Food For Thought Friday: Stranger Danger

The Human Cannonball is taking Karate lessons.  Among the multitude of important lessons he learns at each of his sessions, he is learning a lot about self defense and stranger danger.  On the way home from a recent lesson where stranger danger was the sole topic du jour, we had this conversation:

Human Cannonball (HC): Are there bad guys in this world?
Me: Unfortunately, yes, there are.
HC: Are there superheroes to get the bad guys in this world?
Me: Well, there aren't really superheroes to get the bad guys, but there are really good people who help keep the bad guys away from us, like police officers, parents, teachers, and other nice people.
HC: Are there bad guys in Saint Paul?  (we live in Minneapolis)
Me: Yes, there are bad guys everywhere.
HC: Do they have superheroes?
Me: Just the same kind of nice people we have in Minneapolis.
HC: What about in China?
Me: Same thing.
HC: How about Florida?
Me: Same thing...

and so on, and so forth, just like a normal conversation with a four-year-old, until he found something else to distract him and ask twenty questions about.

There are many things about this world that frighten me for my children. Stranger danger is one of them. Consider this; as difficult as it was to explain what a stranger is when we were young, there is the added dimension now of the internet.  Strangers are lurking every which where. Some strangers will turn into friends, and some may turn into very dangerous acquaintances. Scaring children too much on the front end may prevent them from being open and meeting new people, and being too relaxed around it could lead to over trust and bad decision making.  It's a teeter-totter, and it's getting even tippier by the generation.

Listening to the Human Cannonball work through his questions and try to make sense of the make believe world he loves where the superheroes always win and the bad guys pay for their actions, and apply it to our world, which is not always so just, makes my head spin with all of the lessons he has yet to learn about people. How absolutely wonderful we can be, and how absolutely horrible we can be.

What are your family strategies for teaching stranger danger?  What have been your challenges, and how have you addressed them?


  1. This one is very hard for me as I have an extremely, and I mean extremely, outgoing 5-yr-old child. She will talk to anyone and fill them in on everything from her name, phone number, address...if she knew her social security number she'd tell them that too. I asked our pediatrician about this very thing because while I wanted to protect her I didn't want her to lose that friendly and wonderful personality. Some of the things the pediatrician told me really helped guide the conversation. She recommended talking about real-life situations. For instance, I talked to my daughter about how adults NEVER ask kids for help finding where to go or finding a pet or getting something into their car. If an adult does ask you for help and you don't know them, you should say "Yep, I'll go get my mom to help" and run as fast as you can to your house, neighbors house, other adult. The doc also recommended talking to her about "safe" houses in the neighborhood where we know the adults living there and my daughter can feel comfortable running to that house for help. She seems to get it, but it just takes one Criminal Minds episode for me to get all spooked again.

  2. Rationality. I am very much a subscriber of free-range parenting. Lily will know that 99% of strangers are just fine. I will teach her who to ask for help if she needs it, and that includes moms AND dads at the park with their kids. And like Elizabeth above I will teach her what is and is not acceptable behavior from adults and what to do about it.

    The truth is that violent crime (and crime in general) has been in decline since the 70s and most abductions and molestations on children are not done by strangers. So a bit of levity goes a long way. TV has over-sensationalized this topic to an absurd degree.


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