“Stranger danger” is a simple, catchy phrase that parents have used for years to warn children about unsafe adults. The phrase is easy for kids to remember. It even rhymes, however, “stranger danger” is a general statement and may not be interpreted correctly by children. Moreover, the idea behind the phrase accompanies several myths. Parents should understand three untold truths about this phrase.
1. Strangers are not always dangerous.
The phrase “stranger danger” alludes to the idea that all strangers may be harmful to children. This is not the case. There are times where children may need help from a stranger, such as a police officer or grocery store clerk. Children should not be afraid to ask for help from appropriate adults when in danger or lost.
2. Strangers do not abduct thousands of children per year.
“Stranger danger” originated from the idea of protecting children against abduction by unknown adults. Many believe that thousands of children are abducted every year by child molesters. The reality of the situation is quite different. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, out of 20,500 cases of missing children in 2016, 18,000 were runaways and 1,200 were abducted children. Almost all of these children were taken by family members. On average, 100 to 150 children are kidnapped every year by strangers or acquaintances.
3. 90 percent of perpetrators already know the child or family.
Child sexual abuse perpetrators are trusted caregivers, friends or family members more often than not. Most parents want to think of a child molester as an invisible, unidentifiable monster, but the truth is more difficult to bear. It is estimated that 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child or family already knows. Therefore, solely telling children to “not talk to strangers” can more harmful than helpful. In fact, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is asking for parents to no longer usethe phrase “stranger danger.”
Rather than instructing children about dangerous strangers, parents can teach children about body safety. Teaching kids about body parts and boundaries at a young age can help children understand how to identify dangerous situations and how to protect themselves. If a child is sexually abused, they should understand it is not their fault and know there are avenues for help and justice.