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Spare me the “stranger danger”

I’m tired of hearing about “stranger danger,” and I don’t like the idea of teaching children the concept of “stranger danger.”

I mean, really. Is it really necessary to instill a fear in children about their fellow community members when the facts show that child abduction is an extremely rare occurence? My child already has her own self-instilled fear of aliens, does she need this one too? 

So please, spare me the fear-mongering. Why? Because I worry enough as it is. That’s what Moms do best, afterall.

Let’s look at some facts on “stranger danger”:

  • In 1999, 203,900 children were abducted in the U.S.A. by a family member seeking to interfere with a parent’s custody; 98% of the children were returned.
  • In this same year, there were only 115 cases in the U.S.A. of the stereotypical variety, in which a stranger is the perpetrator and the child is kept overnight, held for ransom or killed; 60 percent were returned safely.
  • That’s 115 cases of stranger abduction in a population of more than 320 million.

I know, I know … you don’t want to be in that group of unfortunate 115. I hear you.

But I also don’t want my child to grow up fearful of others — her very own community.

Remember when we were kids? You were let out the door to simply “go play outside.” Does anybody do that anymore? Cause it was really fun. 

I realized just how over-protective we’ve become as parents when I suggested to my 7-year-old that she “call on a friend.” She didn’t know what that meant. I was referring to that once familiar act of ringing the doorbell and asking “do you want to come out and play?” Soon it will have vanished from our communal lexicon altogether.

I really don’t think that people have changed that radically since we were young. I really don’t think that there are more pedophiles today than there were in the 1970s. I really don’t. And the stats back me up on it.

So let’s scratch this one worry off of our already long list of worries.  Instead, let’s encourage our kids to “call on a friend” to play.

And if we, as adults, have a lingering fear of “stranger danger” — let’s not share it with our children. Instead, let’s ask the other parents on the street to join with us and communally watch out for our children and let each other know if anything worrisome has cropped up.

Are you with me? (Or do you think I am naively deluded?)

Listen in: In 15 minutes (4 pm today), CBC’s All in A Day will be hitting this issue. Dani from Postcards from the Mothership and Lynn from Turtlehead will debate the issue. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say! 

 

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Comments

  1. Julie — I completely agree with you — at least philosophically. But I also know that fears are not at all logical. So, if it’s 115 kids, all I know is there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to make sure my child is not one of them. Still, I don’t want him afraid. It is a true quandry for me. My message is usually this:
    “Most people are nice and you can trust them. But nobody really knows which ones we can’t trust (eg. think of headlines about hockey coaches, priests, teachers as sexual predators). And another message: Nice grown ups don’t ask unknown little kids for help (eg. help finding my puppy). If a grown-up needs help, he’ll ask another grown up. If he asks a little kid, a child should wonder why and be cautious.

    I want to send T out on the street to play. Perhaps ignorance is bliss. That’s what we enjoyed in the 70s.

  2. Margo Purcell says:

    I am with you entirely Julie. I have this conversation with other mothers on a regular basis.

    Fear is never based on facts though. I don’t want my child to be one of the 115 and chances are that they never will be. If I don’t let them live though, what other ills will catch them? Are we even letting our children learn how to be street smart? What happens when they are older and have never had to think for themselves, to engage that intuitive sense that tells them not to go with this person or not to trust that person?

    Trish, I like your approach. It makes sense. It is easy for a child to grasp.

    You know the biggest hurdle I have to letting my kids play outside on their own? It’s “what will other people think?” I’ve had to say that I don’t care and if anyone comments. I’m a good parent even if others may not think I am. I want my kids to learn independence and how to have fun without waiting for me to tell them what they can do to have fun.

    Our kids are missing out on a chance to be kids when they are only allowed to play when we are around. It will come back to bite us in ways we can’t imagine yet.

  3. My street isn’t like that. its big and busy with cars and we dont know our neighbors. I wish I lived in a little quiet street with families. I’m all for teaching kids how to approach strangers. Yesterday in a car park when i said hello to a woman as I walked past my daughter said “do you know her? what about strangers?” It reminded me of something I saw on Oprah ( so it must be true) about how kids need to be able to look at adults and work out who to ask for help. I teach my kids if they are lost to find a woman and ask for help. In line with statistics we are much more careful of people we know and friends and family-they are the ones who abuse kids. I read a book “protecting the gift” about this issue. It was fanastic.

  4. sort of related is my issue with playdates…how they have to be so formal and planned out now. like you mention, back in the day, we would just roam the neighbourhood, until we found someone to play with. now there is parental involvement, way too much structure involved. i also remember having an instinct about unsafe situations, with very little tutelage on stranger danger.

  5. I do have to say that I don’t agree with you, I was kidnapped by a stranger back in 1977, in Florida, luckily I lived through it, I’m lucky to be sitting here typing today. It has made me a very protective parent my kids are older now, she is 20 and he is 15, when they were little they didn’t go outside without me. Anytime we were in a store, if I lost sight of them for a second, I would scramble. Two more times in my life growing up I had incidents where perverts tried to talk with my friends and I as we were playing outside and I would bolt. So I believe in stranger danger in the highest level, like I said I’m lucky to have gone on in my life and had 2 beautiful children, that yes I watched them like a hawk, and no you cannot let your children play outside alone anymore, no matter where you live. Also I have spoken with my friends throughout the years and most have stories of close calls. Thanks for listening, Child survivor of a kidnapping.

  6. One more thing, I know it sucks, but you can’t always trust your neighbors as well.

  7. Thank you for all these valuable points of view, suggestions, comments.

    Trish – I hear you. It’s much easier to embrace “free-range kids” philosophically than in actual real life. I struggle with it too. Also, thanks for sharing the tip re teaching your child via the logic questioning. That’s a good one because they are learning an important life skill.

    Margo – I heard a “bingo!” go off in my head when you noted that your biggest hurdle is “what will others think?” On the radio segment yesterday, one of the interviewees noted that it is just not a societal norm anymore to let your kids play outside without you.

    Meanie – Yes, I actually feel guilty when I simply sit and have a coffee with a friend instead of the whole structured playdate thing. It’s silly — kids need to learn how to make their own fun. And if we don’t let them, well … what happens when they’re older?

    Ali – I agree, traffic can actually be the biggest hurdle for a lot of people. We’ve got tons of construction going on in our neighbourhood right now, so we’re all escorting our children back and forth to keep safe from the machinery and cars.

    Melissa – I’m horrified to hear what happened to you. Naturally, I’m not surprised then to hear you disagree with my stance on “stranger danger.” My point is that strangers aren’t really the big danger (if you look at the stats), the biggest danger is actually the adult who is too friendly with your child over an extended period of time, the uncle who wants your child to sit on his lap all the time, the ex-husband who bitterly wants custody of the children again. The stats show that those are actually the most likely people to hurt/abduct your child. So, I don’t see the point of teaching my children to be afraid of other people. I think fear is a damaging thing to a psyche. I do think parents need to be vigilent and take precautions to protect their children from harm, but they don’t necessarily need to do so by instilling a fear in them about strangers. For instance, I encourage all the neighbourhood kids to come to our yard to play. It’s huge, has a playstructure, is fenced, and I can see everything from my kitchen window. The neighbours like knowing their children are safe from traffic and I like knowing that the kids are getting a chance to make their own fun.

  8. That 115 is way too much for anyone to be complacent as far as I’m concerned. I lived not far from where Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka lived, kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered those young women, so I’m very aware that this can happen in my neighbourhood. And it’s not just psychopaths kidnapping children we need to warn our kids about, it’s rapists, it’s weird guys who “just want to be their friend”, guys who want to take their picture, people that maybe work at their school or in their neighbourhood who are just waiting for their chance, it’s other kids or gangs of kids who just want to maybe beat up your kid and steal his stuff and, as they get older it can even be kids they think are their friends (i.e.: date rape). And yes, there were always dangerous strangers out and about, but not to the extent they are now. Go ask the police for an estimate of how many pedophiles there are out there operating, organized. I do my best to instill a healthy fear of potential dangers in my daughter because very little of my warnings and education actually stick. Teenagers think they’re invincible and nothing like “that” could ever possibly happen to them even though they all know kids — friends, who’ve been raped and/or assaulted or exploited in some way. I know it sucks to have to live this way, but I’d much rather err on the side or being over-cautious.

  9. Hi XUP –

    If my math is correct, then 115 out of 320,000,000 is 0.00000036. I don’t think that that number is worth instilling fear in my child for.

    Remember, I’m saying “child.” I fully plan to warn, role-play, etc, with my children when they are older about the different things you mention.

    I’m not saying – go be complacent; I’m saying – let’s put this in perspective.

    And I’m also not saying that as parents we shouldn’t be vigilent. For example, I still walk my daughter to the bus stop, I just don’t tell her all sorts of “stanger danger” things along the way. She just thinks I like to walk with her I guess. So, it’s a win-win. You can be vigilent without instilling unnecessary fear of our fellow humans.

  10. Jules…interesting post and I respect all the various opinions expressed in replies, however I am completely with you on this one. Of course, my views are based on my own personal experiences – which do not include having walked in the shoes of victim of abduction…or a parent of a child that has been taken.

    I admit, I sometimes find it difficult to find that healhy middle-ground between raising free-range kids and parnoid kids. From my own experiences I have learned that instilling fear of the ‘nasty world’ into a child can prevent them from living life and enjoying day to day activities, and may not prepare them for the ‘real world’ as they get into their late teens. Having kids ranging from 23 – 3, I have parented teens and am now parenting teens, elementary age and a toddler at the same time. I have learned that for me, and for my two younger children, the most effective way for all of us to enjoy life is for me to do my best to teach them how to deal with life’s possibilities…and educate them on the best way to handle things, and strategies to ‘keep safe’. Most importantly – I laugh and have fun times with my kids and stay involved their day to day lives – know what goes on in their days, who their friends are and all that goes in between.

    It was only over the last few months I have allowed my 8 year old son to ride his bicycle around the block (which is basically a courtyard) on his own…without my running beside him! The joy he gets from that – and the indpendence that he feels reassures me it is the right thing to do. He needs to start feeling trusted and responsible…and that he actually is more mature than his three year old brother! I was holding him back from natural rate of maturity I think!

    All that being said…I honestly do believe that part of the biggest problem is that things are not necessarily ‘more horrible than ever’ in our world now, but that we are so connected with media that we know EVERYTHING about EVERYONE nowadays! Sure – it’s great to be so aware of all that goes on day to day in our world but realistically – I am sure sick people always existed but without internet, tv, radio etc.. – how would one ever know about the child who was abducted in another province – let alone country? Also – I believe generations past, not all incidents were necessarily reported.

    As you reitterated, right or wrong – I do believe that statistics are important in putting things in perspective. Frankly, I think I am more fearful of my child being diagnosed with a terminal illness…or seriously injured in a car accident…that being taken by a stranger.

    Live, Love, Laugh….and Teach….

    Just my two cents!

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  1. […] reality is that our cities are safer now than they’ve ever been. The greatest risks to our children lie within our own four walls. Child abductions are almost […]

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