“So, are strangers tall or short?”
“Are strangers fat or thin?”
“Are strangers men or women?”
“Are strangers scary or can they be friendly?”
A recent article in the news highlights how easily children can be talked into walking away from a complete stranger. In this simulated study, conducted with parental knowledge and consent, 7 out of the 9 children walked out of the playground with someone they’d never met before. One walked away in 33 seconds.
They’d all been taught Stranger Danger.
Problem is, this guy was friendly. He knew how to talk to children. (The man playing the “abductor” is a parent himself). He had a photo of a dog, that he’d ‘lost’. He offered a reward if the children helped him find him.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the dangers of the Internet, or thinking abductions are always “forceful”. Sometimes, it’s the simplest of tricks, the easiest of bribes, a smile on the face, that can make a child believe that this adult is a friend.
And it’s horrible to have to teach a child that they can’t trust every adult. That it’s safer not to trust anyone. Children, who are usually the most trusting of creatures, willing to believe, willing to do anything to help. And we have to tell them no. I’ve heard some parents in the past, when I’ve been preparing to teach a lesson on Stranger Danger, ask for me not to teach it to their children, because “it takes away their innocence”.
Do we have to ruin the illusion that the world is a happy, friendly place?
Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that. We don’t need to tell children why they shouldn’t trust every adult. But it is important that we build up the awareness that going away from Mummy and Daddy is a big no-no, no matter how plausible the story. And as they get older to fill in the blanks.
When I teach Stranger Danger to my children’s classes, we always say that although every adult we don’t know is a stranger, it doesn’t mean they’re bad people! After all, before they joined my school, if they’d seen me in the street, I would be the stranger. And I’m definitely not a bad person!
However, because we can’t tell who’s good and who isn’t, we do the safe thing: ignore everyone we don’t know. If someone talks to us and we don’t know them, we just pretend they’re not there. And we never go off unless Mummy and Daddy says it’s OK.
And that takes a lot of roleplaying, a lot of different scenarios. When I teach, I always get the parents involved. We do roleplays on if a stranger tries to talk to us, tries to take us, tries to grab our arm. But also when a stranger offers us a sweet, or to pet a dog. It might be that they are genuinely nice, they do want to be our friend. But sometimes some people tell fibs, aren’t really our friend, so we just ignore them and let our clever Mummy and Daddy tell us when it’s safe.
A lot of schools and after-school clubs are teaching Stranger Danger these days, and rightly so. Of course, I believe a good Martial Arts class can help with this, getting the children confident to say no and to walk away from any scary situation, but often good Stranger Danger lessons start at home. Many parents too explain to their children about the dangers of going off with someone they do not know, and the dangers of chatting to unknown people online.
It’s stories like this however that remind us that sometimes though, we have to go back to basics, and teach our children that strangers come in all shapes and sizes, and can be sneaky.
After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.