The answer to this question apparently continues to be elusive to far too many children and families. The myth of stranger danger persists. Yes, strangers do abduct and abuse children and people of all ages. We’ve learned so much about this type of abuse and as a result, we’ve added many new laws to the books of many states. The Amber Alert is one such law that you may recognize. An Amber Alert is an emergency dissemination of information by law enforcement seeking information about a missing person – usually a child. History has taught us that the sooner we find the missing or abducted child, the better the odds of finding the child alive.
Parents should definitely talk to young children in developmentally age appropriate language. For example, when a child is old enough to walk beside the grocery cart with a parent or caregiver, a parent may start by saying something as simple as “Stay close to Mommy. I need your help, and I want you to be safe.” Or if the child ventures toward a stranger, “We don’t know that person.” As the child matures, discussions can include issues such as safe people, good touch/bad touch, secrets and basic safety strategies with strangers.
However, the predominant predator danger is typically someone known to you, your family and to your child. Most of us simply cannot fathom that a family member, neighbor, friend, respected professional or leader could possibly do such a perverted and horrible thing to a child. They can and they do. Navigating this sensitive and intimate issue can be tough and suggestions for protecting and preventing are readily available online and through your local Children’s Advocacy Center. To find your local center go to www.ChildrensAdvocacyCentersofTexas.org. If you are in Travis County, learn more about the Center at www.CenterforChildProtection.org.
Among many others, here are a few basic suggestions as well as information for parents about child abuse prevention found on this site.
- Teach your child the proper names for their body parts.
- Develop a relationship of trust and openness with your child.
- Discuss good secrets (a birthday surprise) and bad secrets (“don’t tell anybody”).
- Don’t require that your child hug everyone. Give them the power to choose.
- Have a family plan for what to do if someone makes them uncomfortable.
- Maintain the power to say “no” if someone you don’t know well invites your child somewhere.
- Set boundaries for your children. If you haven’t met a family or don’t know them well, no sleepovers.
- Make sure that your child knows that he or she can say “no” to an adult.
- Teach the bathing suit rule. No one should touch any place on their body that the bathing suit covers.
- Finally, and maybe most importantly, trust your instincts. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable and uneasy, trust the feeling whether or not the person is a coach, a doctor or a relative.
This is one of the more difficult issues that a parent must face. Not discussing is not an option, but there are hundreds of resources available to you. If you need more help wading through the information, ask for help – it’s what you would want your child to do.