HKQ Kids

Stranger Danger

Part of growing up is becoming more independent from your parents. Whether it’s walking to the bus stop in the morning or getting to use the computer on their own, these are freedoms that kids deserve and ultimately need in order to grow into a self-reliant adult. Unfortunately, there are people in the world who take advantage of these moments when kids aren’t under their parents’ supervision.  “Stranger danger” is a key phrase that kids ought to know, but there’s more to it than just a rhyme: here are some tips and strategies for dealing with times when strangers are near.

  • The idea of a family “code word” is one that has been proven to prevent would-be child abductions. Come up with a word that only your kid(s) and select family members know (it can even be something fun so your kids have an easier time remembering). In the event of an interaction with someone who is unfamiliar to a child but is perhaps pretending to be a family friend or distant relative, instruct your child to request the "code word" from them as a way to alert the child as to whether or not the person can be trusted. Make sure your kids understand that even if the person claims to be a “friend of your parents” or that there’s some sort of an emergency, the code word is absolutely necessary; if they don’t know the word, get help.
  • Speaking of asking for help -- this is one time where you want your kids to yell and be as loud as possible! Potential abductors likely don’t have a plan for when children yell and draw attention to situations. Kids should be loud and clear when they don’t know the person who’s talking to them; yelling things like “I don’t know you!” sets the situation apart from an ordinary-looking temper tantrum in the eyes of passers-by. Getting the attention of bystanders makes it more likely that your child will receive help.
  • The concept of “stranger danger” extends to the online world too, of course. Make sure you know what websites your kids are using, and make sure they know that the Internet is no different: don’t talk to strangers. Additionally, be cautious of smart TVs, online games and any webcams you may have in your home. Be aware of the games your kids are playing and who they may be talking to in these games, whether through text or voice chat. Don’t allow them to message or video chat with anyone you don’t know. Make sure they know not to share private information on social media and consider setting up a firewall to block inappropriate and dangerous content on the Internet. (For more on this topic, check out our article on Internet safety here: http://www.hkqkids.org/editorials/011119-Internet-Safety-For-Kids/
  • Make sure your kids know to never accept any gift from a stranger, and to never get in a stranger’s car. In the event that a car is following your child, teach them to run in the opposite direction that the car is driving in. This gives them more time to find help and safety.
  • Kids should know where to seek help when they feel they’re in danger. If they’re old enough to have a cell phone, remind them that this would be the time to call 911. Younger kids should be taught to recognize police officers as trustworthy figures.
  • Personalized items and clothing are a nice idea, but they also carry unintended consequences. Something like a backpack with your kid’s name on it unfortunately makes it easier for a stranger to build trust with your child. 

Above all, always keep the lines of communication with your kids open and clear. Although it can be challenging at times, try to keep a watchful eye on your kids while you are out. A good rule of thumb is to tell your kids to stay where you can see them; additionally, they should always be able to see you. As for protecting your kids in the digital world, utilize parent-watch technology on their cell phones and desktop activity to make sure they are safe. There are a variety of apps that allow you to track your child’s cell phone’s location through GPS technology. Some apps, like one called Bark, monitor and analyze the text messages and social media content that your child interacts with, and is capable of alerting you when something may be out of the ordinary. It’s not an invasion of privacy: it’s parenting.
 
For more safety tips, go to HKQKids.org or find us on Facebook.

A special thanks to teacher and advisor Rachel Martin and her students Katie and Stephanie for reaching out to us. Their suggestions helped contribute to this article!