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Scared of the ‘Stranger Danger’ Discussion

Recent news reports make safety considerations more relevant than ever.

Before last week, I never really thought about my kids walking home from school. And then I read a few news reports about incidents along the Peninsula that involved adults approaching children with unsavory intentions, leading me to feel very grateful that my kids are too young to walk home alone. I figured there’s no risk without access.

In previous weeks, there have been a few altercations in San Mateo where an individual approached students and one even abducted an elementary school girl. Just last Thursday in San Carlos, it was reported that a man in a car allegedly inappropriately exposed himself to a young girl walking home alone from Central.  The student did exactly what she should in that circumstance; she ran away and headed straight back to school for help. Fortunately for her, she must have been taught some pretty good stranger safety lessons.

But this recent report near Central Middle School frightened me just like it did every other mother and father in San Carlos. It has shaken our community’s sense of safety. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen here.

For a couple days, I couldn’t get the incident off my mind. I kept wondering how my kids would handle themselves if, Heaven forbid, they were faced with the same menacing situation. And after a bit of reflection, I realized that what had me so bothered was the seeming lack of safety information I felt I had provided my kids with.

I am honest with my kids, but I have not habitually reminded my children of what bad people are capable of. I have kept them in a bubble in terms of the dangers and ills that society holds. Don’t get me wrong, I am not ignorant to think that “this won’t happen to my kids.” I am not oblivious to the randomness of crime. I am not in denial that terrible things happen to children.

I have spoken to my kids about natural disasters, fires and not obeying traffic rules. I have warned them of being safe near a pool or wearing a life jacket on a boat. My kids are quick to stay by my side at crowded events so they won’t get lost and wear their helmets when they ride their bikes so they protect their heads. They know how to call 911 and know my phone number if they need it. I have tried to make them aware of the consequences of some of life’s potential tragedies and accidents.

But I have been scared. Scared to open the door to the chilling, callous and unexplainable side of life that really doesn’t make sense to me and will certainly shake the trust that my children have in people. I don’t know why people do what they do and I feel inadequate when talking to my kids about it, for I have no answers to their repetitive response of ‘but why.”

At a cocktail party this past weekend, I confided in a friend about this very issue. And when I heard myself say it out loud, I was ashamed at how my fear of an issue made my children sitting ducks.

My friend had great advice for me. Simply put, my friend mentioned to me a method to talk with young kids in a manner that would entwine common sense with simplicity and empowerment.

“Just get the point across to the kids that adults don’t ask kids for favors. If a stranger asks your child for a favor, make sure they check with you first,” she said.

She told me to familiarize myself with KidPower.org, an organization that teaches children of all ages how to remain safe when approached by a stranger or put in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. One of its methods is to classify a stranger as anyone you don’t know.  It advises to add that most of these strangers are good, but there are some people who are not and those are the people who should be avoided.

I used my friend’s tip about strangers asking for favors. I sat down with the kids and explained some safety tips to them without scaring them and without having to focus on what these strangers might do to the kids but rather what the kids can do to keep themselves safe. I used some of KidPowers safety tips at http://www.kidpower.org/library/article/safety-tips-kidnapping/ to help me cover all my bases and it seemed to make sense to the kids.

Although, as with most healthy lessons I choose to teach my children, there is always a bit of a backfire. Like when I asked my son a few hours afterward to “do me a favor and help me carry in the groceries.”

He was quick to remind me that children should be “leery” of adults who ask kids for help. So I figure the next time I discuss safety with my children, I will be sure to choose my words wisely for fear of having to complete every household chore alone. But I figured KidPower.org was a great resource to float out there for any other parents in the same boat.

Coralin Feierbach October 09, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Dear Aimee, What a beautifully written article about stranger-danger. Somehow, children need to be taught the dangers of what can happen and how to handle each situation. Maybe even some practice runs would help, I think. Even though my daughter is an adult now, when she was going to Cipriani School and to Ralston, I drove her back and forth, not allowing her to walk by herself. Even then, I was aware of what could happen and that was many years ago. Not all parents are fortunate enough to be able to drive their children to school however. Thank you again Aimee - you have brought this issue to a local light!
K Molinari October 09, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Thanks Aimee. I think KidPower is an amazing organization and took their training with my daughter when she was 5 yrs old. It's time for a refresher with both of my kids. I highly recommend their non-threatening, practical, empowering and age appropriate approach and insight to this topic and other forms of difficult situations our children may face (bullying, etc.). Well worth the $ and time! Thanks for the sharing the information.
Joan S. Dentler October 10, 2012 at 12:06 AM
As always, thanks for the timely, thoughtful piece Aimee.
Aimee Lewis Strain October 10, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Thank you for the two very insightful comments above. Stranger safety is such a big issue -- we all want what's best for our kids! I need a brush-up, so I am hoping to attend a KidPower training session myself in the coming months. And, as always, Joan, thank you for allowing me to contribute to your Patch sites.
icl October 10, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Good, timely article. On a community level, I don't think driving your kids to school is the answer. The more kids that are walking in groups - the better.

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