Talking to children about personal safety
You've likely heard the term "stranger danger" — the idea that children need to be wary of strangers. Did you know that many organizations, including the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), don't support the "stranger danger" message? Here's why: NCMEC says children do not fully understand the concept and are confused by the idea of "good" and "bad" strangers. They'll often describe a stranger as someone who is "ugly or mean" and don't perceive "nice-looking or friendly" people as strangers.
NCMEC suggests empowering children with positive messages and safety skills that "will not only build their self-esteem and self-confidence but also help keep them safer." This includes learning how to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations, as well as learning effective steps to remove themselves from situations.
It's important to teach children in a way that allows them to understand the situation without scaring them. Here are a few tips for parents:
- Instruct children to always join a friend when walking or biking to and from school.
- Teach children to never take shortcuts or go into isolated areas.
- Walk the route with your children, pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they need help. A safe place can be a police station, fire station or retail shop along the route.
- Make sure your children know that adults shouldn't ask children for help.
- Teach children to trust their feelings if they feel uncomfortable, scared or confused.
- Teach children that it's more important to get out of a threatening or uncomfortable situation than it is to be polite.
Discussion guides are available to offer age-appropriate messages and strategies.