This article appeared on my newsfeed and the headline not only caught my eye but then set me thinking about it for most of the day. When Hubbie came home I talked about it with him and he was shocked by it too and we then chatted about needing to talk with our boys about what this meant and how we could change their thoughts on Stranger Danger. The headline that scared us both was; ‘Investigation shows that children were happy to walk off with a friendly stranger…’
The producers of the morning program ‘Daybreak’ set up an experiment where children were in a park and the mothers were called away to a phone call. Whilst this happened a stranger approached the children to ask them to help him find his dog. Within 90 seconds, 7 of the 9 children had walked off with him.
Are you shocked?
I was. Stranger Danger is talked about, taught in schools and we’re all so much more aware about it than I was when I was at school but looking at the chap in the picture he was well dressed, probably kind looking (I can’t see his head as it’s blanked out) and had a child appealing problem that he asked for their help with. What he wasn’t was a monster, a child catcher type hideous creature with a large net out to take children screaming away from their parents like in a frightening nightmare. No, actually, this chap was rather ordinary. Like me or you in fact.
Thinking about what the ‘stranger’ in the article said to the kids would mine have gone off with him? Of course I want to say no but when it comes down to it, if I’m honest, if someone had lost a dog then my lads would probably want to go and help find it. They are dog mad and miss the one they had (who died) so this story would have had them hook, line and sinker.
Over the past few months we’ve had so many celebrities in the news who’ve been investigated and charged with sexual offences involving adults and children. Lots of my childhood presenters all seem involved in a culture of ‘Well, I’m famous so they’ll never believe you’ should anyone complain but if we relate these people to the ‘stranger’ in the park we can see that they too didn’t have 2 heads, had partners and spouses and, dare I say it, children of their own. Again these people were ‘normal’ people who lived next door to you or I, whose children went to similar schools.
This article has once again taught me that I need to keep talking to my children about Stranger Danger and go back to the very first important point that I need to get across to my children; that they must not leave any park or public area with anyone who isn’t me or the person they’ve come with. I need them to know, as I once told them when explaining about child abuse in this blog, that there are lots of wonderful people in this world and a few who aren’t so and unfortunately those that aren’t so wonderful don’t have a sign across their forehead that says ‘nasty person, keep away’ so we have to be careful and wary about everyone no matter how they look and nice they seem. I need my boys to know that it’s okay to say ‘My mum doesn’t want me going off with anyone else/doesn’t want me talking to people I don’t know’ and be strong in their decision making even though they are challenging an adult -which they are trained to obey if you think of schools and society’s wants. I want them to know that a ‘nice’ person would say ‘Of course, absolutely you are right’ and walk away from my child and that someone who isn’t so nice and really does have bad intentions would keep pushing them to do what they (the adult) wanted. They need to know that nice strangers walk away but nasty strangers don’t. I want them to know it’s okay to scream and kick and punch and shout as loudly and violently as they can if they are ever grabbed and not to act in the polite and well behaved way they (on the whole!) normally do when adults ask them to do something. I need them to know that an adult who forces you to do something you aren’t comfortable with no matter how nice they seem is not who they should be near and that they should get away from them as fast as possible.
I’ve spent lots of time in parks this summer and I felt relived that we’d finally got to the stage where I could sit and read a book whilst they went off and played. I was smug that I could finally do this all the while drinking from a flask of tea I’d prepared. Next time I will have a pep talk with the children telling them that they must stay in the park no matter what any adult asks them to do. I will sit in a place where I can see the whole of the park and make sure I know where the entrances/exits are. I will make a big fuss of the boys after the next park play and keep reminding them that they mustn’t go out of the park as I know they are trusting and lovely boys who would want to help someone who needed them. It seems things have moved on from ‘Would you like to come and see some puppies?’ that was so prevalent in the 70’s when I was growing up.
We need to talk to our children about child abuse and about stranger danger not always being a scary person who hides in trees and swoops down stealing little ones away. We need them to know of the language that adults will use and that it’s okay for them to kick, scream and run away and that a real nice person would totally understand. I will still take my book to the park the next time I go but I’m not sure how comfortable I’ll be reading it…