Stranger Danger 

Child Safety: Stranger Danger

 by Kelly Knutson, PsyD,

Parents often times approach the subject of child safety after an abduction or attempted abduction has occurred and is heightened with media response. Common parental reactions are fear, anxiety, and sometimes panic. Have those invaluable, potentially lifesaving conversations before the next scare appears in the news. 

Typical Responses: Fear and anxiousness are typical responses in situations with ambiguity and uncertainty that may cause feelings of insecurity and vulnerability. Communication based out of fear and/or anxiety is not based on rational, reasonable, or logical decision making and these types of responses only make matters worse. Children may respond in a defensive manner, feel afraid, or shut down in order to cope with a situation that feels out of control. The best response is one that is planned, calm and safe - not reactive. Make sure you approach your children in difficult situations so that they feel comfortable discussing and talking about tough issues without feeling hopeless or helpless. Children will typically make jokes as a healthy way to process and deal with scary situations, even though this may seem as though they are “not taking the subject seriously” or “ignoring the issue.” Younger children may even pretend to be superheroes and create imaginary or narrative responses to grasp how to handle a given scenario. It is important to clearly provide real and realistic suggestions, possibilities, and potential responses in the event of a dangerous solicitation.

Common Misconceptions: Preconceived notions include images of a “bad guy.” Well, what is a bad guy? What does he or she look like? Do people who do bad things look bad? Commonly, children will associate a “bad guy” with a villain or villainous character they have seen in a movie or on a television program. Parents will commonly associate a “bad guy” with a mug shot they have seen or a picture of a warning poster, depicting a convicted felon. The truth is, a child predator or potential abductor looks just like everyone else; someone in your neighborhood, at the grocery store, or walking in the park. If you are looking for a “bad guy” or an image of what a “bad guy” looks like in pictures, movies, or television characters, chances are you have just missed a perpetrator. They are often charming, charismatic, personable, and have knowledge about children, their interests, and surroundings. They often use prompts or material items commonly coveted by children in the age group or gender of their interest. That does not mean you have to walk around being suspicious of every stranger who is kind to your children. Simply that you erase the image you have in your mind of what a “bad guy” may or may not look like. Statistically speaking, this “bad guy” is someone you or your child may already know.

Asking for help: Sometimes parents need assistance with this difficult and challenging subject. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Request that your school district promotes awareness by sharing information or hosting speakers, like law enforcement officials, to facilitate educational discussions. Consult with a professional for assistance. Trained mental health providers are able to assist children and their families with fear, anxiety, or tenuous circumstances that require additional treatment or care. The goal is to promote health and wellness within families, as well as the community. Remember to talk to your children. Discuss with them that an individual may be familiar with things they like or may even know personal information about your family, but that does not mean they know YOU. Gentle, open communication is your best defense against any possible “bad guys” that may wish to harm your child.

The goal is to promote health and wellness within families, as well as the community. Remember to talk to your children. Discuss with them that an individual may be familiar with things they like or may even know personal information about your family, but that does not mean they know YOU. Gentle, open communication is your best defense against any possible “bad guys” that may wish to harm your child.

For more information about seeking a professional child or family therapist, you may contact the Child and Family Wellness Institute at Psychology Specialists by dialing 888-706-3190.