When you read the story of an 11-year-old allegedly kidnapped on her way to school (and thankfully saved by a heroic teacher’s aide), there are likely several things running through your mind:
“That’s why I don’t let my children walk to school.”
“Why didn’t her mother teach her about stranger danger?”
“Why did the 11-year-old say he was ‘a friend?'”
I’m sure it’s normal for these thoughts and questions to immediately come up, but it’s not very helpful to dwell on them, and here’s why:
1. At some point, you have to teach your children (in baby steps) to brave the world without being scared of it.
2. Stranger danger isn’t nearly as big a thing as the harm done to children by people they know, trust and love. In fact, 91-97% of children who are sexually abused (which is a heart-crushing 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys according to the CDC) are abused by someone they know and trust – someone YOU know and trust.
3. Protecting children is an adult responsibility. Likely, the child was terrified and didn’t know what to say or the man lied and said he was a family friend and was there to pick her up for some unknown reason.
Instead of dwelling on the wrong questions, let’s focus on ways we can minimize danger because the sad reality is that there are adults out there preying on children. The MAJORITY of the time, they will do it after getting you and your child to trust them. But sometimes, they will be a complete stranger.
What could have been a devastating story out of California if not for a very brave teacher who noticed something was wrong and trusted her gut, is a learning lesson for parents everywhere that we should establish a code word with our children.
I did this several years ago and at least once every few months I address the topic with my young child. The key is to stay calm and ensure that you have their attention but that you’re not frightening him or her.
For us, it was a simple conversation about safety. I told my son that while he is playing with friends, walking to or from school or waiting for me at school, he is not to go with anyone other than myself, dad or his older brother. To which he responded with a list of names he thought there would be an exception. And to which, I replied, the ONLY time there will be an exception is if they know the code word. I then let him choose a code word that would be easy for him to remember.
Next, we role played. I threw out several scenarios in which he would be tempted to get into someone’s car. One scenario included a family friend who had stopped by the house once (so someone he recognized and could reasonably trust). I said, what if this person tells you that I’m in the hospital and you need to get in the car? At first, my son failed these mini-tests by saying that seemed liked a good time to void my rule and get into someone’s car. And that’s why we do this!
We’ve had our code word in place for a few years now and every few months I ensure my son still remembers it. The more we practiced, the more he truly understands that I was serious about him not getting into anyone’s car, even when they pretended to have an emergency.
Now if a man in a truck grabs my son and tells him he’s a family friend and that my son needs to get in the truck, my son knows that the it’s most likely a very bad thing and that he should kick and scream with all his might to get attention from anyone who could help him.
Do you have questions about ways to keep your kids safe? Leave your questions below!