So a good friend of mine Fiona wrote this post yesterday. I started writing a reply in the comments and it got so freaking big that I decided to make it a post of my own. I want to make it very clear that I do not intend this to be an opposing argument to Fi’s, more of an accompanying one. We are both aiming to keep our kids safe and raise them well. She asked for opinions at the end of her post and this is mine.
This is definitely something I have an opinion about, so excuse me while I soap box a second:
We’ve touched on two words I really hate – Stranger Danger.
Teaching our children to judge someones character and trustworthiness based on whether they recognize them or not is wrong. Simply wrong. There are cases of a child lost in the wilderness who AVOIDED RESCUERS because he was scared of them – “Brennan told us he thought that he was going to die three times, and he said a prayer asking God for directions. His biggest fear was being abducted, so when he spotted rescuers on horseback, he stayed hidden.“ And he isn’t the only one. This girl “had heard men yelling for her earlier, but was scared to approach them. When she heard the women calling out her name, she yelled back.”
(Little sidenote: interesting how in that last article they mention that “Initially, a report of a suspicious vehicle spotted earlier in the day at the Charlestown Breachway — a 1996 green Subaru station wagon with a bike rack, with Vermont license plates, driven by a man with dark hair and a mustache — was linked to the case.”, even though it has no baring on the final outcome, and is a great example of how quick people are to blame a ‘bad man’ and jump to rare conclusions instead of looking at the most likely danger.)
I realize that these are extreme examples but they really represent my point – Just because a person is a stranger, doesn’t mean they are a danger. And teaching our kids to distrust everyone that they don’t know, simply because they don’t know them is REALLY dangerous. Instead you should teach them how to judge strangers. What if your kid gets separated from you in a big shopping centre? What should they do? What have you taught your kids to do? My dad taught me to find a friendly looking employee. I could tell they worked there because they would have a name badge. A female one would be more likely to help me but a friendly looking male one would probably help too. Say “I’ve lost my dad, can you put a call out for him over the loudspeakers” (I’m probably gonna update this to “this is my mum’s phone number, can you call her and tell her I’m here” for my kids) And if I couldn’t find a friendly employee then a friendly looking mum with kids was a good bet too. So basically, I was taught how to recognize the people most likely to help me, but to still trust my instincts on who to trust or not.
I am going to teach my children, as I was taught, to trust their instincts.
Of course there are warning signs and other things to teach as well, especially when it comes to dealing with people the child doesn’t recognize, like – I would only send a person you know to pick you up from school, you should never give out personal information like your last name, phone number or address, and never, ever, ever, get in a strangers car, EVER. Even just to look at something, or get out of the sun/rain, NEVER. And if anyone pressures you into doing any of those things it is absolutely not ok.
But I believe, most of all, that gut instinct is key, not black and white absolutes. Once the child has been given the ground rules then they should be able to feel whether the person, or the situation, is funky. I was taught to trust those instincts and I used them all through out my teenage years and early 20’s to judge situations, and get out before something happened.
Because that’s the next thing I was taught – if you don’t wanna be there, if you don’t like this person, you don’t have to stay. Leave. Say “Excuse me, I don’t feel comfortable, I’m going”, and leave. Don’t answer any more questions, don’t turn back around. If s/he comes after you, run. If s/he touches you, fight. And this counts for ABSOLUTELY ANYONE. I don’t care if it’s your teacher, your pastor, your babysitter, your coach, your uncle, the lovely lady that gives you extra sprinkles at the ice shop, ANYONE.
Because we have to face the statistical fact that the people we know and trust are the ones more likely to abuse our kids. Strangers actually pose a very small risk. So teaching your children to judge strangers is very important, after all they are faced with them everyday, not just to avoid those random psycho child-nappers, but so they can best find help when needed.
But the people we know are actually more likely to harm our children.
That is why I think the more important lesson is – No one is aloud to touch you if you don’t feel comfortable being touched by them, or make you do something that feels wrong. And you are allowed to fight to keep them away from you. No matter who it is, no matter what uniform they wear, no matter how young or old they are, no matter whether they know me, or you, or not, you are allowed to protect yourself.
Unfortunately my family didn’t have the resources to send me to self defense classes, but my dad taught me a few simple things: Your mouth is your best weapon, you can scream and you can bite. No matter how big and strong the other person is if you bite them as hard as you can it WILL hurt them. You scream and you yell. If you are in a public place with other people then you yell “you’re not my dad/mum, I don’t know you, let me go, don’t take me”. If you’re in private you scream anyway because it will put the attacker off. Never get into a car or get taken to another place if you can help it. Fight tooth and nail to prevent it. If someone tries to grab you while you’re riding your bike, don’t let go of the bike. It makes you 30kgs heavier and much harder to fit in a backseat or boot. Brace your arms and legs against the side of the vehicle, kick as much as possible, your legs are stronger than your arms. Aim for the eyes and the throat. If you end up in a boot anyway yell and pound on the lid whenever the car is not moving and fiddle around with any wires you can find, you can mess up their rear lights and that will draw the attention of other motorists or hopefully a cop, and a lot of boots have release catches on the inside as well, so you might find that. A lot of people will give up once they realize that it’s going to be difficult
A fair bit of that advise best applies to ‘Stranger Danger’ situations but it works across the board.
Overall, no matter what you teach your kids, I believe these lessons should instill the idea in the child s/he is strong, capable, prepared, and, perhaps most important of all, trusted.
This is why one of the most vital lessons that I am going to teach my kids is – If anyone ever tells you that you have to keep something a secret, that I’ll be mad if you tell me, that I will blame you or that I won’t believe you, it’s not true. I will always believe you. I will never be mad at you. I will never blame you. I will be on your side.