Stranger Danger
February 6, 2010 3:58 PM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on how to teach my 6 year old about how to identify and avoid abduction that is based on real information about how abduction happens.

I have a daughter who is mature and independent at 6. Very soon she will be riding the bus and walking to the park alone in our relatively safe town. I need talk to her about how to deal with approaches from strangers. I am a laid back parent who prefers to give my kids the skills to handle things than be overly protective.

I've surfed the web and found a mishmash of useful and useless information. Don't ever leave your child alone! won't be an option very soon for my independent daughter. Adults in cars don't need to ask children for directions seems like a piece of useful information she can use. Telling her that anyone who she doesn't know is a stranger that can't be trusted seems dangerous advice.

I see bits of information out there but nothing really well done. Has anyone run into anything really sensible, perhaps well presented, for a precocious 6 year old.
posted by alcahofa to Human Relations (52 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I know there's a lot of hysteria around this issue, and I commend you for wanting to be sensible about it. One of the saddest things I've seen, though, was an old Oprah episode where the producers took a mother and her daughter to a playground, and while interviewing the mother about how she taught her daughter not to talk to strangers ("she knows never to do that," etc), had a fake abductor lure her child away right behind her mother's back, on camera. It took maybe 5 seconds and one "I lost my puppy, please help me find him." They had the mother turn around as her daughter walked away with the stranger and her face just fell, like her heart was breaking. I'll never forget it.

Tell her to never go anywhere with a stranger. If a stranger tries to take her somewhere, fight back then, as hard as you can, and don't stop. [This is where you teach her some basic self-defense.]

Will she be completely alone? Or will she be with other children? Can you institute some sort of buddy system or play group to walk to the park together?
posted by sallybrown at 4:26 PM on February 6, 2010

I found The Safe-Child book very good and Gavin de Becker's Protecting the Gift even better. Both operate from the pragmatic viewpoint that your child needs to develop their own voice and trust their own instincts (with your non-alarmist guidance). De Becker also helps you as parent recognize "the real risks" out there versus rarer tragedies that capture media attention (you should protect against all dangers, yes, but his sober look at the more-likely versus less-likely threata helps you avoid anxiety-paralysis).
posted by dreamphone at 4:27 PM on February 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

You might want to role-play with scripts she can easily remember. Then, walk to the park with her one day, dawdle behind while a co-worker/friend (that you know but SHE doesn't) talks to her (not in an obviously creepy way) so you can observe her reaction.

Identify the houses that normally have someone home during the day and make sure she knows she can go up to their door (hopefully, you will also know these neighbours).

What I always told my children if they got separated from me was to approach a woman with children and tell her they were lost (or in trouble), with the assumption that the child choosing someone is statistically less likely to choose a "bad person" than waiting for someone to approach them.

I can't remember if Gavin de Becker touches on children in The Gift of Fear, but you may want to pick up a copy for yourself.

I know, it is tough to let the little birds fly from the nest.
posted by saucysault at 4:29 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you are, but I went to a talk by POMWA and was impressed (more than you might think based on their website). They recommend some books for kids here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:30 PM on February 6, 2010

The best advice I got as a young independent girl was:
1) If you feel like you're in trouble, seek out someone in a uniform, and if no one like that is around, look for a mom who has kids with her. YMMV, but I was able to understand that at age six.
2) If you are ever abducted or find yourself with someone that makes you uncomfortable, and that person is male, get to a public women's bathroom, where you can be separated.

On the adult end of my point of view, other things:
1) Walk the routes your daughter will be walking, along with her. Check out the houses she'll be passing, routes along the roads, and introduce yourselves to local shopkeepers or friendly neighbors you meet along the way, together. Make yourselves familiar, and make sure people know you're her parent.
2) There are "phones" that are more like beepers, with only two buttons on them that are programmed to call only two numbers, generally mom and dad, but could be parent and grandparent, or parent and neighbor... getting one of these for her and teaching her how to use it might not be a bad idea. It's like an emergency button. They're also often equipped with tracking systems in case of emergency.

In the general sense, please be sure to teach her how important her instincts are. Lots of children, especially little girls, are taught to ignore their instincts in favor of being "sweet" or "polite." It's important, as her parent, to teach her that her instincts exist to keep her out of danger, and she will never be in trouble for following her instincts to keep herself safe.
posted by juniperesque at 4:30 PM on February 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

A minor side point - since it's more about getting out of trouble rather than avoiding it - but a key is going to be to teach her to not be intimidated by adults. That is, she needs to know that even if a stranger says she cannot or must not fight back/scream/use her phone/must be quiet, etc, that she must ignore such commands from strangers and always be willing to escape situations and raise the alarm when things "feel wrong" to her.

Giving her solid skills in finding and identifying "safer/responsible" people is also important - whenever she feels the slightest bit intimidated. Not just the police, but things like going into public buildings like libraries, larger grocery stores, restaurants, and banks - rather than alleys, private houses, cars, construction sites, etc.
posted by wackybrit at 4:31 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Aikido? For a 6 year old to defend herself against an adult? It's absurd to consider and if a 6 year old tried it on an adult would likely result in a pissed off adult and a badly hurt 6 year old.

alcahofa: Good on you, and you're right that finding good information on the topic is difficult. The important thing (in my opinion) is to keep things as simple as possible, because the more complicated you make the situation the more room for error or misunderstanding there exists.
So you don't want an exhaustive list of rules, more a few general guidelines that cover as wide a spread of situations as possible.

For example, maybe tell her never, ever to get into a vehicle that isn't driven by someone she knows well or is a marked police car (i.e. a black and white). Secondly, if she does get lost or whatever you could tell her never to follow someone she doesn't know into a non-public place unless that person is a uniformed police officer or firefighter.

Lastly, if all else fails and she needs help and doesn't see a cop, go to a woman with children for help.

Those three rules would cover a lot of ground. I definitely think that the more complicated you make it, the more likely a mistake would be made.
posted by Justinian at 4:32 PM on February 6, 2010

A routine with some rules can help her avoid situations in which she'll be more vulnerable, plus it will give you a decent idea as to where she is, even when she's out of your sight.

Establish the route she should walk to the park, walk it with her a bunch of times. Thereafter, no taking shortcuts. Not with kids, not with adults, not to pick flowers off the path, Little Red Ridinghood.

Practice riding the bus with her the way she's going to do it alone. She should always sit or stand up front right behind the bus driver. The driver isn't a babysitter, of course, but if there's any trouble, the driver is the one who keeps order. Plus, it'll prevent her from having to try to get through a crowd of bigger people on a crowded bus to get off at her stop.
posted by desuetude at 4:43 PM on February 6, 2010

Personally, I think 6 is too young for catching a bus and walking alone to the park in the safest of towns. But you didn't ask me and she's not my daughter, so . . . .

Get her a cell phone, even if she only takes it with her when she's be away from you. Program your number on speed dial. Some phone plans have phone to phone walkie talkie like capability.
posted by dchrssyr at 4:53 PM on February 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

er . . .when she's away from you . . .
posted by dchrssyr at 4:56 PM on February 6, 2010

I'd like to highlight the noise-making aspect of escape: it is vital. Sit with her and prompt her to scream as loudly as she can. Get her comfortable with doing this but make sure she understands this is only for emergencies - she doesn't want to cry wolf. Get her a very noisy whistle and teach her how to use it at its loudest and most persuasive.

Please don't try the bait method mentioned above (letting someone you know but she doesn't try to test her). It will only confuse things.

Most police departments have a class on this very topic - you should look up the one in your municipality and see what they have. If they don't, see if they have any materials specific to your area on safe houses and such. Also, check out the sex offenders registry for your area, so that you can be prepared for those she may encounter.
posted by batmonkey at 4:57 PM on February 6, 2010

The Free Range Kids blog and book (by the author of the widely-linked Why I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone) have a lot of good resources both for helping kids to be independent, and for countering paranoia from other adults.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:57 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Read some interviews with Lenore Skenazy. One good point she makes is that you do not want to teach your kids to be afraid of strangers. You want to kids to be comfortable approaching strangers for help on the off chance that they do get themselves in some kind of trouble without a parent around.

The interview that I read was in Funny Times, and doesn't appear to be available online. But there's lots of material of hers around.
posted by alms at 5:00 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

[Please don't also neglect to spend the same amount of time and attention teaching your daughter how to draw boundaries with--and get away from, if necessary--inappropriate non-strangers. For all the stranger-danger talk (I grew up when parents were still hysterical about Adam)--no one in my cohort was ever abducted or molested by a stranger, that I know of. Just about every 4th or 5th woman I've met seems to have a story about predatory uncles, teachers, family friends, grandfathers, teenaged cousins, etc. though.]
posted by availablelight at 5:11 PM on February 6, 2010 [22 favorites]

"Grownups do not need help from children. But, if an adult asks for help, Mommy or another adult would want to help too so call out."

A colleague told me she taught her young-elementary children to me. I thought it made great sense, since we teach children to always say 'yes' when an adult asks them for help. Yet, we expect them to know when to say 'no" if an adult is a stranger (unless its a police person, then say yes. or unless its a relative, then say yes. unless that relativesays or does something not okay, then say no.)
posted by bunnycup at 5:15 PM on February 6, 2010

For example, maybe tell her never, ever to get into a vehicle that isn't driven by someone she knows well or is a marked police car (i.e. a black and white). Secondly, if she does get lost or whatever you could tell her never to follow someone she doesn't know into a non-public place unless that person is a uniformed police officer or firefighter.

The average 6 year old I know can't relate the difference between a cartoon and a live-action cereal commercial. /facepalm
posted by bunnycup at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2010

The Safe Side is a program available on DVD produced by the guy that hosts "America's Most Wanted", that's pretty effective. My wife got it from a friend who showed it to her kids, and we will be showing it to ours when they're a little older. It breaks it down into language that is relatable to young kids and makes it all very clear, but it doesn't make it scary.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:18 PM on February 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm a mom, and I also had this talk with my 3 kids. But keep in mind that kidnapping very rarely happens. Yes, it's horrible, but the chances of something else happening are much larger (not to be scary, but car accidents, family violence, etc., are much more real dangers).

Anyway, reiterating the advice to tell your child to never go anywhere with a stranger. Yes, mention the lost puppy/kitty/baby examples.

But they NEED to know this: if somehow they end up in a stranger's car, scream, punch and most importantly, get the hell out of the car.
posted by dzaz at 5:36 PM on February 6, 2010

Oh good god...please don't think that putting your kid in aikido will do anything to keep your daughter safer.

I've talked to quite a few people who have taught women's self defense courses. They disagree on practically everything except "we don't really teach any specific moves that they should do since each situation, person, environment is different. the focus is on realizing that your life is in danger and you need to get the hell out of that situation".

Assuming that your child is safer because of aikido is kinda counter to what you want. That will lead to putting her in situations that she would NOT be able to handle.

What you need to teach your daughter is to drop her backpack (cuz there's a ton of kids who think they REALLY will get in trouble if they lose their backpack in situations like this), scream like hell...and run.

The best thing you can do is make sure she is always in an environment where there are tons of people within earshot. THAT IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO. Walking to the bus stop, going to the park, etc.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:52 PM on February 6, 2010

I read something along these lines on Bruce Schneier's blog on security.

It has to do with what she has to do if she finds herself lost. Basically, the chances of a predator approaching a single child, while still relatively small, are much greater than one being picked out by random on the street. In other words, if your child is lost and isn't sure what to do, she should pick out herself someone on the street she thinks might be helpful. If the daughter makes the choice of whom to approach, the chances that this person will be a predator, while not zero, are exceedingly small. So, she should make the choice, rather than just waiting around and looking lost until someone notices her predicament and offers to help.
posted by zachawry at 5:56 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Someone tried to abduct me once. I ended up having to jump off a cliff into the San Francisco Bay to get away from them.

I wish I had self-defense classes as a child, it might have helped some situations, though that's in hindsight. I would say that self-defense classes aren't a bad idea, but also remember not to just put the thought in their head that every stranger is a mean and nasty pedophile.

You know your kid best, if they have street-smarts/common-sense then they'll probably be alright, but if you don't think they're the type that can walk around alone as they get older then always make sure they're with a friend.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:01 PM on February 6, 2010

Also, to answer your original question about stranger danger: another vote for telling her, if lost, to approach a uniformed police officer, a mom with kids, or a safe-looking lady, in that order. Like most women I know, I have eagle-eye for unaccompanied, distressed looking kids under the age of 10 (if I don't approach, I'll at least watch and sometimes follow to make sure they're catching up with a guardian, or at the very least, not being approached by anyone sketchy). It hurts feelings and discounts all the great men--and horrible women--out there, but her best bet will be to approach a lady.

Also, make sure your kids know how you would contact them in case of an emergency. The one trick we were always warned about that I might have fallen for otherwise (I felt too sophisticated for "free candy" or "lost puppy", even at 6), is the, "there's been a horrible accident and your mommy and daddy have been hurt--they want me to come get you and take you to the hospital."
posted by availablelight at 6:10 PM on February 6, 2010

For example, maybe tell her never, ever to get into a vehicle that isn't driven by someone she knows well or is a marked police car (i.e. a black and white). Secondly, if she does get lost or whatever you could tell her never to follow someone she doesn't know into a non-public place unless that person is a uniformed police officer or firefighter.

De Becker disagrees with this advice, as a child cannot tell the difference between a police officer and a security guard, and a security guard is more likely than most to have a criminal record.
posted by palliser at 6:36 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

ellF, I specifically said I am not talking about her flipping or striking anyone. You don't think at 6, one can learn to simply evade people coming at her? To simply evade enough to give herself the chance to run? Also, it's not just adults she has to worry about. You don't think she could handle the simplest wrist grab defense against, say, a 9 year old bully? I'm not going to argue this anymore because I don't know if the OP is even interested in the idea at all. But I'm not sure where people got the idea that I'm saying after aikido you could drop her into Baghdad or a bar fight.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:45 PM on February 6, 2010

Dads with kids are okay too! Yikes. In fact, most people are okay. I think the number one most important rule is:

Never go anywhere alone or isolated with an adult you don't know, no matter what they tell you. If you're by yourself, stay in areas with lots of other kids and adults and mums and dads. Don't leave those areas unless people you know well are taking you out. E.g Library, playground, etc.
posted by smoke at 6:50 PM on February 6, 2010

A few years ago I was babysitting a friend's 5 year old daughter. She and my 6 year old daughter were outside playing. A few minutes later my daughter runs into the house, all red faced and crying. I asked what the matter was and she said that 5 year old tried to strangle her (!). I immediately put 5 year old in her room where she remained for quite some time. I asked my daughter what happened. I guess 5 year old didn't like playing what my daughter was playing, so tried to strangle my daughter. I asked my daughter how she got free and she said she just started crying and then the 5 year old let go. She didn't hit or kick or bite or scream to get away.

And that's when I realized what I hadn't been teaching my daughter. I had been teaching her to never hit, to always be kind, don't try to hurt other people's feelings. All good things, but never not once did I tell her it was okay to do whatever you have to do to get away from someone who has put their hands on you to harm you.

I'm glad that I learned that lesson in a fairly benign way. So, now we tell all three of our children that it's okay to bite, kick, punch, hit, throw things to get themselves safe - that if someone puts their hands on you to hurt you in some way, anyway, that it's okay to do those things.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:58 PM on February 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

Teach her who she can trust. Ideally, instead of abstractions, these should be actual people. Who will be along her route? Who are the bus drivers? Who runs the store near the park? Who takes their kids there all the time? She should know these people and they should know her well enough to care about her safety. Just saying "a cop" or "a mom with kids" is okay but it's ten times easier for a kid that age to run to a trusted adult that they already know, instead of a concept.

Your child should always be within screaming-and-running range of someone non-creepy; ideally, someone she already knows and knows how to find.

That's the community you want to create around your daughter. If that's not possible in your daughter's case, I would reconsider.
posted by kathrineg at 7:00 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

De Becker disagrees with this advice, as a child cannot tell the difference between a police officer and a security guard, and a security guard is more likely than most to have a criminal record.

Yeah, but it's even more complicated than that. If you tell kids to avoid even uniformed guys because they might not be able to tell the difference between a cop and a security guard then the kid can end up avoiding help and end up in real danger. Take that kid last year that got lost in the woods and deliberately evaded his rescuers because his parents had told him never to talk to strangers.

There's no perfect solution and I think telling a kid to approach a uniformed cop if they're lost is pretty high on the cost/benefit analysis scale. But, hey, approaching a mom with kids first may be even better.
posted by Justinian at 7:02 PM on February 6, 2010

In my case, I spent years, yes, years, working on my daughter's self-confidence and independence, sending her to walk around a short block (out of sight of me for less than five minutes) with an older cousin when she was around six. I gradually increased the distance and started adding short trips without the older cousin. Only now, at ten, does she feel comfortable walking alone to a nearby friend's house. We also live in a small, safe town where she knows all our neighbours and she has taken karate for years. I ALWAYS asked her if she was comfortable and let her know if she wasn't up to walking alone I would walk with her/make other arrangements. She felt empowered to say what her comfort level was at any time or turn around and come home if she felt overwhelmed.
posted by saucysault at 7:02 PM on February 6, 2010

Every year about 150 American kids get kidnapped in stranger abductions. There are 300 million people in the American population, I don't know what proportion of them are kids, but let's say for arguments sake 50 million. That is odds of .000003. You are basically trying to prevent an event rarer than being hit by lightening that in reality, no one knows much about preventing since it is so rare.
posted by Maias at 7:05 PM on February 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

Lots of good advice here, however, I was always concerned that no matter how many times I went over with my kids on what they should do, that they would panic and forget their instructions. So, I told them that if they are not sure what to do, just do the EXACT opposite of what a stranger tells you to do:

"Get in the car"---don't get in the car
"Stay quiet"--yell your head off
"Come with me"--run away
"Stay still"--jump around like crazy

...and along that line, to think of the "negative" of everything a stranger tells you:
"Your parents sent me to get you"--no they didn't
"I'm looking for a lost dog"--no you're not
"I'm a friend of your mom's"--no you're not
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:07 PM on February 6, 2010 [15 favorites]

There's not a whole lot to say that hasn't already been said.

What I want to point out is that you're obviously not entirely concerned with your neighborhood or your daughter, or you wouldn't even entertain the notion that your daughter is eligible to do these trips by her lonesome.

When I was 7 I had free range of about 40 acres and several miles of single lane road, my own gun, a wicked bmx, and a dog who would rather have died than see me get hurt. (Seriously, he pulled me out of broken ice once, but that's a different (and true) story.) However, I also lived in the boondocks and just about shit my pants when I saw my first marijuana leaf in uh...7th grade. At 7 I walked through a bad neighborhood about 1.5 miles to my mom's place of work in the middle of a city of about 40,000. The worst things that happened to me were getting bullied a little and, realistically, the corresponding feeling of invulnerability that proved to be so untrue in the following years.

My point is muted a little by my digression, but I want to say to you that there's really no such thing as a "mature" 6 year old. No manner of training, coaching, whatever that you can do with her will make her immune to danger. (Really they're never immune, even when we're there, I guess but...) Any person who wants to do a 6 year old harm, can do a 6 year old harm. No amount "You're not my mommy!" or "stomp, punch, kick, twist" will seriously protect her. What I want to say to you is to seriously really think about letting her make this walk. I worry more about dangerous road crossings and stray dogs than I do about pedophiles, and your little one really REALLY shouldn't be expected to remember all the things that we remember for a 6 year old when we walk her to the park.

That is---if you don't want her to have a horrible fear of strangers and the world around her, an irreparable feeling that someone's always watching her, something's always about to happen.

I think if you wanna do this, you start with trips around the block, or a scavenger hunt in the neighborhood, or with a group of friends, or something. At 6 (and yea, I know she's smart, but she's 6), a pretty bird or a startling color or noise can turn her around and get her lost, being lost at 6 is horribly terrifying, not to mention how it makes you feel when (if) she tells you about it after finding her way home.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that you save this. She's got her whole life. Save this till later. If you can't save it, then do it in baby steps. Expect a call every 30 minutes, or expect her home in 1 hour, and then bring down all hellfire when she fails.

But here's a test. Tell your 6 year old to tell you when 30 minutes have passed w/o looking at a clock. Put her in her bedroom, shut the door, and have her tell you what clothes YOU are wearing. Have her tell you the colors of the houses on either side, the names of the intersecting streets, and the full names of YOU, her other parent (if there is one), siblings, and principal and the name of her school. Not to mention your address and telephone number. If she fails any of these tests even slightly, she's not ready for this.
posted by TomMelee at 7:12 PM on February 6, 2010 [14 favorites]

have her tell you the colors of the houses on either side, the names of the intersecting streets

Okay, I wouldn't have a chance at getting that right. Am I not allowed out of the house?

alcahofa never said that her daughter was the smartest and most invulnerable girl ever. She said she was independent and mature (for a six year old). Scaremongering isn't useful- clearly she knows that safety is an issue, which is why she has asked the question.

I think a phone is a good idea as it means getting lost, if it happens, will be significantly less stressful for both parties.

It sounds like you're a wonderful mother to have - one that cares more about her daughter's independence and happiness than your own peace of mind.
posted by twirlypen at 7:28 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

But here's a test. Tell your 6 year old to tell you when 30 minutes have passed w/o looking at a clock. Put her in her bedroom, shut the door, and have her tell you what clothes YOU are wearing. Have her tell you the colors of the houses on either side, the names of the intersecting streets, and the full names of YOU, her other parent (if there is one), siblings, and principal and the name of her school. Not to mention your address and telephone number. If she fails any of these tests even slightly, she's not ready for this.

I also think six is a little young because of the high distraction factor, rather than overwhelming stranger danger, but I think the described tactic is unrealistic and unnecessarily harsh. A lot of adults couldn't tell you when 30 min have passed, what clothes their parent/SO/whoever was wearing, the colors of the houses on either side. Sure as hell couldn't spit all that out after being inexplicably shut into their bedroom. This scenario sounds a lot like punishment.
posted by desuetude at 7:55 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

A horrible man in Toronto snatched a 10-year old girl off her quiet street on a summer evening. He sexually assaulted and murdered her in a nightmarish way, and was caught within a month.

At some point, a savvy interviewer asked something like, "What is your advice for the parents of girls like the one you killed to avoid people like you?" He said, "I followed her down the street and and put my hand on her shoulder from behind. She turned around and saw me, a stranger, and was scared, but she was so surprised that she just quietly let me lead her down the street and calmly into my house. Any observer would have assumed I was her relative and she was with me willingly. If she had only screamed I would have let her go. Teach your kids to scream."

I can't find documentation of this statement on the net right now, but I am 100% sure that's what he said. I was working with kids at the time, and the very next day I started having screaming contests with my kids and telling them (kind of in a fun, but also serious way) that if an adult EVER did something scary or shocking to them while they were alone, they should immediately scream as loud as they could.

So I think making sure your daughter knows how to scream is important. And promising her that even if she causes an inappropriate disturbance some day by screaming, as long as she was not doing it to be naughty or silly- as long as she really thought "this is scary or bad", she will never get in trouble for screaming. Even if she screams in non-screaming-appropriate places like school or church (or whatever), if she's truly frightened you'll never get mad at her for screaming.

Despite this post I think it's a good idea to let kids explore safely and gradually expand their independence. Most kids in this world are not abducted by strangers, so in reality, however scary the stories might be, the odds are on your side.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:18 PM on February 6, 2010 [5 favorites]

One more thing: make sure she knows that if she makes a mistake and does something wrong because someone told her to or if she helps a stranger when you told her not to you will still love her, that her being safe is far more important than anything she could ever does wrong.

I know of a case where a molester (known the family and thought safe) had a little girl touch him inappropriately. Since the girl knew that you weren't supposed to touch someone's private parts, she was certain that she was a very bad girl and never told anyone until she was a teen ager. Parents were very distressed when they found out.
posted by metahawk at 8:36 PM on February 6, 2010

[few comments removed - no more aikido derail please.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:47 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be sure she doesn't have her name on her backpack or clothes. A stranger who calls the kid's name seems more trustworthy.

I think it's important that you teach her that any person - whether adult or child, friend, relative, or stranger - who tries to hurt her or touch her in certain ways does not deserve her trust and must be run from. I think your child is much more at risk of harm from people you know, statistically speaking.

And please, listen to what your child is saying when she's not talking... if your child suddenly wants to be with you, let her.

Take it from me. My aunt (by marriage) didn't have many friends and always sent me off to play with my cousin (a boy, 4 years older than me) so she could talk to my mom, adult-to-adult. I would come out and try to stand by my mom and stay with her, only to have my aunt tell me to go play. Imagine my mom's horror when she found out, when I was 22, that all those years she let my aunt send me off to play with my cousin (from when I was 7-11, but we only visited a couple of times a year), he was molesting me. (Well, I initially told my mom at age 11, but she misunderstood and thought it only happened one time. She'd called my aunt and my aunt gave her the whole "boys will be boys" speech but it did stop. My mom and I never talked about it much after that but it came up when I was older.)
posted by IndigoRain at 9:05 PM on February 6, 2010

Scaremongering isn't useful- clearly she knows that safety is an issue, which is why she has asked the question.

I don't think TomMelee was saying that the OP is insufficiently worried about stranger danger, which is what the OP asked about. I think his point is that she may have underestimated the more likely dangers in a situation like this -- that a six-year-old is easily distracted and tends to do things like dart across the street, or misjudge the speed of traffic, or walk behind a car that's in reverse, without thinking that cars go backward, too. Adults do this, too, but children are more prone to it and harder for drivers to see.

Calling this "scaremongering" is begging the question.
posted by palliser at 9:14 PM on February 6, 2010

twirlypen and others: forest, meet trees.

You're an adult and won't get lost in your own neighborhood, I should hope, so yes, we'll let you out of your cage just this once.

The point isn't to punish the daughter, seriously, you got "that's punishing the daughter" out of this? Seriously? The part about talking to her from the other side of the door was so she uh...couldn't see your clothes. Seriously, you can't make the "let's play the remembering game!" fun for a 6 year old?

As an adult you have a cornucopia of resources at your disposal to find your way home if you're lost, describe your group if you get separated, ask for help from a stranger, etc. 6 year olds, not so much.

And yes, thank you palliser for actually reading what I wrote.
posted by TomMelee at 9:32 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're a great mom for wanting the kid to be independent and secure.

But did you know if someone is going to hurt your kid, it will be someone you're related to or know? "Strangers are the offenders in approximately 10% of child sexual abuse cases".

That sad statistic has been confirmed over and over and over again among my friends and acquantinaces . If parents could find a non-paranoid way to remind kids that not everyone is looking out for them, that would be as good as cellphones, etc.

Since you can't lock your kid up in a bubble, safety is really about trusting gut feelings and not being afraid to attract attention to something unusual or scary. I was a timid kid but parents talked somewhat bluntly to us how private parts are private (not dirty or bad) and that no one needs to be concerned with them unless they're are our pediatrician or we are seriously hurt. Conversations were short and brought up a few times a year.

They also let us watch the news, which would get intense sometimes but I realized that most crimes involve someone familiar abusing trust or being manipulative. Talk bluntly about this aspect of human nature and she'll be able to deal with bullies, bosses trying to work free overtime, creepy strangers, and abusive boyfriends, in short anyone who would abuse average good-natured people.

Askme is full of questions that are variations of "this person is trying to manipulate me and i feel uncomfortable, what should I do". Dealing with manipulation is a lifelong skill.
posted by Freecola at 10:05 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are some good ideas here. Teach her how not to be a target. Teach her to walk tall and proud and have good boundaries. Predators look for the weak and passive, the easy target. Teach her that her body is her own and no one can mess with her. Teach her to stand up for herself. I do think that some form of physical training helps kids have better confidence in their bodies.
posted by theora55 at 10:31 PM on February 6, 2010

The point isn't to punish the daughter, seriously, you got "that's punishing the daughter" out of this? Seriously? The part about talking to her from the other side of the door was so she uh...couldn't see your clothes. Seriously, you can't make the "let's play the remembering game!" fun for a 6 year old?

I did. I remember being a kid. Grownups tend to suck at not projecting, kids tend to be AWESOME at picking up on this. C'mon, I agreed with part of your premise, just not this part, let's not accuse everyone who disagrees with not reading.

Be sure she doesn't have her name on her backpack or clothes.

This brings back hilarious (thanks, time!) memories of how mad I was at my mom for not letting me have a monogrammed jacket in 1980 or so as an elementary-schooler. She wasn't taking any chances with even the preppy first initial LAST INITIAL middle initial stuff.
posted by desuetude at 10:33 PM on February 6, 2010

As much as I hate posting like this, I haven't read most of the above answers, I'm just supporting anyone else who has mentioned Gavin de Becker's books. The Gift of Fear should be required reading for everyone. Get that book for your daughter when she is older & can read it for herself. I think everyone should read it.
I read Protecting The Gift when my child was 14 so I skipped over much of the book pertaining to younger children. I still think every parent should read it and parents owe it to their children to equip them to deal with the best & worst of all situations.
DeBecker's books should open your eyes. Certain sections will chill you to the bone and scare the crap out of you. Overall they should empower you and your family. The danger signals can be quite subtle, and so often we think "ooh, he;s creepy, but I'm just being paranoid."
We need to teach our children to trust their instincts and not to second guess themselves so much.
Read those books.
posted by goshling at 2:58 AM on February 7, 2010

Personally, I think 6 is too young for catching a bus and walking alone to the park in the safest of towns. But you didn't ask me and she's not my daughter, so...

Big ditto. Six is FAR to young to be out alone. No matter what preparation you feel you've made. Abductions are quick.

I have a six year old girl, she's bright and independent, friendly and curious, she'd be no match.
posted by mattoxic at 5:22 AM on February 7, 2010

Had a further thought, which is that even if you are laid back, it's important to think about what other people are likely to think about a 6-year-old catching buses alone and walking to the park. My guess is that many people will assume your daughter has slipped out of the house without your knowing it and may even call the police. Heck, the bus driver might call the police when he sees her get on by herself. Then there is the question of laws against leaving children unsupervised; I know there are rules related to leaving children home alone, at least where I live in the States, but I don't know what there might be about letting them leave home alone.

In fact, I once called the police when I saw a child about that young on a city sidewalk by himself. I tried to talk to him first, obviously, and ask if his mom knew where he was, but he looked at me, utterly terrified, and wouldn't speak -- probably because he was following the advice not to talk to strangers. There was a police station a block up the street, and I told them where I had seen him. I don't know what came of it, but I thought -- and still think -- I was doing something a good neighbor would, and that the parents would appreciate.
posted by palliser at 6:34 AM on February 7, 2010

For stranger danger: teach her not only to scream when an adult tries to get her to go somewhere, but to scream something like "THIS IS NOT MY DAD". I've seen countless kids screaming with their parents because they're fussy or having a tantrum. I think many more people would get involved if it was clear there was a problem.

Secondly, I agree that you should tell her that if she feels weird or lost, right away she should find a police officer or a woman with kids. 6-year-olds can remember this. I was lost at the Pittsburgh marathon at 6 years old (many people! very scary!) and found two women right away. They helped me find my dad.

But more importantly than just "who is a predator" is the question of street safety which I believe is much likelier to be a danger to your child. Make sure she knows not to stand in the stairwell of the bus or in front of the yellow line. Don't stand near the door. Wait until the bus is completely stopped before getting off. Never stand in the street waiting for the bus to arrive. Always cross at a crosswalk and look both ways even if the light is green. Go to an adult right away if you feel sick or hurt. Et cetera.
posted by amicamentis at 7:21 AM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I was that age, my family visited my grandmother in the Bronx. While my little brother and I were playing on the stoop, an old lady invited us inside her apartment. My brother hopped up and followed her, with me hissing terrified warnings about how we weren't supposed to go with strangers. We ended up inside the apartment, given candy and 20 years's worth of vintage Cracker Jack toys. Yes, it was my grandmother's neighbor, trying to be nice to her friend's grandkids. But I'll never forget my terror at being unable to stop it from happening. I'm not sure there's any way to make kids that age understand the nuances of adult behavior.
posted by acrasis at 7:34 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say much what Palliser says above - which is that your daughter is probably more likely to be approached by well-meaning strangers than by would-be abductors. If I saw a six-year-old who was clearly on her own, I would definitely go up to her and ask where her Mummy or Daddy was and if I could help her get home. Admittedly, I live in a large city, and I don't see many kids under ten on their own, things may well be different where you are.

When I started secondary school, we took a class called Common Sense Defence, which included lots of good advice about not going down dark alleys and so on. The piece of advice I would pass on to you is for you both to look at her routes and to mentally or literally note safe places she can get to and call you if she feels uncomfortable - these could be friends' houses, friendly shops etc.

And make sure she knows your phone number and address off by heart in case her phone gets lost or stolen.

But most of all be sure that you both understand what it is you're doing. I've seen confident (boisterous even) eight-year-olds reduced to despair because their mums were ten minutes late to collect them, and mums of ten-year-olds wringing their hands in fear because their kid's running late and won't answer their phone.
posted by featherboa at 9:24 AM on February 7, 2010

I think it's important you teach your daughter how to navigate these situations whether she's going to the park alone or not. When I was six years old, a woman tried to abduct me from the school playground at recess. She knew my name (a picture appeared in the newspaper a few days earlier that named me and my school) and told me my mom asked her to pick me up. I had learned (both through my parents and through a program at school) that you never go anywhere with someone you don't know and that if someone you don't know asks you to go somewhere with them, you tell an adult. So me and my friends ran away and went to the office (which was a big deal because we'd also been told we weren't allowed to go inside during recess unless it was an emergency).

I think you need to teach your daughter that she shouldn't go off with someone, even if it is another child. Older/other kids can also pose a threat and in any event, if she goes off to play with a new friend she meets at the park and you don't know about it, you will be terrified. So teach her never to go any place, with anyone -- and this includes people/kids she knows, other than the place you've agreed on.

Try to have her play/go places/ride the bus with other kids. There is safety in numbers. Make sure she knows her address, her phone number, your first and last name and where you work. If she rides a bike, make sure she knows bike safety and always wears a helmet. Teach her that if she needs to knock at someone's door to ask for help, she shouldn't go in the house but stay outside to use the phone.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:28 AM on February 7, 2010

(Also, it may seem like common sense to have your kid know her own address, but I know 8-year-olds who know their street name but not their house number.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 11:30 AM on February 7, 2010

I've been making her look both ways when she crosses the street since she was two, even though she is still crosses only our own quiet street herself. The street crossing guidelines we have established are very successful so I think she would be receptive to guidelines about what to do on her own more broadly.

I don't see her riding the bus or going to the park alone at 6. But she is wandering around my office building and our (small, safe, many people we know) ski area by herself. And, while she is very proud that she can get food by herself, this new independence is enough to give me pause.

Much like "look both ways before you cross the street" I see this as a 1-2 year project to get the information through so she is prepared to deal when she is older. I would like her to be as independent as she would like to be at 8 or 10, given that she is a sensible and cautious child.

I also feel that, at six, she is interested in my opinions on what to do in certain situations in a way that she may not be at 14 (i have no teens, but I have heard stories.)

I was feral at 6 with parents who made my laid-back parenting style look up-tight. The problem-solving skills, independence and confidence I developed set me apart from my peers to this day and I feel very proud to see my daughter strive to develop the same independence. At the same time, I missed some information about fear and caring for myself and I lack some level of useful fear (as suggested above). I have more than once put myself in bad situations which led to worse situations.

So I appreciate your comments on how to sort this out.
posted by alcahofa at 8:30 PM on February 7, 2010

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