How to teach your kids about stranger danger (without frightening the life out of them)
We encounter strangers throughout our lives.
As adults, we usually have the wherewithal and experience to get a handle on whether or not someone can be trusted, but it’s not quite as easy for kids.
Children rely on adults to show them the ways of the world and help them grow, but this innocence is unfortunately taken advantage of by certain members of society.
‘Stranger danger’ isn’t a new concept; we can all remember our parents telling us to ensure we’re home by a certain time at night. In the digital age, stranger danger exists in message boards, online chats and within social media platforms. It’s therefore much harder to spot as a parent but even harder to identify as a child.
Striking the balance between informing a child of stranger danger and putting them off using the internet entirely is tricky, but the following ideas should help you teach your kids how to remain safe – and happy – online.
Define the term ‘stranger’
To you, it might be obvious, but to your child, the term ‘stranger’ isn’t particularly descriptive.
What defines a stranger, exactly?
The rule of thumb is to keep the definition as simple as possible by dividing it into the following two categories:
- Someone you don’t know; a person you’ve never seen or talked to before (either on- or off-line).
- Safe strangers; someone in a position of authority whom you know by sight but perhaps haven’t yet spoken to (teachers, police officers, etc).
The most important thing is to make it clear you’ll always be available to help your child decide which category a person falls into – it isn’t always that obvious, after all. The more they involve you in this process, the more easily you’ll be able to identify instances of stranger danger.
Rely on instinct
This is something we all learn as we make our way through life, but for kids, excitement and the desire to live in the moment often take precedence over instinct.
Teach your kids to act on their instincts and tell you if a way in which an approach has been made online doesn’t feel right.
Set your family a golden rule: if there’s even a one-percent element of doubt about an online encounter, don’t go any further.
Buddy up: safety in numbers
Friends are powerful allies throughout our lives, but as kids, finding safety in numbers if particularly important.
Encourage your children to spend time online (within agreed limits) with their friends, be it in joint chat rooms, on multiplayer games or within social media groups.
They’ll quickly learn the value of remaining within a tight-knit group and should be less inclined to stray too far from the pack. Equally – and with the right parental supervision in place – they’ll start to act as warning beacons for one another if stranger danger surfaces.
Be part of the family team
Family rules are easily dismissed as lists of boring chores, but if you can make yours focused on acting as a team, you should find the kids begin to engage with them.
Promote safety in your family rulebook; never accept rides from strangers, don’t give away your personal information and if you’re suspicious of an approach either online or in person, tell someone else in the family.
You’re all in this together!
Most kids will grow up without experiencing the problems associated with stranger danger, but there’s nothing like being prepared.
Share this with your fellow parents!
Recommended reading: the Voice guide to online crime