How to deal with strangers? We’ve seen and heard the stories in the news, on crime dramas and even from friends. Child abductions, paedophilia, even maternal psychological conditions that lead to women believing other people’s children to be their own. As parents, we treat any and every of such stories dead seriously, but are we scaring ourselves — and our children — into a corner?
Protecting our children will always be the foremost priority. But existing perceptions of “stranger-danger” builds itself around a stereotyped shady-looking person whose sole purpose in life is to take away your child and do bad things to him or her.
Reality check: I’m not that person. And neither is more than 99.9998% of the Singapore population (or just about anywhere else), the last time I checked anywhere outside my house.
In fact, teaching your child about stranger-danger based on popular concepts may end up harming your child’s social development — and may even put your child in more danger. We explain and bust three major myths of stranger-danger so you can be the judge.
Myth 1: Don’t talk to strangers
Strangers are everywhere. They can be the neighbours that never say hi, casual shoppers in malls, hawkers selling you chicken rice, and even fill up an entire classroom on your child’s first day at school. Teaching your child not to talk to strangers will instill a fear of socialising within your child, when in reality, your child will need to learn to deal with strangers for the rest of his or her life.
Myth 2: Don’t go anywhere on your own
Part of a child’s learning and development depends on the ability to explore the world around him or her, with or without parental supervision. At some point your child will be old enough to take care of him- or herself, but before then, cautioning your child not to venture out on his or her own will only delay the process, and is also a major cause of parent-child attachment issues.
Myth 3: Stranger-danger is everywhere
Our media will play up missing children reports, not only for the sake of finding these children, but also because the drama draws more eyeballs. Similarly, local authorities will always caution for us to err on the side of safety, simply because it is the foolproof way of cutting down such incidents. Based on police statistics, though 3000 missing persons reports are filed annually, only 0.0002% of Singapore’s resident population remain missing every year, most of whom are adults and/or runaways, and not kidnap victims.
In fact, your child will much more likely be harmed or abducted by a known relative or family acquaintance than a stranger. But given that kidnapping is a crime punishable by death in Singapore, chances of your child being abducted is extremely slim given the risk the would-be abductor has to place on his life for the act.
We share some sensible insights by Lenore Skenazy, host of the radical parenting show “World’s Worst Mom,” who also helps reconnect worried parents with reality in her book, Free-Range Kids.
Teach your child to interact with strangers
Outside of your own family and social circle, the world is mostly made up of strangers, and in reality, we’re really all good people who just think your child is adorable.
In her book, Lenore categorically states that “(the) ‘Don’t trust anyone!’ lesson could conceivably end up making (a child) less safe”. In the event that a child does encounter a predator, he or she won’t be equipped with the social understanding that calling for help from other strangers and attracting attention is a viable option.
“The safest kids are the confident kids”
So says Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. His organisation provides a solution based on studying children successfully escaping abduction attempts — the kids did it by kicking and screaming, a reaction that children with reservations about themselves would probably not think of doing. Allen also mentions that this is the “same techniques you’d use to resist peer pressure over drugs or bullies or gangs.”
You are the precedent
Remember your own childhood and compare it to your own child’s time. “Forty years ago,” Lenore says, “the majority of U.S. children walked or biked to school. Today, about 10 percent do. Meantime, 70 percent of today’s moms say they played outside as kids. But only 31 percent of their kids do.”
Lenore’s Free-Range Kids movement seeks to ensure parents around the world that the world is a much safer place than the media — or we — make it out to be. But more importantly, it’s also about giving our children the childhood they deserve, full of play and none of the worry, just as we had when we were kids.