by Erin Griffeth, Cache County Sheriff’s OfficeSafe Families

I love the feel of the good old days that are portrayed in television shows like “The Andy Griffith Show” or “Leave It to Beaver.” The people in town are  friendly, you know everyone, you can leave your doors unlocked and you can talk to anyone.

As nice as it would be to remain in the “happy valley” mindset, the truth is that society has evolved into something less trustworthy and friendly.

Stranger danger: We learn about this from the time we go to preschool. But what classifies a person as a stranger? Most strangers are probably nice people, but some are not. How do you tell the difference?

The National Crime Prevention Council has some great information on how to teach our children about strangers.

Kids see strangers every day in stores, at the park and in their neighborhoods. Most of these strangers are nice, normal people, but a few may not be. Parents can protect their children from dangerous strangers by teaching them about strangers and suspicious behavior, and by taking a few precautions of their own.

Who is a stranger?

A stranger is anyone that your family doesn’t know well. It’s common for children to think that “bad strangers” look scary, like the villains in cartoons. This is not only false, but it’s dangerous for children to think this way. “Pretty” strangers can be just as dangerous as the “not-so-pretty” ones. When you talk to your children about strangers, explain that no one can tell if strangers are nice or not nice just by looking at them and that they should be careful around all strangers.

But, don’t make it seem like all strangers are bad. If children need help — whether they’re lost, being threatened by a bully or being followed by a stranger — the safest thing for them to do, in many cases, is to ask a stranger for help. You can make this easier for them by showing them which strangers are OK to trust.

Who are safe strangers?Stranger in Park

Safe strangers are people children can ask for help when they need it. Police officers and firefighters are two examples of very recognizable safe strangers. Teachers, principals and librarians are adults children can trust too because they are easy to recognize when they’re at work. But make sure to emphasize that whenever possible, children should go to a public place to ask for help.

You can help your children recognize safe strangers by pointing them out when you’re out in your town. Also show your children places they can go if they need help, such as local stores and restaurants and the homes of family friends in your neighborhood.

Recognizing and handling dangerous situations:

Perhaps the most important way parents can protect their children is teaching them to be wary of potentially dangerous situations. This will help them when dealing with strangers and known adults who may not have good intentions. Help children recognize the warning signs of suspicious behavior, such as when an adult asks them to disobey their parents or do something without permission; asks them to keep a secret; asks children for help; or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Also tell your children that an adult should never ask a child for help. If one does ask for their help, teach them to find a trusted adult right away to tell them what happened.

You should also talk to your children about how they should handle dangerous situations. One way is to teach them “No, Go, Yell, Tell.” If in a dangerous situation, kids should say “No,” run away, yell as loud as they can and tell a trusted adult what happened right away. Make sure your children know that it is OK to say “No” to an adult in a dangerous situation and to yell to keep themselves safe, even if they are indoors. It’s good to practice this in different situations so your children will feel confident in knowing know what to do.

Here are a few possible scenarios:

  • A nice-looking stranger approaches your child in the park and asks for help finding their lost dog.
  • A woman living in your neighborhood that your child has never spoken to invites him or her into her house for a snack.
  • A stranger asks if your child wants a ride.
  • Your child thinks he or she is being followed.
  • An adult your child knows says or does something that makes him or her feel bad or uncomfortable.
  • While your child is walking home, a car pulls over and a stranger asks for directions.

What else parents can do:

In addition to teaching children how to recognize and handle dangerous situations and strangers, there are a few more things parents can do to help their children stay safe and avoid dangerous situations:

  • Know where your children are at all times. Make it a rule that your children must ask permission or check in with you before going anywhere. Give your children your work and cell phone numbers so they can reach you at all times.
  • Point out safe places. Show your children safe places to play, safe roads and paths to take, and safe places to go if there’s trouble.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts. Explain that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, your children should get away as fast as they can and tell an adult. Tell them sometimes adults they know may make them feel uncomfortable, and that they should still get away as fast as possible and tell another adult what happened. Reassure children that you will help them when they need it.
  • Teach your children to be assertive. Make sure they know that it’s OK to say “No” to an adult and to run away from adults in dangerous situations.
  • Encourage your children to play with others. There is safety in numbers.

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