There are few things parents universally agree on. Few things that we all teach our children. One possible exception is Stranger Danger. We disagree on what should be included in history curriculum, methods for teaching math and whether or not sex education should be taught in schools. But, has anyone ever opted out of having their child hear the Stranger Danger talk?
Yes, as a society, we seem to agree on this one. From the time our children can walk, we begin teaching them about strangers. Barney sings about Stranger Danger, The Berenstain Bears teach Stranger Danger in one of their books. In our community, we have a preschool program called Safety Town that includes a lesson on the topic.
Once they start school, there are assemblies, guest speakers, role playing and more!
“NEVER GO TO SOMEONE’S CAR! They might want to show you puppies or offer you candy. It doesn’t matter! NEVER GO TO SOMEONE’S CAR!”
“If someone ever approaches you when you’re at the bus stop or in the yard playing, DON’T GO TO THEM! Get in the house! Call for your parents! DON’T GO TO THEM!”
How many times have your children heard that message and from how many different sources? Dozens and dozens and dozens, right? Yep. Mine, too. You think you have it covered? You think they know what to do? Yep. Me, too.
Until this afternoon.
We live on a quiet little street. Second house from the end in our U shaped neighborhood. My kids and the neighbor kids run back and forth from one house to the next almost every day. Today, my 10 year old girl, 13 year old boy and three girls from the neighborhood were all playing in our front yard. I was in the back of the house cooking dinner. Our dog started going crazy! I know that bark. It means someone’s here. Might be another dog or a person, but someone is definitely on her turf!
I walked into the living room to look out the window. What I saw was a man walking away and toward his car parked on the street in front of my house. My daughter was coming toward the house with a flyer in her hand.
She came in and said, ”Mom this guy said to give this to you.” It was a political flyer for a state candidate.
I asked her what was wrong with what just happened. She gave me a blank stare. I pressed on a bit more directly by asking what she should do when she’s approached by a stranger. Light began to dawn a little. She tried to make it better.
“Oh, he didn’t approach me.”
Realization began to settle on me like a lead weight on my shoulders. The rest of the exchange went like this:
Me: “He didn’t come into the yard?” Her: “No.”
Me: “Where was he?” Her: “In the street.”
Me: “Where were you?” Her: “In the front yard.”
Me: “What part of the front yard?” Her: “The middle.”
Me: “I’m pretty sure his arms aren’t long enough to hand you this flyer from that distance.”
Talk about a teachable moment! I immediately went outside and talked to all of the kids about what happened and what should have happened.
Next, I called the phone number on the flyer and left a message. I’m pleased to say I received a return call within 10 minutes. The volunteer is a college kid. He’s not a parent. Didn’t occur to him that it was an issue. They called him right away and he also had his teachable moment.
The more I thought about it the more I realized that all the talks, all the speakers, all the books, videos, coloring pages, role playing haven’t been enough. Had this been a predator, she would have been gone in an instant and her brother and three friends would have been standing there in shock.
And, it didn’t take candy, or puppies or balloons. It was a boring political flyer!
We talked as a family about it at dinner. My daughter said something so simple but yet, profound,
“Well, it never happened before so I forgot what to do.”
After she said this, I told the family I was glad this happened. The guy, though lacking some common sense, meant no harm. But it wasn’t role playing, it was real.
Many of us practice fire drills in our families. Maybe we should practice stranger drills with people we, as adults know, but our kids don’t. They’ll probably make the wrong choice and we can have our teachable moments.
Maybe then kids, including my daughter, can say, “It’s happened before and I know what to do.” Maybe then, someone other than the dog will know what to do!
Note: By suggesting stranger danger drills, I am in no way suggesting the drill involve anything scary, like trying to get the kid into a car or actually taking the child. I’m suggesting the set-up of a situation in which the child always feels safe and it can be talked about after the fact like what happened in the unplanned, real-life episode we experienced.