The best ways to help kids learn about keeping safe
The idea of a child being abducted is every parent’s worst nightmare. But how do you broach the subject of ‘stranger danger’ without terrifying your child or ruining their innocence?
According to a study by the charity Action Against Abduction, 50 children are abducted by a stranger every year and police record more than 200 attempted abductions annually.
One answer might be to tell your children to beware of all strangers.
But Geoff Newiss, CEO of Action Against Abduction, believes that our attitude to stranger danger needs updating.
He says: ‘The main problem is that when a parent tells their child about stranger danger, the child hears: “Don’t go with someone mean or nasty.” Their idea of “stranger” is more simplistic. It means that if they are lured away by someone who seems nice, they’re less likely to think of them as a stranger.’
Another issue, says Geoff, is the fact that nowadays ‘strangers’ can appear on social media and over the internet. The charity has now launched its campaign ‘Clever Never Goes’ — which ditches the slogan ‘stranger danger’ because it believes that anti-abduction advice should not be needlessly frightening.
Geoff says: ‘Clever Never Goes features a robot who is clever because he knows never to go anywhere with anyone. He trusts his instincts, such as his head and his heart. We want to teach children to recognise danger itself, rather than strangers.’
So when should you broach the subject?
Dr Angharad Rudkin, a chartered psychologist, says that it’s best when the child brings up the subject themself.
‘If they’ve been taught about it at school, then it’s a good time to talk about it,’ she says. ‘Or it can be at a time when your child becomes more independent and begins to go further away from you in play areas.’
Dr Rudkin says: ‘At seven or eight, children enter into a natural phase of fear of things such as robbers or natural disasters. You certainly don’t want to add to their fear, but it is a good time to talk to them about danger from strangers in a non-frightening way.’
The difficulty, says Dr Rudkin, is balancing children’s innocence and sense of trust that the world is a good place with being wary of people they don’t know.
Geoff adds that a fear of all strangers doesn’t work because most ‘strangers’ wouldn’t hurt your child. On the contrary, many would try to help if your child was in need of assistance.
He says: ‘Rather than to talk about whether someone is a stranger or not, look at threatening behaviours and situations, such as being asked to go somewhere or to get into a car, or to be lured by something. A child should not feel afraid to talk to all strangers, but should know that they should not go anywhere else with a stranger — even if it’s another dad or mum from school.’
One problem is that children are often told to obey adults.
Geoff says: ‘We raise our children to be obedient. So if an adult is stern and tells them to get in a car, a child may follow because of their socialisation to obey adults.
‘What we want to do is equip children so that they feel confident enough to not obey, to read their own internal safety mechanism and ask themselves, “Does this feel wrong?”, and to then have the confidence to say a firm “no” and then run away or shout or scream if necessary.’
Geoff says the Clever Never Goes campaign will help children recognise danger, develop the skills to get away, and gain the confidence to enjoy the outside world without being frightened of it.
Dr Rudkin adds that however terrifying it is to imagine a stranger approaching your child, do not let your fear worry them.
She says: ‘Don’t dwell on the things that could happen, but tell them first and foremost how to get away to safety.’
DR RUDKIN’S TIPS
Bring up stranger danger when your child raises the topic.
Don’t let your own fears show or dwell too much on the nastier aspects of what could happen.
Make plans for what your child would do if they were ever separated from you.
Limit scary news reports or radio news as children understand more than we realise.
ADVICE TO GIVE KIDS
Don’t go with a stranger.
Do not take things from a stranger.
Do not get into a car with a stranger.
Never play near public toilets.
Don’t go off on your own. Play with others and get home before dark.
Edited by Julie Cook
To learn more, visit actionagainst abduction.org/clever-never-goes. The Clever Never Goes project is made possible by support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.