Why Teaching Your Kids 'Stranger Danger' Is Dangerous

by Eivind Kjorstad
Originally Published: 
Jozef Sowa / Shutterstock

What are the important things to know in order to keep your child safe? What if I told you that “stranger danger” could make your child less safe?

Worrying that a random adult who your child chooses to talk to will turn out to be a kidnapper makes very little sense. Kidnapping by stranger is a scenario that is scary and thus gets a lot of attention, but, statistically speaking, it almost never happens.

These days, pretty much everyone above age 10 or so has a mobile phone, so the best way to make it easy for lost children to find you is for your kids to know your phone number and ask an adult to please call you.

Parents who teach their children to be scared of strangers in general are doing them a disservice. Most strangers are entirely safe, and conversely, the vast majority of the adults who abuse children are not strangers. Children should not learn to consider all strangers to be dangerous and everyone well-known to be safe. Instead, they should learn that certain behaviors are warning signs: for example, telling kids to keep secrets from their parents, disrespecting personal boundaries, or enticing them to go anywhere without telling their parents about it first.

I think it’s also good for children to know that they’re allowed, and indeed encouraged, to break the rules in what they deem emergencies. We spend a lot of time telling children to behave, and yet in the (admittedly unlikely) event that someone tries to take advantage of them, this conditioning can be harmful.

If the house is on fire, yes, you can break a window to get out! If a stranger tries to make you comply and come along with them even though you don’t want to, yes, you can scream and shout, kick and bite, and purposefully knock over that giant stack of Corn Flakes boxes in the store. Doing so will get the attention of other adults, and that’s a good thing. In short, normal rules apply in normal situations. To an adult, it may be obvious. But to a child, it’s not always clear that there are exceptions to “behave,” because we’re seldom in situations where we have an opportunity to explain to our kids that this would be a good time to misbehave.

But it is not at all dangerous for a 6-year-old to approach a random mall employee and say, “I can’t find my daddy. Can you call him for me? Here is his number.” That is an entirely reasonable thing to do in that situation. The odds that the mall employee happens to be a kidnapper who decided to skirt work for the rest of the day in favor of snatching your child are next to none.

Contrary to what people commonly believe, being a child today is pretty safe. The biggest dangers are child abuse coming from their parents or someone else they are close to.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

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