Stranger Danger, everyone from your mom to Barney the dinosaur warns kids around the globe, watch out for strangers! One of the things everybody tends to forget it that the idea you want to convey isn’t always the message the other person hears. Stranger Danger tells kids that the world is a big, bad, scary place, full of Bad Guys. Imagine being programmed with fear throughout your childhood. (Add this to the list of reasons schooling is bad for your kids).
I have many issues with the whole Stranger Danger movement. One of the biggest is that it’s for the parents. Let’s use a few euphemisms and be politely diplomatic for a second here – Stranger Danger is BULLSHIT, dangerous for your kids, and a fucked up way to allow parents to behave irresponsibly without realising it. Now that I’ve pissed off my target audience and closed their logical brains off to the possibility of actually processing what I’m going to tell you (i.e. how to keep your kid safe), let’s go on.
Learning to swim
So from the day my wife pee’d on a stick and it turned whatever colour it does to say “Your pregnant!”, after I got over saying “Oh boy!” a lot, I wanted my kid to know how to swim (and do everything else in the world too, but swimming was way up there on the list). Hands up all you parents and one day going to be parents who are worried about your kid drowning? My hand is up and both my kids swim like absolute fish. So what would you say if I told you the best way to make sure your kid doesn’t drown is to tell your kid, every day, that water is dangerous and you must stay away from it? Take a moment, decide if this would be an effective way to keep your kid safe from water or not. No. I would think the best way is to help your kid learn how to swim. Your child might one day end up at a pool party without you. Or come across a puddle. What will they do then if they’ve only ever been told “Water Danger!”?
Walking around puddles
There are 2 big differences between teaching your kids to swim and telling them Stranger Danger. The first is that you undermine the very lesson you hope to impart to your kid. If you taught you kid Water Danger for 7 years, what’s she supposed to think when she sees you walk around a puddle of rainwater without showing any fear? Or go swimming as if it was nothing? Same thing goes with Stranger Danger. You take your kid shopping and walk past at least 20 people just to get into the shop. And you aren’t nervous at all. And none of those dangerous people (strangers, every one of them) attacked you in any way. Then you go and actually talk and interact with one of those dangerous strangers (the cashier). How seriously is your child supposed to take you when you go and interact with many, many strangers all the time with no problems whatsoever? At best you’re just undermining your own lecture, at worst your kid loses trust in the things you say. Let’s face it, most everyone goes through every single day without being attacked (Social Justice Cupcakes aside). So what gives? Obviously strangers aren’t all dangerous. Maybe it’s not strangers that are dangerous, maybe it’s just the Bad Guys that are dangerous.
This brings up a problem with Stranger Danger that most people either don’t know, or don’t want to accept. Most kidnappings, molestations, rape and murders of children are carried about by people the family knows. Teachers, uncles, kids XYZ lessons instructors, principles, neighbours, another kid at school, parents of friends. Strangers are responsible for many horrendous things happening to kids, but children are far more likely to fall prey to someone you know. Mostly it’s not Stranger Danger, it’s Someone You Know Danger.
Spotting the rotten apple
Sticking with the learning to swim analogy, the second big difference (the biggest actually) is that we know what’s involved in swimming and it’s easy to know how to get your kid to learn to swim (Hint for all you future parents out there, skip the lessons, don’t get water wings, just go play with them in a pool a bunch and they’ll pick it up). The problem with Bad Guys is that most modern societies are far removed from violence and Bad Guys, so nobody knows how to spot a Bad Guy anymore, so we can’t teach our kids. We know they still exist (BG’s will always exist, no matter what stupid laws are passed – forgive the redundancy), that’s why we have Stranger Danger – we want to prepare our kids, but we don’t know what to do ourselves, so parents do the best we can – repeat “Stranger Danger” to their kids until the parent feels safer. And that’s what it boils down to – Stranger Danger makes parents feel safer because “they’ve warned their kids”, and the parent doesn’t have to question this further and realise that they’ve tried to teach their kid to swim by saying Water Danger a bunch of times. Nobody knows what Stranger Danger actual means, least of all the kids.
So we as parents need to stop telling our kids the equivalent of “watch out for the rotten apple in the fruit bowl”, and start telling them exactly what the signs of rot in an apple are. We know to look for bruising, for excessive squishiness, for bad smells etc. But what do these things look like for kidnappers and molesters etc. Fortunately for us, there are signs and tell-tales that child molesters etc. tend to give off. Actually that sounds too esoteric, you need something definite and concrete. There are behaviours and actions that are pretty unique to Bad Guys. Things that almost no normal person would do that a BG will do. They may be subtle at times, but only because you haven’t trained yourself to watch for them. But what if you get it wrong and think someone’s a BG when they’re not? Well, that’s your emotional brain (and its need for acceptance) over-riding your desire to keep your kid safe. I can’t help you with that, you have to sort your priorities out for you (and not in the say-it-once-and-think-that’s-enough kind of way, in the deliberately-being-rude-to-strangers-andfamily-and-friends-so-that-it’s-easier-for-you-to-do-it-when-it-matters kind of way).
So here we are. We need to stop lying to our children about all strangers being dangerous, and about the world always being dangerous (Stranger Danger), and about the world always being safe (not telling them that there are shitty things in the world besides those so – ill-defined – It – can’t – be – internalised “strangers”). We, as parents, need to put in effort of finding out how to spot the rotten apples in our social fruit bowl. I recommend starting with Gavin De Becker’s “Protecting the Gift”. No bullshit, it’s a solid read with actionable Intel on spotting Bad Guys that want to harm your kids. If you’re not American, try your local online bookstore (because non-Americans often don’t use Amazon). I got my copy from Loot for example. If you really don’t want to do that then read my next post on the issue, I’ll go through some BG tell-tales with you. If you’re not willing to put in the effort and do the research, go away and come back to my blog when you’re more responsible. Offended by what I’ve said? Great, bitch at me in the Comments, I’d love to hear from you.