Stranger Danger - what do you tell your kids

The cultural drive to compel children to always be polite and sociable towards adults is a colossal concern when considering the threat from paedophiles.

Children naturally want to do what is right and to fit in with the culture of which they are a part.

Amanda Robinson believes we need to rethink the way we guide our children in a new world with a new breed of dangerous adults.

The old "Stranger Danger" rule, although effective to some degree, is inadequate, outdated and confusing to our children. But, since the 1920s, this has been the only real tool to assist and guide parents to protect their children against sexual predators.

It is hard to believe this dangerously flawed theory has been the primary defence since the 1920s against a scourge that has had devastating ramifications on the minds, bodies and souls of hundreds of millions of children worldwide.

In general, society today does not acknowledge child sexual abuse as a significant or urgent problem and as a result there is a flagrant lack of awareness and response to the problem. Can you imagine if this were an illness or disease?

There would be billions of dollars spent on preventing it and curing infected children. There would be extensive treatments available for the ill and suffering and countless rehabilitation programs to assist those who are living with the debilitating scars and side effects.

But all the suffering and misery has produced nothing more elaborate than "Don't talk to strangers". The cruel reality is that the money put into preventing child sexual abuse can often only be counted in thousands, not billions, and there are very few facilities or foundations to assist and treat the victims and perpetrators of this crime.

I personally feel the word "stranger" should be removed from anything to do with child personal safety as teaching children the "stranger danger" rule may increase their vulnerability to the child sexual predator rather than make them safer.

Understanding the cognitive development or the way a child thinks is imperative if one is to fully recognise the difficulties children have understanding and deciphering the complex idea of "Stranger Danger".

What may seem like a logical and simple idea to an adult can be confusing and beyond the developmental capacity of a young child. Furthermore, we bombard children with conflicting and contradictory information concerning "Stranger Danger" which simply confounds the issue further.

Nature's hierarchy dictates that children are dependent and seek the approval and protection of adults. Instinctively, they must rely on the wisdom of adults for their safety and wellbeing and we reiterate this on a daily basis by teaching them to unquestionably obey instructions from adults - and to trust in them.

Children live in a world ruled by adults all of whom are more powerful and more knowledgeable than them. Adults are in control of everything from what they eat to how secure and comfortable their lives are. Parents, school teachers, religious leaders and others all send powerful messages to children that they are to unquestionably do as they are told by adults and that adults always know best.

The "Stranger Danger" rule essentially contradicts these principles by telling children to distrust and fear adult strangers. In fact, we don't need to teach young children to be aware of strangers as nothing is more instinctive and natural for a child to be cautious of strangers and to resist proximity to unfamiliar people.

It simply feels wrong and unnatural for a child to be looked at, touched or talked to by those with whom he/she is unfamiliar but this natural behaviour is often interpreted as shyness and considered a negative characteristic.

With society placing such a high value on gregariousness, the important role shyness and reticence fulfils in keeping interaction with strangers to a minimum, and hence protecting young children, is underrated.

Another inbuilt safety indemnity provided by nature through thousands of years of evolution is a greater cautiousness of male strangers than of female strangers, but this too, is undervalued in our society.

I have witnessed time and time again, parents chastising their young children for shying away from the approaches of an unfamiliar person and then apologising to the stranger for the child's rudeness or making some excuse to explain the "silly" behaviour. No sooner have we lectured them about the importance of being polite to Mr Bloggs, the store owner (and stranger), we then instruct them "Don't talk to strangers!"

This contradiction is highly confusing and suppresses the natural instincts of stranger awareness. By telling children it is socially desirable to interact in a polite manner with strangers despite their natural feelings of anxiousness, we rob them of a vital safety tool.

Taught to dismiss her instincts, the child quickly learns by example and her own experiences that being polite brings praise and rewards whereas shying away results in disapproval. Discounting her own powerful inner feelings and adopting the "Don't be rude" messages, she learns to ignore her danger detectors. Consequently, a vital element in the ability to make correct judgements of people and to think for herself is lost.

This also indicates to the child that caution need only be used around strangers unknown to mum and dad. This philosophy can send a very dangerous message to children as the majority of child sexual abuse cases occur at the hands of family members or people known to the family. In actual fact, real "strangers" are less of a threat than the adults known to parents.

The cultural drive to compel children to always be polite and sociable towards adults is a colossal concern when considering the threat from paedophiles.

Children naturally want to do what is right and to fit in with the culture of which they are a part, therefore, well-mannered and respectful interactions with others does not need to be forced upon them as they will learn by your example and apply it accordingly.

This extract comes from 'The Silent Crisis - Simple Ways to protect children from Sexual Abuse' by Amanda Robinson