For decades, “Stranger Danger” has been the myth we teach our children. The simple, rhyming warning is designed to make kids wary of the stereotypical predator. You know, the man in the trench coat with pockets full of candy? He’s driving a windowless van past an elementary school.
Unfortunately, many child predators are much more sophisticated than that. And for the majority of abused or abducted kids, the predator is someone they already know.
Who Should Kids Trust?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has been trying to ditch “Stranger Danger” for years. “It’s just this one phrase, blanket statement, but it really doesn’t fit all scenarios and that’s why we want to re-think stranger danger,” child advocate Callahan Walsh explained to ABC News.
Walsh says that the warning misses a key part of training kids to respond to dangerous situations. If they need help and their caregiver isn’t available for whatever reason, then finding an adult they can trust could be vital. Child safety experts are now emphasizing the idea that kids should look for adults with certain safety markers.
For example, a parent with other kids, a person in a uniform with a badge. A store employee wearing a name tag could all be more trustworthy than a random stranger.
Raising Fearful Kids
Some parents have criticized the outdated message because it teaches children to be afraid of everyone they don’t know. British schoolteacher Suzie Morgan told the BBC that the warning backfired with her six-year-old son.
“He got frightened and confused, couldn’t sleep at night and was worried somebody was breaking into the house,” according to Morgan. The UK messaging about stranger danger was very similar to that in America during the 70s through the 90s.
An updated method being tried out in the UK is “Clever Never Goes.” It gets a bit lost in translation, but the idea is that smart kids recognize the moment of danger is when someone asks them to leave their location and go somewhere else. The BBC reports that this is called “the lure” by law enforcement.
Common examples are a stranger asking for help finding a lost puppy or offering a ride home in bad weather. In the latter example, in particular, kids might become easily confused if the person behind the wheel is familiar to them. It might be a neighbor or family friend, not a stranger at all. However, unless the ride has been prearranged, kids shouldn’t get in a car regardless of whether they know the person driving.
The other big difference in the UK safety program is that the instructional videos show both men and women as potential predators. In earlier decades, the examples only ever showed men as threats.