Education Bug - a complete listing of educational resources

Follow EducationBug on Twitter

Stranger Danger

Child safety is something most people worry about. Read this article to learn more about stranger danger and why the often repeated message (Don't Talk to Strangers) may not be keeping your child safe. What are the cons of stranger danger?

Trying to figure out how to keep children safe in the twenty-first century is unquestionably a challenge. A number of programs and guides exist to protect children from a range of dangerous situations and substances, including tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Other programs focus on sensitizing children so that they do not cause danger to others through actions and words that exhibit prejudice or other negative responses. One of the controversial programs in this category is the one commonly referred to as “stranger danger.”

What Is Stranger Danger?

Stranger Danger is a campaign to keep children safe by warning them about the danger of interacting with unknown people. Good stranger danger programs place such warnings in context, by enumerating specific actions by strangers - such as offers of a ride or a request to keep a secret or the offer of a gift - that children should watch out for. Well thought-out programs also encourage children to leave situations that make them uncomfortable, providing specific recommendations for what children should do if they find themselves in a scary situation or with an unknown person that they find scary. This includes a range of options, which - a crime prevention organization - makes memorable with the mnemonic: No, Go, Yell, Tell. This means that a child is advised to say no, run away, yell for help, and tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.

Cons of Stranger Danger

The fact is, meeting and getting to know people is part of life. And this means that there are two big problems with carrying out instruction in stranger danger in the way that most good programs work: modeling the behavior that you want to see your child engage in and setting realistic expectations. The fact is that parents who are psychologically healthy cannot model the behavior that they ask children to follow. And another obvious problems with Stranger Danger is that children, of necessity, come in contact with strangers whom they should treat with respect and thoughtfulness, not fear and wariness. Every time they go to a grocery store or library, and even in their school classrooms if they’re in a large enough school that they don’t know everyone, children constantly meet strangers.

In addition, studies have shown that children may not have a good concept of which people should be treated as strangers. They may unconsciously exclude from this category friends of people they know and people who look or seem to be safe, like elders or parents of their friends. They may also confuse what they consider to be dangerous-looking - which could include people from different cultures and who dress and comport themselves differently than the child and his or her family does - with unknown, which means that - regardless of attire, mien, or background, they are not a member of your social circle.

Moreover, the concept of Stranger Danger can actually prove dangerous. The National Safety Director of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has reported that Stranger Danger may have led in at least one case to a child avoiding rescuers because he had been taught that he should not talk to strangers.

Stranger Danger can also, unfortunately, lead to fear of the world at large. This can progress to generalized anxiety about life, where there is thought to be constant menace around every corner.

But perhaps the most convincing argument about inculcating Stranger Danger rhetoric is that it is ineffective in producing the desired results. According to statistics reported by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), which is administered by an office of the U.S. Department of Justice, juvenile kidnappings are overwhelming perpetrated by people who are known to the child. The largest group (49%) are kidnappings by a family member. Twenty-seven percent are committed by acquaintances. Twenty-four percent are committed by strangers. These figures indicate that keeping children safe is more a matter of helping them know how to deal with dangerous situations, than it is teaching them to avoid all strangers on principle.