Friday, June 06, 2008

Stranger Danger

It’s Imperative for Children to Understand the Difference Between Friend and Foe
By Rachel Goodchild

Trying to make sure their children understand the dangers of a stranger can be one of those times where parents send out mixed messages to their children.

On one hand, they are told not to speak to strangers or accept anything from them. On the other hand, they are suddenly told to go and give a stranger a kiss and stop being shy.

The latter case might be a family member, but to the child, he /she is a stranger the child has never met before. So what difference is this person to the stranger in the street?

To adults, there is no such confusion, but children are left wondering who they can trust and who they should avoid.

Also, the definition of a stranger has changed over the years, and many will not be seen as strangers in the eyes of a child. Let’s look at a situation that might happen.

A person comes to your children’s school; it is assumed he/she is a parent of one of the children. The person might speak to the other adults and gain their confidence, but never quite saying which child is his/hers.

Slowly, the person speaks to your children while you are around: it might be a simple hello but because your children have been taught to speak to people you know, they now think this stranger is someone they can talk to.

One day, the person pulls out an iPhone or other new gadget that has your children looking with eyes popping out of their heads. They’re allowed to play with it, something they can’t do at home.

Suddenly, he pounces – come and see what I have in the car, you can play with this all you like – and too late, the true identity of the stranger is seen.

Children need to know what you mean by a stranger. They need to have clear boundaries so they know who they can trust.

What happens when your car breaks down and you can’t collect them from school? Someone offers to go on your behalf and you know they will be safe, but do they know? Are they going to get in this person’s car because the person says you sent him/her? What happens the next time when someone else who you didn’t send says the same thing?

Or what if a stranger at the school gate tries to buy them an ice cream on a very hot day? The person says their friend is his/her son.

Now do you see how you need to set boundaries and make sure your children don’t cross over them.

What happens if the person pretends to work for the police? He/she might even flash an ID card, but how many adults know what an ID card looks like, let alone a child?

Children need to know who to trust, and they need to know what to do if someone wants them to believe in them blindly.

They need to know what to do if everybody is looking at the latest iPhone, and even if they want to have a go, be prepared to walk away if that keeps them safe.

They need to know what might happen without making them paranoid and frightened.

Define the boundaries, and then keep to them yourself. Help your child develop that sense of safety, and be vigilant at all times.

The art of parenting
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Page 25

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