By Annie Osteen
A few weeks ago my husband and I were watching one of our kids play baseball at a local baseball park. It was a Saturday morning and like most spring and fall Saturday’s, the park was packed with parents, children, coaches and players. Nothing unusual about any of it. We had our other kids with us and our youngest was running around with his buddies near our seats. When I glanced up to locate him, I didn’t initially see him. Panic ensued and like most parents, the worst case scenario flooded my mind. When my eyes finally found him, he was talking to a man that I didn’t know. The man was walking his dog and if I had to guess, my child, an avid animal lover, probably stopped to pet the dog. My husband jumped up at the same time I did and ran over to redirect our son back to the bleachers. Was this man trying to harm my child? Probably not. However, I couldn’t help but to think about the terrible possibility that maybe I could have been wrong. Although we’ve talked to all of our kids about “stranger danger,” I had to ask myself why on that Saturday morning, it didn’t seem to matter to our youngest.
We’ve all seen the “Stranger Danger” videos online. We’ve shown them to our kids and without putting the fear of God in them, we have to somehow manage to get them to realize that just because we live in Williamson County, it doesn’t mean that something can’t or won’t happen. School is out for the year and our kids will be outside, playing with their friends. They’ll be taking walks in the park, riding bikes down the street, swimming and enjoying the summer sun as innocently as we once did. However, our world is changing and unfortunately, the “good ole’ days” of trusting that your kids will be fine while you run to the bathroom are long gone. How can we teach them something that goes beyond the cliché “stranger danger” videos to really make the impression that talking to a random person at the park isn’t the right choice?
The first step is to define what a stranger is and by definition, it’s something we do not know. However, kids also have to be aware there are “safe strangers,” such as a policeman, a fireman or a teacher. If ever lost in a public place, they need to seek out a “safe stranger.” I’ve personally told my children if they ever get separated from me in a public place to seek out a policeman, or “another mommy that has kids with her.” Helping your children to identify “safe strangers” while you are in public together is a good tool for them should something unintended happen in the future.
Perhaps the most important way parents can protect their children is to teach them to be suspicious of potentially dangerous situations. This will help them when dealing with strangers as well as with known adults who may not have good intentions. Help children recognize the warning signs of suspicious behavior, such as when an adult asks them to disobey their parents or do something without permission, asks them to keep a secret, asks children for help, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Also, stress to your children an adult should never ask a child for help, even if the “help” is for the puppy they might be holding. Adults are supposed to ask other adults for help — never a child. If this happens and a parent isn’t nearby, they should find a safe stranger right away. Teaching your children to trust their instincts can also go a long way in preventing something tragic from happening.
Finally, tell your children to always have a friend with them. It is much safer for children to be in a group if they are unsupervised by adults. Don’t send them outside to play or to a park by themselves. Encourage them to watch out for their friends as well. There is safety in numbers.
Most children will grow up without having any trouble with strangers, but it’s best to be prepared. Teach your kids to be aware of the people around them and follow basic safety rules. Doing this will help them assert their confidence on how to handle a situation that they may find themselves in.