From an early age, kids are instructed “don’t talk to strangers” – but they need more than words to help this message really sink in. Here are some tips for mums, dads, babysitters – all carers – to help keep kids of all ages safe from child predators in their day-to-day lives. While most children can recite what they’ve been taught about ‘stranger danger’, they often don’t act on it in a potentially dangerous situation. Here are some pro-active ideas for protective behaviours to help drive the safety message home.
Have you seen that very scary ‘social experiment’ by online prankster Joey Saladino that’s been doing the online and social media circuit for a while? In the YouTube video, which has 12 million-plus views, Saladino approaches random women sitting alone in a playground watching their children play. All of these women said they reminded their children, aged 4-5 years, of 'stranger danger' frequently, as often as once a day. So, after asking each mum’s permission, Saladino approaches their children one at a time, with a dog, and strikes up a conversation. "Look at the puppy! Like the puppy?" he says to the first young girl, who immediately engages with him. In just a few seconds, the girl willingly takes Saladino's hand and walks off with him to "see the other puppies.” The camera then sweeps to her mother looking suitably horrified. He is then filmed approaching two more children, who also both readily accept his invitation to leave their carer and go off with the stranger. Take a look at the video on YouTube, it’s pretty shocking!
Role-play various scenarios with your children, with them practising how they should respond. Have a role-play refresher every few months for younger children and every 6 months for older kids. Here are a few ‘pretend’ situations to get you started:
Scenario: They are grabbed by a stranger in the street, or attempted to be lured to a car. What to do: shout “no” and “help” repeatedly, as loudly as possible.
Scenario: a person they don’t know approaches them at the park and asks them their name, address or mobile number. What to do: refuse; they must never give out personal information to any adult they don’t know.
Devise a code word with your child/ren that’s easy for them to remember that only mum, dad, siblings or their regular babysitter, will know. If they are in a situation where an unknown adult says that they are picking them up from school – even if they claim to be a family friend – the child must ask for the code word and hear it. When foes look like friends In a child’s mind, the ‘baddies’ we’re warning them about will probably look scary, like a villain in a cartoon or movie. They need to know that a typical predator will be dressed in regular clothes, might be funny and friendly and may offer them something, such as sweets, toys, money, show them something cute, or make up sad stories.
Create ‘borders’ of the play area by drawing lines with a stick at the beach, or use objects such as trees and benches at a park to outline the space children must remain within. Make going ‘out of bounds,’ a rule they must strictly adhere to and reward them when they do.
Never get complacent about supervision. This means keeping your eyes on the kids and off the mobile, except when it’s urgent. When briefing a new babysitter or nanny, instruct them that this is a firm expectation when the children are in their care. Remember: however unlikely, it can take just seconds for a child to be taken away.
If your child needs to walk by themselves somewhere, tell them to keep to main roads where there are a lot of people. If they ever feel frightened, tell them to go into a ‘safe place,’ such as a shop, police station or school. When the danger’s not from a stranger The tragic truth is that 85% of abuse to children happens with someone known to, or trusted by, the child. So, our protective behaviour needs to take steps beyond ‘stranger danger’. Explain to your child, in age appropriate terms, when touching by any adult is not okay, such as touching areas covered by their undies. Emphasise that your child must tell you if they felt scared or uncomfortable with any adult they know. Be alert to any adult interaction that makes you or your child feel uncomfortable, or to any obvious resistance to being left with a previously trusted or liked adult.
Getting the balance right While we want to teach children how to be safe and to be aware that predatory adults exist, we don’t want to traumatise them. So, it’s equally important to emphasise that the majority of grown-ups are caring, kind and responsible and that their world is safe and happy – they just need to know the drills and skills to keep it that way. For more tips and advice, take a look at saftey4kids.com.au. For info on cyber safety and children take a look at this article on the Juggle Street website.
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