Stranger Danger and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night

Big Kid 26

Her fingers were lifting the elastic in my son's underwear, and as she performed a quick, professional peer at his boyparts, she kept up a running commentary: "This is okay because your mom's here, only your parents and a doctor can look at your body, if anyone ever touches you or makes you uncomfortable, you should tell your mom or dad, okay?"

My son, who was 100 percent focused on the surprise round of pre-kindergarten vaccinations that were next on the agenda, nodded blankly. You could practically see the giant cartoon syringe reflected in his pupils.

The pediatrician patted my child comfortingly and allowed him to sit up and start pulling on his clothes. "Have you guys talked about stranger danger?" she asked.

"Um ..." I said. "We, uh. Not in a matter of ... well, no."

No, I haven't talked to my almost-6-year old about stranger danger. In fact, we were heading into a store the other day—myself, Riley, and my 3-year-old—and an elderly man who was coming in the automatic doors at the same time pointed a finger in their direction and said, "Want to come with me, boys? I've got some candy!" and cackled into my face, tickled pink at his little joke. Instead of reeling away in fear, which was clearly his hope (okay, maybe I'm selling him down a river, but SERIOUSLY, who DOES that?), both kids just stared in confusion, like what the hell, you're not my grandpa.

I guess it's time, right? It hasn't seemed critical before now, since I'm basically with them every second of the day, but Riley will be starting school in a few weeks. I suppose that's about the time you start worrying about twisted freaks who lure children into windowless vans. I suppose we need to talk about Inappropriate Touching, and Not Talking to Strange Adults, and basically starting the process of removing, layer by layer, that innocent belief that nothing can hurt them.

Riley has always been a bit of a hesitant kid, and he's only recently started talking to random people when we're out and about. Just yesterday he asked if he could talk to our neighbor, and came running back with the breathless announcement that the guy had given him permission to look in his yard whenever Riley lost a ball over there. And my brain went: hurrrrrrrrnk. Because I don't want him to live in a world where I'm not entirely sure if I should allow that or not.

(Maybe he can just be better about not throwing shit over the fence, right?)

He loves to call out "Hi!" to passing strangers, he loves to ask the guy at Home Depot what he's using that tape measure for. I hate the idea of squashing this new outgoing side of him. Of peeling back the world he knows, where everyone is perfectly happy to interact with him and would never in a million years do him harm, and give him a glimpse of what's underneath: a murky swirl of what-ifs. How can I give him confidence and caution at the same time? How can I tell my child that there are people who might try and touch him, or worse? How can this even be a thing that is true, because my god, my god.

There's so much I'm not ready for. Lately I suddenly feel this very real sense of this age, and everything that is sweet and innocent about it, running through my fingers like water.



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Faith McCrady Pinto

One day when I was probably 6 or 7, I was riding bikes with my sisters up and down our dead-end street.  A car stopped at the top of the street and a guy leaned out and asked me if I wanted any candy.  It was a long time ago, but I distinctly remember thinking the guy did NOT look like he actually wanted to give me candy.  That was 25 years ago in a very small town.  It happens.  It sucks that your child's innocence is affected by knowing that not everyone out there is good and decent, but it's necessary of course for a safe life. 

I heard once that you're only as old as your oldest child, and maybe this is more true than I realized.  You experience all this stuff anew along with your first child, and this time you see it with eyes that can really appreciate what's happening.  That only makes it harder to watch kids grow up, because you know what they're losing.  God, isn't parenting such a horrible wonderful torturefest?

Annie Schultz Singler

I remind my kids every night as they get their baths.. (okay, every OTHER night haha) "Only mommy is allowed to touch your body.  if anyone ever tries to touch your body, a grown up OR a kid, you say NO, I'LL TELL MY MOMMY AND DADDY and then you come tell me. Mommy wont be mad at you"  (because thats whay "they" tell you... your parents will be mad at you if you tell.)  EVERY NIGHT, I say this.  I'm a freak about it because I was abused by a neighbor when I was a kid and I never told anyone.  It happened over and over and no one knew.

I dont tell my children the scary details of what can happen.  When they ask, I just say, "I just want you to know that ONLY mommy is allowed, okay?" 

God, it's hard having kids.  Just send my 4 and 5 yr old to full day school yesterday...  ugh.

chixi... chixie421

It is scary out there. I ave taught my daughter that the ONLY time it is ok to talk to a stranger, is if Mommy and Daddy are with you. If a stranger somes to talk to you, they are mistaken, and they are really looking for Mom and Dad, so you come get us. That if anyone ever tries to grab them that is a stranger, to scream kick bite and hit, that they wont get in trouble. I flat out told my 4 yr old that some people are not nice and want to hurt others, and that is why we have to be careful around strangers. I told her that if she ever gets lost with out me, to find a Mom WITH kids so she can help you. It is a scary time we live in, but if we sugar soat the dangers, then it puts our kids in danger. My dauighter goes to school full time now, it is acary, and it is so hard being a parent and making the right decision. Are we sure theres no manual SOMEWHERE>>> lol

lovin... lovinallofthem

I can NOT believe your son is 6 and you HAVEN"T told him/talked to him about STRANGER DANGER.. you must live a WONDERFUL and SAFE, BEAUTIFULLY FENCED IN dream land lady!

i started having THAT talk with my kids when they opened their eyes!! ok, exaggerating, but i did start it as soon as they could walk... and i NEVER tried to UNDO the "clingy" stage that kdis go through.. and i NEVER FORCED my kids to hug people that they werent comfortable with NO MATTER how long i have personally known them (* sorry gramma & Grammpa and all my nutty hugging aunts and uncles and primo's and prima's) 

the world is just not Child Friendly like we want it to be with our rose colored glasses...

chixi... chixie421

*sorry for all the grammatical errors... lol

Donna Plumley Brubach

I'm sorry but I would have knocked that old man on his ass.  WTF?  Instant rage.  As far as warning your kids, I don't know, telling them about it yes, but then if something happens to them they feel as though it was their fault for what happened to them, because they'd been warned....and yet you can't not tell them.  I hate it that the world is such that we have to warn kids, and strip away that innocence. 

I try to think of it as the same as warning kids that they shouldn't stick a fork in the light socket, you don't talk to people you don't know, but god, how can they not talk to the checker at the store?  Or order milk with their lunch? 

Good luck, that's all I have to say, it's a hard age.  But then they all are aren't they?


nonmember avatar Jen

Wow loveinallofthem, judge much?

Our doc handled the talk the same way which was a great jump-start for us.

Linda - thanks for your post - it does serve as a reminder to step up the talks now that they're venturing into the world a bit more.

lucidkim lucidkim

I think stranger danger - I don't want to say it's overkill because better to be safe than sorry - but there are many kind, wonderful people out there who are strangers to us but not bad people.  I don't want my kids to think every stranger is a bad person. 

You obviously have already taught Riley - he asked you BEFORE he talked to the neighbor.  My kids do the same, they ask me first and then I let them, but I keep my eye on the situation.  They know not to go off and "help" a stranger find his lost dog (an example I give them) for example.  (The candy one is not as likely as ones like the help-me-find-my-dog or your-mom-told-me-to-pick-you-up.) 

I have talks with my girls about what is appropriate/not appropriate as well as give them real world type examples and ask them what would they do if it happened so they've thought about it.  Also, as someone stated above, we've talked about what to do if they get lost.  Try to find a mom - or someone in obvious authority - and maybe it is unfair - but I tell them to only approach women, never men (and they know, "I know mom, not a hoochie mama looking lady"). 

I don't want them to be afraid of everyone, but to be aware and careful. And because I do tend towards being paranoid, I've never let them go to sleepovers unless I know the family very very well.

nonmember avatar Krissa

My parents had the Stranger Danger talk with my brother, who then proceeded to YELL in his loudest kindergarten voice that the sweet little old man who said "excuse me" as he tried to pass my mom's cart in a narrow grocery aisle was, "A BAD MAN, MOMMY! HE'S A BAD MAN!"
My mother, of course, was horrified - but it's funny now!

We were allowed to talk to strangers as long as our parents were there. It was also reinforced that we were in control of our bodies and no one was allowed to touch us except parents/doctors, but even then if we felt hinky about it we were allowed to speak up with no repercussions.

The sad truth is that most child abusers are known by their victims - neighbor, family member, older child, etc - so while "stranger" danger is real, that talk should also reinforce the idea that they should tell a trusted adult if ANYONE is making them uncomfortable.

nonmember avatar Kelly

It's a particularly tough bit of education because 1) talking with strangers is not necessarily bad in itself, it's the behaviors of people trying to do them harm that are the problem and 2) unfortunately more kids are abducted and abused by people they know, so focusing on the stranger aspect rather than the behaviors doesn't take care of the highest risks.

I used to volunteer with a children's charity that taught this stuff in a really good way: through a storybook, focusing on the behaviors to look out for and what kids can do if something happens. Another challenge is that kids will tune out lists of rules, thinking it'll never happen to them. So this approach teaches the kids how they can be "knights" to be protectors of OTHER kids. They all want to be smarter, a protector, helpful, etc. so they'll listen and learn the information in the interest of helping other kids they know. I definitely recommend getting the materials and working through them with Riley. He'd probably love the aspect of feeling responsible for helping Dylan stay safe. I'd recommend getting "A Good Knight Story" and potentially the activity book and/or DVD as backup resources to explore.

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