Stranger Danger programs have been taught for decades. Still, all
the evidence shows that children go willingly with strangers. Why?
Because children don't hear what adults think they are saying.
Reducing children's vulnerability requires that parents and children
have basic information about stranger offenders and how they
behave. It includes understanding what children believe about
strangers and how that makes them more vulnerable. This chapter
will help parents and children develop specific ground rules to
enhance personal safety around strangers.
WHO ARE STRANGER OFFENDERS?
Stranger offenders (hereafter called offenders) are people who
abduct and/or abuse children they don't know. They do not seek
a relationship with the child, as do abusers who know the child.
Instead, they see children as objects for their use. They view
children as weak, helpless, defenseless victims who can easily be
manipulated to fulfill the offenders' needs.
These offenders range from the passive exhibitionist to the sadistic
murderer. Bribery, flattery, treats and requests for help are
common tricks they use to engage children. While some strangers
will actually snatch a child away, this rarely happens. Most
children are lured into a seemingly innocent situation with someone
who acts like a "nice" person.
Of particular concern are those pedophiles who "hang out" in
places where they have access to children, fast food restaurants,
arcades, malls, movies, mini-markets, etc. These offenders will
engage a child, molest them in the bathroom or other readily
available area and then release the child. These perpetrators tend
to prefer boys and report molesting hundreds of children in this
Because there is no way to anticipate who these offenders are or
what they will do, the best defense is to keep unsupervised
children away from strangers. This is first and foremost the
responsibility of parents and other responsible adults. But children
also need to be educated, to learn rules that will reduce their risk
when adult efforts to protect them fail.
THE CHILD'S POINT OF VIEW
Strangers have been the focus of so much of our concern for our
children's safety that most children have a pretty distorted sense of
who and what strangers are. What we've said about strangers
makes sense to us, but doesn't usually make sense to them.
Children believe that the world is divided into two types of people:
good guys and bad guys. We've traditionally taught them that the
ones they need to worry about and watch out for are the bad
guys. (Don't take candy from strangers; beware of strangers;
stranger danger.) Of course, this is as impossible for children as it
is for adults.
Teaching children to be afraid of strangers not only doesn't work
very well, it is frightening. When we say things like, "Don't talk to
strangers or get in their car because they might take you away and
we'd never see you again." we scare children without protecting
THE SAFE CHILD APPROACH
Instead of using fear tactics, the
approach will teach
you how to give your children specific guidelines and information
to limit their vulnerability while maintaining their ability to move
freely in their everyday lives.
Help your children to understand that there is no way to tell
by the way someone looks how they are on the inside.
about stereotypes. They should know that judging someone by
their appearance is a mistake. Children need to learn about
strangers: not any one type of stranger in particular, but strangers
in general, so that they can apply the safety rules.
The rules I teach children regarding strangers build upon two
simple ideas. The first is that there is only one person who is
with you all the time, who can be responsible for keeping
you safe, all the time. That person is you.
The second basic idea is that when children are alone, it is
their job to take care of themselves. It is not their job to take
care of the adults in the world. If an adult needs assistance, they
need to get it from another adult, not from a child.
One of the primary ways children get hurt with strangers is by
being friendly and helpful. If they understand that taking care of
themselves is their first priority when they're alone, they have
permission to ignore or deny adult requests for assistance.
Our goal is to have clear, concrete rules that prevent problem
situations, that enable children to function safely and that still
allow them to perceive the world as a fundamentally safe and
THE STRANGER RULES CHECKLIST
A stranger is anyone you don't know. You can't tell
the good guys from the bad guys by how they look.
You are responsible for keeping yourself safe when
you're by yourself.
You are responsible for taking care of yourself, not for
grownups. Adults who need help should go to another adult.
Instinct is nature's way of talking to you - listen to that
The 4 stranger rules you should always follow when
you're not with an adult who it taking care of you are:
1. Stay an arms reach plus away from strangers.
Stand up, back up and run to someone who can
help you if you feel afraid.
Rule # 1
2. Don't talk to strangers.
3. Don't take anything from strangers - not even
your own things.
4. Don't go anywhere with someone you don't
You can't do it alone.
Protecting children from abuse and
abduction by strangers is a partnership between you and your
children. If you teach your children about strangers as positively
and clearly as you teach them to cross the street, they will not only
have a healthier attitude about the world, they will be safer.