Why I Don’t Teach Stranger Danger

This past week has been emotionally draining. The city I consider home suffered a tragic loss. A sweet little girl was abducted and murdered in Springfield, MO. It all happened in about a 4 hour period although the investigation is, obviously, still on going. It is scary how fast it all played out. The suspect is in custody, but that doesn’t mean mommies and daddies feel any safer. This evil man worked for the school district and coached sports. He was around children every day. There are so many questions. How did he manage to work for the school for so long? Are there other victims of his cruelty? What made him do this? Why? Why? Why? Why did this have to happen? Well, I am not even going to try to answer those questions but I am going to address Stranger Danger because that seems to be a running theme in my Facebook news feed.

Parents, understandably, want to protect their children. I have seen people write that they are scared to let their kids play outside now. I totally understand this. However, does this benefit our children? Does it teach them to be safe? Does it teach them to live in fear? Do we really want them living in fear?
I can’t not let my kids play outside. They would think I was punishing them. I also can’t be out there at all times. I have house work to do, dinner to cook, and a baby to care for. Kids need fresh air, they need to run, they need freedom. Yes, children need freedom. They will never learn if they are not allowed to try and figure it out on their own. They need to make mistakes. My job is to do that in a controlled environment without being controlling. AGH! How do I do this when I am scared to let them out of my sight? I equip them. I fill them with knowledge and pray they don’t forget what I teach them. I can’t live in fear because that fear will suffocate me and my children. There has to be a point I simply trust. It isn’t easy, but no one ever said being a parent was easy. It is most definitely not for the faint at heart.

So how did I deal with this tragedy? How do I equip my children? Will this tragedy change how I parent? Well, that last question is easy. Yes, it changed me. It made me realize I need to stop assuming my kids remember safety rules and I need to make sure I repeat them frequently. I need to make sure they really understand the rules we have established. I will not, however, stop my kids from being independent. They will still be allowed outside without me. I currently do not live in Springfield so maybe I still have a false sense of security. I don’t know about that though because seeing the pictures of familiar locations made me feel like I was being suffocated. I was scared. I was sick to my stomach. I felt like I was back home. We have every intention of moving back to Springfield as soon as possible. This tragedy has not changed our love for Springfield, our trust in the police department there, nor the fact we still believe Springfield really is a great place to raise our children.

I did not immediately tell my children a little girl had been kidnapped in our home city. Why worry them? They are children. They deserve to live without fear and worrying and right now my kids have enough on their plates (that is a different post for a different day though). That night I didn’t sleep well. I kept praying that things would work out well. Little did I know arrests were being made and a body had been found 😦 I woke up the next morning and the first thing I did was check my Facebook for updates. The first post told me the worst had happened. I have to tell my kids…Why? I have to tell them because they notice when I am worried, scared, and stressed and they deserve to know why. They deserve to know they did nothing wrong. They also deserve to know why Mommy has changed the lesson plan of the day to be all about safety and why I can’t stop hugging them and telling them I love them. They need to be equipped.

The conversation went something like this:
“A little girl was stranger abducted yesterday in Springfield and she was found dead.” I was a bit more sensitive than this and I gently answered all their questions without going into details they did not need to know. “Do you know what Stranger Danger is?” They gave me various answers.
“Is it OK to talk to strangers?” They all said no. “Well, I am telling you it is OK to talk to strangers.”

Let me stop here because I know many of you are probably picking your jaws up off the floor. That’s right. I despise the term Stranger Danger. I feel it teaches the kids to live in fear and seclusion. It teaches distrust. I even feel it can teach rudeness. I think it is perfectly OK to talk to strangers. It is all about the situation though. OK, back to the conversation and you will see where I am going with all of this.

“If you are at a store you can talk to people you don’t know. Say hi, ask which aisle something is in, ask a pregnant momma when she is due, ask someone in a wheel chair if they need help getting something off a shelf, tell someone you like their shirt, say excuse me, make eye contact. Be polite. Be friendly. It is OK to talk to strangers!
What is not OK is not using the buddy system and it is not OK to go with a stranger. Do not help a stranger find a pet or show you something in their car. Do not accept anything from them unless mom and dad say so. Is it OK to go into the car of someone you do know?” They all said yes.
“NO! Not unless you have our permission! Did you know that most abductions happen from someone you know? Friends and family are more likely to kidnap you than a stranger. What happened in Springfield is NOT common! I do not want you to be scared though. If you are smart you can take steps to significantly reduce the chance of something bad happening.”
Yes, this is exactly how I talk to my kids. I do not underestimate their understanding and if they have no clue what I am saying they tell me.

We then did scenarios. I was the abductor. They all did great except Princess. She really struggled because I was trying to get her to come close to me to see the little kitty in my hands. She knew my hands were empty but she was really struggling. She really wanted to see that kitty! It was actually kind of funny but I managed to stay serious and was thrilled when she finally shouted “No!” and ran away from me.
C-Dog was funny.
Me: “Hey! My son is in the back seat and he says he knows you. Maybe you played sports together? Come on over and say hi to him!”
C-Dog: “What’s his name?” Me: “Mike” C-dog: “Mike what?” Me: “Smith. Come on he really wants to say hi. He says he knows you.” C-Dog: “I know no Mike Smith. See ya!” and off he ran.

Bug is 12 so I thought I would test him on going with someone he knows since this is the more likely scenario. I kept trying to convince him it would be “alright” and that “your mom told me you could come with me” and “Come on! You know me!” etc. He kept saying “My parents didn’t give me permission.” He finally said “OK I need to walk away now so I don’t get in trouble with my parents. Thanks for offering a ride though.”

Elf did great also. She was very firm in her “no” when I offered candy and wouldn’t come closer to my “truck” when I said “I can’t hear you, can you come closer?” She instead yelled “Sorry! I will not do that!”

We also reviewed why Mark and I are always saying “Buddy system!” We talked about why the yard boundaries I have set are so important. I discussed with them about how to take visual information in. Notice how people look, car type, plate numbers. I am going to test them with this. I am going to make it a game. I am going to pick random cars in parking lots and get them to remember details about it and when we leave the store have them tell me as many details as possible. I am also going to do this with random people we see. This will be great in developing their memory and it will be a great skill if ever needed. We also discussed who do we go to if we need help. They know that they are to go to an adult (mom, dad, grandma,etc) who has children with them. They know a uniform doesn’t always mean safety, but that other children usually does.

Overall, I think my kids are ready to play outside without me hovering. Granted Princess still needs work, but she is only 4 so she has less freedom than the others anyway.  I also think they do not associate strangers with danger, but rather are equipped to be polite yet safe. I am still scared but sometimes we have to let go and trust.