September 27th, 2021


Stranger Danger and Other Child Safety Myths

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published Feb. 5, 2021

Stranger Danger and Other Child Safety Myths
It goes without saying that no one wants a child to be hurt, ever.

Sometimes, though, it seems as if we believe that with enough child-surveillance, parent-surveillance, blaming, shaming, investigating and arresting, we can achieve perfect childhood safety: Just make sure kids are watched 24/7 — and hound the parents who don't do that.

That's why we really have to think about actual safety and not just the knee-jerk response: "Never let them out of our sight till they're 18!"

So, here's a list of things to think about when considering which practices, precautions and laws make kids safer — and which may FEEL "protective" but actually aren't.

No. 1: "Unsupervised" does not equal "unsafe."

Considering that, according to the Department of Justice, the vast majority of child abuse is at the hands of someone the child knows rather than a stranger, it begins to feel as if keeping kids indoors — with a babysitter, parent, relative, sibling or stepparent — is actually LESS safe than them getting on their bikes and riding around. Let's not restrict kids' freedom due to a misunderstanding of actual risk.

No. 2: Crime rates against children have fallen.

Thanks to a media obsessed with the very worst, scariest stories, most people think crime is up, but the FBI stats say otherwise. Crimes against children have fallen since the early '90s.

Some say, "That's because we are helicopter-parenting them!" But crimes against adults have fallen during that same period, and we don't "helicopter-parent" them. It's just a true but surprising fact that crime has been falling since the early '90s (with an uptick in 2020 due to a truly abnormal year).

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No. 3: "Stranger danger" gets it all wrong.

The best way to keep kids safe is NOT to teach them "stranger danger." That's according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — the folks who put the kids on the milk cartons (and never mentioned that most were runaways or taken in custody disputes).

The best practice to keep kids safe from sex crimes is to teach them the 3 R's:

— Recognize it. No one can touch you where your bathing suit covers.

— Resist it. Scream. Fight. Run.

— Report it. Tell your children that if anyone makes them feel weird or wants them to keep a secret, they should always report it to you, and you won't be mad at them. This helps dissipate any guilt and destroys the secrecy predators depend on.

No. 4: We must trust parents.

We have to trust parents who know and love their kids more than some passerby who says: "A child outside! That's crazy!"

Unless a parent is putting their child in a situation where egregious danger is statistically likely, there is no reason to open an investigation for neglect or abuse.

No. 5: We must tame childhood anxiety.

Finally, there is a yin to every yang. Give kids some independence and they may fall off their bike, get lost or get cold. From which they can learn how much they can handle. Give kids NO independence — tell them they are in danger every time they are not under someone's watchful eye — and they grow up thinking the world is a dangerous place that they are unequipped to deal with.

That is the definition of anxiety.

With childhood anxiety, depression and suicide spiking (not to mention obesity), it's unclear that keeping them "safe" and supervised all the time IS safer.

Clearly, we want all kids to be safe, sound and loved. In a country where the crime rate is not going up, most molesting is not at the hands of a stranger, and childhood anxiety, depression and obesity are spiking as kids spend more time supervised and indoors, it is time to give kids back some healthy independence.