Last night, Dateline aired one of their hidden camera episodes, but instead of it being about pervy guys trying to get with teenage girls, it was about teaching kids about Stranger Danger–and how even if you talk to them over and over about it, if they are ever put in a position where they have to deal with it, they might not make the right choice.
I had seen a promo on the Today show yesterday morning and had filed the episode start time in the back of my mind because now that I’m a mommy, I want to know what the experts say about combatting such things. Naturally, I forgot all about the episode until I was cuddling with Zoey in our room at her bedtime and I happened upon the last twenty minutes of it.
Here’s the premise: a hired actor in an ice cream truck pulls up to where a set group of kids (at the most, three–they did this experiment a few times) are working on a project. The actor compliments them on their project and then offers them free ice cream. Then he opens the back of his truck and invites the kids to get in the back. The whole experiment is to see which kids go into the truck and accept the ice cream from a stranger.
In the last experiment I saw–all three boys went in the truck. Granted, one was a little hesitant and he high-tailed it back out of the truck as soon as he got the free ice cream. But they all went in. And all three boys had been spoken to about Stranger Danger in the past by their parents. The boys’ mothers were watching the entire thing on a monitor and were shocked that their kids actually went into the truck.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen specials like this–where kids who should know better about Stranger Danger help a paid actor to ‘find his lost puppy in the park’ or ‘actually leave their parent’s line of sight to go with a stranger that is promising something. It’s all set up and completely safe, but it makes me wonder, what can I do to ensure Zoey is safe in the future?
There’s been a couple of incidents not too far from our home lately where a van seemed to follow a kid home from school or was seen hanging around the schoolyard. It was on the news that police are still looking for information about the suspicious van and thankfully, as of yet, nothing has happened with any kids.
But again, it makes me wonder about keeping Zoey safe.
Obviously, Greg and I will talk to her about Stranger Danger when she’s older. It may sound stupid, but when I was little, I remember that the Berenstain Bears book, Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangersreally sort of hit home with me. After all, we want our kids to be nice and polite like Sister Bear in the story, but at the same time, we want them to understand the reality of the world we live in. What really got me, though, is the apple metaphor that Mother Bear used. Basically, she takes two apples–one looks gnarly and one looks perfect. She cuts them both open and the gnarly one is beautiful-looking on the inside, but the perfect-looking one is rotten. The whole idea is that dangerous strangers aren’t necessarily going to look like the bogey monster, as kids tend to expect. THAT is what blew me away when I was a kid because it put the whole Stranger Danger thing into terms I could understand.
So, what can Greg and I do to prepare Zoey for Stranger Danger? The expert on the Dateline episode last night talked about running through scenarios with your child to see how they would handle it, talk to them about listening to their gut and ignoring peer pressure if something just doesn’t seem right. But here’s a couple other strategies I’ve heard in the past couple years that I think are FABULOUS:
1. If a stranger tries to tell your child that they have your permission to take the child somewhere, your child should insist on the person calling you right in front of them–and hearing it straight from you. For the most part, everyone has a cell phone on their person these days and a quick call can take away all doubt–or confirm any gut feeling your child has. If the person doesn’t have a cell phone, then the child refuses to go with them. Simple as that. A child that questions and doubts in this situation will show they are strong and may actually intimidate someone wanting to do them harm.
2. Have a family password. Again, this works in a situation when someone approaches your child and says they have your permission to take the child somewhere. If the stranger doesn’t know the family password (make it a crazy word that wouldn’t be easily guessed, like hocus pocus), then the child doesn’t go anywhere with them.
Of course, these suggestions only take into account a specific situation. If someone comes up to your kid and just grabs them, they should fight with all their might while yelling, “Stranger!” at the top of their lungs. I’ll tell you what, as a mom–nothing would get my attention faster than some little kid screaming that word.
But I think the most important thing Greg and I will teach Zoey is to just talk to us. If something seemed weird, tell us. If someone is bothering her, come find us. Be confident in herself and trust her gut.
I would love to hear any other suggestions people have for talking to kids about Stranger Danger. If anyone has any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’d love to hear what all of you think about this incredibly important topic.