Parenting - Teaching Your Children About Strangers
One of our main responsibilities as parents is keeping our children safe and free from harm. Today, amongst other things, this means teaching our children about the dangers posed by strangers and striking a balance between keeping them safe and helping them to develop the skills necessary to live and work in a society largely made up of strangers.
As parents one of our prime responsibilities is to provide a safe environment for our children and to keep them from harm. In today's world unfortunately this also means teaching them to be wary of strangers. However, since much of our life brings us into contact with other people, this is not perhaps as easy as you might think and you need to strike a balance between being wary of strangers, but nonetheless able to interact with others, and a lifelong fear of strangers.
Before looking at how best to deal with this problem though, let's just take a moment to put the problem into perspective. Child abduction does happen and is arguable on the increase. However, the number of cases each year is very small (in the United States it is thought that about 58,000 children are abducted by non-family members each year) and in the vast majority of cases the children taken are found or returned unharmed within twenty-four hours.
Despite the statistics, if the child in question is your child then even one case a year is one case too many. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the chances of this happening to your child are extremely small and, while you need to take precautions, you also need to avoid the temptation to go overboard and end up frightening, and thus harming, your children, rather than protecting them.
It is also important to realize that attitudes which we develop towards people in childhood persist long into adulthood and it is important therefore that we alert our children to the very real dangers that surround them but don't at the same time create dangers for them which don't really exist.
The first thing we need to do when teaching our children about strangers is to understand that what we mean when we talk about a stranger and the person that a child sees as a stranger are not always the same. For example, the man who runs the newsagent's shop on the corner, and to whom your child sees you talking every day when you buy a newspaper, is clearly a stranger by our parental definition. However, to your child this 'nice' man will probably be seen as 'mommy's or daddy's friend'.
Against this background it would seem simple that we should teach our children to view everyone outside of the family as a stranger and that they should therefore follow all of the normal rules which we lay down (such as not accepting sweets and gifts, not accepting a lift in a car, not accepting an invitation in a house and so on) for strangers.
However, if we're not around when our children run into difficulty then they are going to need to ask for assistance and we must also teach them to distinguish between different types of stranger.
For example, a policeman is technically a stranger, but is clearly somebody who your child should feel comfortable approaching for help. Similarly, if your child becomes separated from you in the supermarket they need to be able to recognize people whom they can turn to for help. Somebody wearing the store's staff uniform and an employee badge should be seen as somebody to approach if they need help.
When children are very young the problem of protection lies entirely with the parents of course and your child should always be within your sight and under your watchful eye. But as soon as children are old enough to venture out alone then they need to be given the 'rules'. At this point they will still be too young to fully understand just why they have to follow these rules but, as their understanding increases, it's important to slowly start to teach them about the dangers posed by strangers.
In teaching children about the dangers posed by strangers it's vitally important that you take the child's age and understanding into account and that you clearly outline the dangers, but do not overplay the dangers so that your children are afraid to go out at all.
One final point. There are often warning signs of a problem posed by a stranger and a stranger who targets a child will frequently spend a considerable amount of time getting to know the child and to gain the child's trust. So, talk to your child and take a genuine interest in where they go, what they do and who they see. Casual but regular and routine conversation with your child will often reveal a pattern which might just set your alarm bells ringing and provide you with the opportunity to step in and avert a problem before it arises.
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