You can’t just lecture “Don’t talk to strangers” to young children; you must role play and role play good and hard.
Otherwise your child can easily be lured to his or her death by a stranger.
Does the idea of role playing to teach stranger danger to your young child seem tedious, even mentally draining?
Parents of never-found missing children would gladly swap the mental drain of wondering daily where their kid is with the tedium of role playing with an unharmed child.
You must role play to effectively train your kids to recognize a stranger danger situation unfolding.
And even if a child misjudges and it turns out the stranger meant no harm, certainly this is something you can live with! Certainly this is something that you’ll never suffer guilt about!
A six-year-old boy is allowed, for the first time, to walk the two blocks to his school bus stop all by himself.
He never arrives at school. He is never found. Someone had lured him off the sidewalk into an apartment building.
“It is entirely feasible to teach stranger danger,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of Safr.Me.com and an expert in fraud prevention and personal safety.
This includes for six-year-olds.
“There needs to be actual ‘strangers’ involved in order for this to be effective,” says Siciliano.
Would he have been lured into the apartment over that two-block distance had he been trained, via role playing, to recognize and respond to a suspicious stranger?
What if the Pedophile Is Someone the Child Knows?
“It is unfortunate that people who do the most harm to our children are not strangers at all but are known to them,” says Siciliano.
“Therefore teaching what is okay and not okay in regards to human interaction, human behavior, good touch and bad touch, is essential.”
Some parents will warn their young kids, “If I find out you didn’t go straight to school, and instead went off with a stranger OR someone you already know, I will hang you upside down!”
Some parents think this approach is effective, but it has several flaws:
• A smooth-talking pedophile, especially if the child knows that the man knows her mother, can talk her into going off with him, making her believe Mama will never find out.
• The harsh threat from Mom or Dad will lose effectiveness as the child grows older. What, you’re going to tell your 15-year-old you’ll hang him upside down?
• Threats do nothing to teach the reality that people—including kids—must proceed with caution whenever they leave the house.
“Role-playing can be effective if done in the proper setting, and with repetition,” says Siciliano.
A child might know what a “good touch” and “bad touch” are, but having ONLY this knowledge is useless if the pedophile—after committing all the bad touches—murders the child.
Siciliano explains, “It is also advisable to engage children in what child lures look like. A lure might be when an adult asks a child to help them find their puppy, or that your mom was injured in an accident and the adult was sent to pick them up from school and so on.”
This goes back to how to prevent a child from veering off course on the way to school, as someone allegedly did in the famous Etan Patz case of 1979.
Etan, just six, was permitted for the first time to walk the two blocks alone to the bus stop. He never made it to school. There was an interception along the way, some kind of lure, allegedly by a man he knew.
How to Role Play Stranger Danger with Your Kids
Send your child, even as young as six (or whatever age you’re ready to allow him to walk in the neighborhood alone) on a short trip by himself or herself, if possible, perhaps to mail a letter down the block or buy a simple item at the corner store.
However, you must have prearranged at least one adult to keep an eye on him.
Meanwhile, you’ve also enlisted the help of a trusted friend whom your child has never seen – who will pose as a stranger and try to lure your child off-course.
You will conduct this experiment after you’ve role played in your home, rehearsing all sorts of scenarios:
• The puppy lure
• The injured Mama lure
• The candy, ice cream or soda lure
• And for older kids, lures involving quick cash to help carry something, posing as a modeling scout, posing as someone the child’s parent knows who’s offering a ride, etc.
Have your child play not just herself but also the adult stranger. Yes, be creative. Have your child try their best to come up with ways to lure you into another room.
By playing the “bad guy,” your child will better learn how to recognize an inappropriate situation in public.
So now here’s the big test: Will your friend succeed at luring your child off-course? If so, you still have a lot of work to do.
It’s a fair question: Did Etan Patz’ parents ever do anything like this to prepare him for reality?
Or did they, like many parents, simply cross their fingers and listen to their heart pound after letting him walk someplace alone for the first time?
“As they say, kids are like sponges; they absorb all kinds of information,” says Siciliano.
If you think your child is old enough to walk alone to the bus stop, the corner market, a friend’s house or to the local playground, then he or she is old enough to receive full-on, hardcore training to recognize and respond to a potential abduction situation.