The “Stranger Danger” Message Must Go

Guest post by Jeff Griesemer, President and CEO of Child Rescue Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, abduction, and victimization. 

holding hands“Stranger Danger,” a phrase once believed to save children, is now thought to do more harm than good. The daunting expression was first spoken with the best of intentions more than 30 years ago and parents were terrified their children could be abducted at any moment.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 93 percent of children who are victimized actually know their abuser! By putting the focus on “strangers,” children are actually MORE susceptible to silently endure abuse from those they already know and trust. Instead of scaring children into silence, let’s help kids make safe, positive, self-esteem building decisions whether they are dealing with a cunning stranger or responding to a familiar face. Empowerment, not fear is the answer.

We must teach our kids how to recognize potentially dangerous situations and provide them with specific action plans on how to react if the need arises. We must also stress the critical importance of instilling a sense of confidence in our kids and give them an understanding and respect for personal boundaries.

Some basic tips to teach your kids:

  1. Don’t keep secrets: If an adult or older child asks your child to keep a secret, your child should say, “No, I don’t keep secrets from mom and dad.” That simple statement can actually stop a predator in his tracks as they often use secrets to test the boundaries of a child they are “grooming” for possible abuse.
  2. Family code word: At some point you may have to have someone pick up your child, as in the case of an emergency. By having a “family code word” you can empower your child to make the right decision. They simply keep their distance and ask for the code word. If the person knows the word, your child can feel safe knowing you sent the person. If that person doesn’t know the code word, your child should run to a safe place and tell a trusted adult. 
  3. If Lost, Play the Freeze Game: Have an action plan for those inevitable moments when you and your child may get separated, say in a crowded mall or theme park. Your child should simply stop, stay put and never go anywhere with anyone! As the parent, you should simply retrace your steps and you should find them quickly. This plan also eliminates the need for your child to try to determine who is good and who might be a threat. It doesn’t matter. If someone offers to help, your child should say, “I’m playing the Freeze Game until my mom and dad get back. Can you stay with me?”
  4. Alert others around them: Take the lost scenario one step further and teach your kids that if someone does ever try to force them to go somewhere to yell, “This is not my daddy, HELP!” A crying or even screaming child can be misinterpreted as a tantrum, but a child yelling for help will trigger a reaction from anyone nearby. 

You can discover more specific action plans you can teach your child to help protect them from sexual predators at

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