Stranger danger is a strong term that means the same to all of us, the risk of harm to our children from people that they don’t know. Almost all of us teach it to our young in some way from an early age along with other obvious safety lessons such as fire can burn and water can drown you.
Most of us probably assume that our children have heeded our warnings but several controlled social experiments over the last few years have shown just how easily children can be persuaded away by someone they don’t know.
When the television program Daybreak ran such an experiment in 2013 7 out of 9 children where easily enticed away from their parents or caregivers. The show was widely criticised for scaremongering but I don’t think that they were. In 2014 there were 7.4 child related abduction or kidnapping, including attempted, offences per 100,000 children in the UK. Whilst this appears to be a relatively low number when taken from the crime statistics to me it is a terrifying reminder that there are people actively hunting children with clearly sinister intentions. Even one successful abduction is too many. The names April Jones and James Bulger, along with many, many others are burned in all of our brains as a reminder of what could happen.
However, that said, we cannot keep our children locked at home until they reach adulthood. We must allow them to grow and flourish and become the best adults they can be whilst at the same time mitigating risk so we hope that these tips and suggestions will help you keep you little people safe.
When explaining the danger to children you must make it age appropriate. Most young children’s perception of a stranger is someone big and ugly. It’s important that they understand that anyone they don’t know is a stranger. Being separated from Mummy or Daddy is enough of an explanation at an early age but as children get older and start hearing news you will need to talk about this at a different level.
There are a number of basic rules that every child should be taught:
- Never take sweets or gifts from stranger
- Never get in a car with a stranger
- Never go anywhere with a stranger
- Never go off on your own without telling a trusted adult
- If you feel in danger run and scream
- Play or hang out in safe, well lit places – avoid dark alleyways and the like
- If out with friends always stay together
- Tell your parents where you are going to be
The nursery that I use has a code word system. Whenever anyone picks up my daughter, including me, the code word allocated to her must be given. If you don’t know the code word the child can’t leave until further checks have been carried out.
The same practice can be applied to families. Choosing an easy to remember word for your child means that if anyone tries to pick them up, including people who are known to them in some way, with the “your Mum sent me to get you “ strategy the child can ask for the code word. If the person doesn’t know it then Mum did not send them and they should immediately find help.
Safer Strangers and Safer Buildings
There is an excellent campaign called ‘Safer Strangers, Safer Buildings’. It gives children a list of strangers that they can ask for help if they are in trouble or lost. These people include people such as police officers, shop assistants, traffic wardens and many others usually identified by uniforms or service type jobs that children will easily recognise. The safer buildings theory runs along the same lines by allowing children to identify safe places to go such as shops, churches, police stations, leisure centres etc. My local city centre has taken this one stop further with many shops displaying ‘place of safety for children’ stickers so they can easily identify where to find help quickly.
For younger children there is an excellent website which includes a video to show them how to access safer strangers and buildings. http://www.childseyemedia.com/safety.html
If your child is in trouble and needs to ask for help knowing their full name, address and parents phone number can be invaluable in quickly reuniting them with their parents and preventing any harm coming to them. As soon as they are old enough take the time to teach your child this information so they can recite it from memory.