About a month ago, a British investigation conducted an experiment where they sent in a fake “predator” to try and lure children away while their mothers, who had agreed to the show, weren’t paying attention. The results were terrifying. Several of the children did follow this man. The man told them all that he was searching for his lost dog and needed their help. When asked why they listened, a few of the kids said they “didn’t want to be rude” and that “bad men don’t have dogs.”
My husband and I watched the footage and immediately started talking to our kids. We had talked about “stranger danger” before, but watching that video chilled me to the core. I could see our four-year-old Trey, a total dog lover, agreeing to throw a ball for this man’s dog away from the park. I could see our seven year-old, Chloe, looking around for the dog and, maybe, wandering off with him. I could see them splitting hairs and wondering if it was okay because, well, he seemed nice.
It worried me and the biggest reason it did was because we are constantly teaching our children to be polite and speak to others. At the grocery store, if a person walks by our cart and says “Hello”, I always prompt Chloe and Trey to answer. If the produce manager asks if he can take them to his counter to give them some free strawberries, I send them over there. If our librarian says she could use their help setting up books for story time, I tell Chloe to help because it’s polite.
So if you’re a little nervous that maybe you’ve made your kids too eager to help/speak to an adult, I hope some of the following tips can give you peace of mind. They sure have for my husband and me.
Adults Should Never Ask Children for Help
This seems a little too “harsh”, I guess, but what we told our children was that an adult would never ask them for help without asking us if it was okay first. When the librarian needs help, she prompts the kids to ask us if it’s okay. We made sure to tell both of them that a grown-up should never, ever be asking them to help load things in the car, show them the way to the park or find a dog.
Dangerous People Don’t Always Seem Dangerous
This was a tough one to explain to Trey, but Chloe seemed to get it quickly. Bottom line? Just because they’re nice, polite and seem like good people doesn’t always mean they have good intentions.
If Lost, Find the Nearest Mommy or Daddy
Chloe and Trey both understood this rule immediately. If they are ever separated from us, we’ve taught them to find the nearest mommy or daddy with other children. Originally, we said “find another mommy with kids”, but realized that cuts their options down sometimes. Daddies with children are fine, too! It’s hard for them to know who’s an employee and who’s a customer. The thought of them looking for help and finding themselves in danger makes me sick. We hope that finding another parent is the best option because they are likely to help them find us or someone else in charge.
Know the Secret Password
I remember this tip from a kidnapping video I watched as a young kid myself. In it, the parents of the child had come up with a secret “password” that they would use if they ever needed to send someone to pick the child up. Apparently, lots of predators had used the excuse that “Your mom’s in the hospital/doctor’s office/grocery store and sent me to pick you up from school. I’m going to take you to her.” The kids would then follow, without hesitation, and get in the stranger’s car. The tip was to have a parent establish a word, something like ‘banana’ or ‘carousel’, that they would share with the new pick-up so their children would know it was safe. I remember establishing one with my mom and, to this day, neither of us have ever told anyone what the word is. Having a password can also help if a stranger says “Your mom told me I could as you to help me look for my puppy!” Teach your children to ask these people for the password. And, remember, if you ever do need to have someone pick up your kid or take them to the park, to give them the password, too.
If You’re in Danger, Forget the Rules About Being Disrespectful
And, God forbid, if our children ever do find themselves in a dangerous situation, we’ve taught them to forget the rules about respect. Scream. Kick. Yell. Shout and run. Do whatever it takes to get away. Do not try and be polite to someone you do not know if that someone is trying to lure you away or grab you. Shout “YOU’RE NOT MY MOM/DAD” as loud as you can. People will notice.
Of course, we pray that they never find themselves in any situation where these rules are necessary, but safety first. We want them to be prepared and we want them to know that while they still believe in Santa, horses that fly and wizards named Dumbledore, there are still people out there that are dangerous.
Have you talked to your children about stranger danger? Do you have any other tips or ideas to keep our children safe?