Being Real about Strangers and Child Safety
Most attacks upon children originate from family members and people they know. This has always been a problem with the stranger danger narrative and is why 2020 workshops move beyond the inadequate ‘don’t talk to strangers’ mantra and look at the real world that children are developing in.
Obviously we still want children to be on their guard when approached by a stranger, but this needs to be part of a wider understanding of child safety which recognises that sometimes a stranger is the nearest source of help and that help might involve rescue from a ‘friend’ or even family member.
Here are some of the central child safety principles that adults need to be making clear to their children:
Beware of Strangers in Cars
Read any weekly summary of strangers approaching children, and they usually involve cars or other vehicles. The reason is obvious: any stranger who wants to abduct a child is likely to want to make a quick getaway. Children need to know that they must always stay more than an adult’s arm length away from strangers in cars and to be suspicious of any attempt to get them to approach or enter the vehicle, whether that is a command (“Come here; get in!”), an ‘authority’ statement (“Your mum asked me to pick you up,”) an offer of help (“I’ll give you a lift to school,”) or an enticement (“Come and look at this funny picture on my phone.”)
Of course, familiar people with bad intentions (or lax safety standards) could also try and encourage a child to get into a car, so the best rule to teach children is to, “only get into somebody else’s car if we tell you it’s OK.”
Safety in Numbers
Another important child safety rule of thumb involves safety in numbers. Wherever possible, young children and teenagers should be part of a group. Not only does that make them less of a target, it also gives them the ideal environment to pick up ‘street skills’ including the awareness of threat, and local knowledge, such as the unsavoury characters that need to be avoided. Teaching children to look out for one another also helps to build safer, more caring communities that are more willing and able to react to child safety concerns.
That ‘uh-oh’ Feeling
Parents and teachers should also help children to learn to trust their own intuition which is often a more reliable guide to action than fixed rules such as ‘always be on your best behaviour.’ Children need to know and react appropriately to the difference between a friendly greeting and a conversation that is asking for personal details or going on too long to be ‘normal.’ Children also need to learn to respect their bodies and personal space and to report any intrusive behaviour that feels wrong, whoever is behind it . This brings us back to the opening statement of this article: most child abuse originates from family members and people they know – and the old-fashioned stranger awareness education is inadequate to protect children from that.
Learn more about Stranger Danger with 2020 Dreams
For more information about 2020 Dreams workshops for schools, please contact us. Workshops cover a wide range of child safety issues from cyberbullying workshops and diversity to dealing with peer pressure and drug and alcohol abuse.