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Protecting Against Child Predators: Beyond Stranger Danger

How to give your child the facts he’ll need to protect himself


Protecting Against Child Predators: Beyond Stranger Danger

Learn how to help your child avoid and fight off potential dangers -- from strangers on the street and, even more likely, predators they may already know.

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As unpleasant and frightening as it may be for parents to think about the possibility of their child being hurt by a predator, it’s crucial that parents talk with their kids about personal safety. Teaching your child how to protect himself against child predators is as important as other measures you use every day to keep him safe, such as making sure he uses a seat belt.

By teaching your child how to avoid possible dangers and what to do if he finds himself in a potentially threatening situation, you will empower your child to know what to do in the event you are not there to protect him. Here are some important tips every parent should know about how to keep your child safe.

Important Tips for Protecting Your Child Against Predators

Teach your child the power of "No." Child predators are very good at seeking out children who may be afraid or reluctant to oppose an adult, or who may be easily threatened or coerced. Tell your child to trust her instincts if she does not feel comfortable or is scared around someone, to tell that person in a very loud voice, "No!" if she is asked to keep a secret or go somewhere with that person without you, and to tell you immediately about what happened.

Don’t assume your child will know what to do. In his book Protecting The Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) (compare prices and read my review), renowned security consultant Gavin de Becker mentions a classic segment of The Oprah Winfrey Show that aired in 1993. In the show, Oprah producers and child safety advocate Ken Wooden conducted an experiment (with the parents’ permission) in which they were able to successfully lure away every single child participating in the test out of the playground in an average of 35 seconds. Before the experiment, the parents had insisted that their child would not talk to a stranger or leave the park with someone he or she didn’t know. Needless to say, they were wrong to assume that their child would not be vulnerable.

Don’t focus on "stranger danger." For children, especially younger kids, the concept of just who exactly is a "stranger" can be confusing. They may picture someone who is scary-looking, or who is mean. In fact, child safety experts have shown in experiments such as the one mentioned above that children will often follow someone if that person appears friendly and is persuasive enough (by asking a child to help them find a lost puppy, for instance).

Moreover, as de Becker notes in Protecting the Gift, by telling a child to not trust strangers, parents are implicitly saying that it’s okay to trust people he may know casually, such as a neighbor or a waiter at a restaurant. Most importantly, it also does not address the fact that dangers to children are greater from someone known to them or you than by a stranger, notes Nancy McBride, National Safety Director at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Instead of telling your child not to ever talk to strangers, which may in fact deter him from seeking help when he is lost, teach him to find a woman -- preferably one who is with a child -- and ask her to call 911 or call his parents and tell them where he is. Other options: "Tell your child to go to a sales clerk with a name tag, uniformed law enforcement officer, or a person at an information booth," says McBride.

And if you see a child who appears to be lost? NCMEC produced a piece called, "What Should You Do If You See a Child Who Appears To Be Lost?" to help people know what to do if they encounter a child who seems to be in need of assistance finding his parents or caregiver.

Tell your child that no one should ever invade her personal space. Whether in a public space or at home, emphasize to your child that no one should ever get too close to her without a caregiver or one of her parents present.

Designate trusted adults. Make a short list of "safe" grownups -- such as an uncle, babysitter, grandparent or neighbor -- who are allowed to pick her up from school or take care of her when you are not there or are late for pick up. Tell her to never go with anyone else unless you have agreed beforehand to deviate from the list, and always make sure she knows exactly who will be picking her up.

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