Talking to Your Kids About “Strangers” — Choose the Right Words

So I’m gonna get all serious here for a moment …

… about a notice that came home in my daughter’s backpack the other day.

It was from the Atlanta Public School system, informing parents that there had been recently reported abduction attempts near multiple school properties (though not ON school property, and not necessarily on OUR school property).

I must admit, I was a little surprised by how fast my heart was beating after reading the first couple of lines. You hear the statistics, that the majority of abduction attempts are by a relative or friend, rather than a stranger. That it can happen in any community, city or suburb. Public school or private. But, still … there it was. Too close to home.

We’ve talked to our kids about safety over the years. We’ve role-played a bit. They took a class at preschool. We even found this great video, The Safe Side, that delivers serious, practical safety tips in, believe it or not, a pretty hilarious way. Our kids really got into it and still occasionally select it from our “movie book” — which includes the likes of “Despicable Me” (1 and 2) and, now, “Frozen.” That’s right. “Frozen.”


Yes, this is a photo set-up. That’s Riley. There is no one in the nondescript van she is obliviously walking toward. I checked.


41avyb8oedLIn the video, the “Safe Side Superchick” separates adults into categories (“safe side adults” vs. “don’t knows” vs. “kinda knows”) and explains how kids should approach each. We’ve all heard the phrase “stranger danger,” but most now agree it’s an ineffective message for kids since most incidents occur with an adult the child knows or is familiar with (but that’s a topic for another post).

But I think the question for a lot of parents is how far do you go with the whole safety thing? And how do you know it’s really sinking in? The experts encourage role-playing. They also will warn you not to scare your child. Of course. But what do you do when you’ve got the little social butterfly who will mosey on up to chat with just about any Joe Schmoe on the playground willing to listen? Or the independent big kid who feels “big enough” to walk across the neighborhood alone? Is a little fear a good thing?

I know a few parents who tend to back away from it all — afraid they might go overboard and frighten their kids, or teach them to be generally untrustworthy people. Or who are under the impression that they live in a “safe” neighborhood, and the statistics don’t really apply to them.

It’s a balance, for sure.

What do you think? What do you tell your kids? And how often do you repeat it?


gr_safesideLogoHere are some safety tips for kids when they are out and about without supervision:

1. Develop a buddy system and walk in groups with at least 2-3 other kids. Never walk alone. Parents should walk with children when possible.

2. Plan the most direct route with the fewest street crossings. Never walk through alleys or across vacant lots, or go in or near abandoned houses.

3. Don’t talk on the phone or wear headphones while walking.

4. Be aware at all times, especially when walking by adults or people in or near cars (where they may pretend to be hurt or need help and try to grab or lure children in).

5. Never accept rides or speak to strangers (or even people you “kind of know”), even if they ask for directions, help or information. Or offer money, candy or gifts.

6. Report any abduction attempts to parents, as well as the police or school administrators, immediately.