3 Ways Stranger Danger Needs To Be Taught Differently Today

little girl opening the front door of her house and looking out

This article originally appeared on iMOM.com and reflects their mission and beliefs.

My phone buzzed. I picked it up to see a text from a friend. She skipped the pleasantries and cut straight to it: “Some guy just walked up to my daughter at the Dollar Tree and asked for her name. She looked at him sideways and said, ‘Bob’ and walked away. A second later, she found me in the next aisle and told me. I searched the store for him and he was gone.”

On the drive home, my friend used this as an opportunity to review stranger danger with her 13-, 11-, and eight-year-old kids, which is great. But how do we teach kids to stay safe when not every bad person looks like the creepy guy at the Dollar Tree? When “don’t talk to strangers” just doesn’t seem to cut it, try these 3 better ways to teach stranger danger for kids.

1. Use your thumbs.

I taught my kids the “thumb test” around kindergarten. I told them that when they meet someone, they’ll often feel like that person should get a thumbs up, thumbs sideways, or thumbs down. It encouraged them to listen to their intuition.

The thumb test is also a good tool for helping your kids speak freely about people you know who give them a bad feeling. Sometimes kids don’t know how to tell you a relative or family friend makes them uncomfortable, and the thumb test keeps them from having to use words they might hesitate to use, like “bad” or “scary.”

2. Teach them about safe versus unsafe situations.

I was at the store with my sons, who were wearing their school uniforms. A man walked by and commented to them that his son went to their school several years ago. They didn’t even look up at him. I had to tell them to respond. Your kids should know that it’s OK to converse with a stranger if you’re standing right there.

But in the case of my friend’s daughter, where no adult was with her, she was right not to speak to the man. Teach your kids that no safe adult will come up to a child and ask for help or personal information.

3. Enter the 21st century.

Stranger danger for kids in the ’80s and ’90s could be boiled down to two things: white vans and candy. Of course, you should still tell your child not to get into a car with a stranger, but now lessons about unsafe people need to extend to the virtual world.

The most basic thing to make your child aware of is that just because someone says he or she’s nine years old or a student at your child’s school doesn’t mean he or she really is. In their naivete, kids don’t realize predators will lie about their identity. Moms and dads should be very careful about what games kids are allowed to play and who they can chat with. If you wouldn’t let your kids walk around a room without you and talk to any person of any age, you should be careful about allowing them to play games that offer a chat feature. We have several great resources on keeping kids safe online, like these, so use them and share them with your kids in the same way you would other kinds of warnings about strangers.

What lessons have you taught your kids about strangers?

This article originally appeared on iMOM.com and reflects their mission and beliefs.

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