Stranger Danger

February 4, 2010 1:35 am

“Mommy, I have a new friend”. Graham chirped from the backseat.

It was rush hour and I was trying to navigate through traffic to meet Jamie and my father-in-law for dinner. The truth is, I was half-listening while mainly keeping my attention on the road.

“That’s nice, what’s your new friend’s name?” I asked.
“Eric” (or Erin or Alan? The kid is hard to understand sometimes).
“Is Eric a new boy in your class?”
“No, he’s a grown up. He’s going to pick me up from school in his purple car.”

Suddenly, I was listening. My three year old had just told me that he met a strange man who planned on picking him up from school. Graham has recently entered the stage of making things up but still, this story was surprisingly detailed. I decided to leave it alone for a bit so I didn’t “lead the witness” by filling in the facts for him. Instead, I continued on to the restaurant and put the conversation out of my mind for the duration of the meal.

Later that night, I filled Jamie in on the conversation. He was instantly alarmed, and wondered why I wasn’t freaking out too. I guess I had initially figured it was nothing but retelling the story made me see the seriousness in what I’d been told. I began to consider the possibility that there was actually a strange man who approached Graham at school. On the playground? In the gym? In his classroom? Where? We both agreed that this wasn’t one of those conversations that you brush off and forget about, I needed to bring this to someone’s attention.

The next morning, I asked Graham for more details about his new friend. His facts were surprisingly consistent with those of the previous evening. Again, I was careful not to lead the witness since he is great at incorporating our questions into his stories as he goes. This was last Thursday, and the kids aren’t in school on Thursdays. Still, I felt it was important so I drove up to the school to talk it over with is teacher.

Graham’s teacher was equally as concerned about his story but assured me that he didn’t talk to anyone on her watch. She said she doesn’t even let the school’s maintenance staff in her classroom or on the playground when the kids are present. That they patrol the playground and don’t let people talk to the kids through the fence. But she would keep an eye out for anything suspicious and also for a “purple car.” I trust this woman completely and I believe her. She often leaves me standing outside at pickup time because she refuses to unlock the classroom door until the appropriate time, girlfriend doesn’t mess around. The following day, I talked with the preschool director who had already spoken with Graham’s teacher and had been apprised of the situation. Although it was probably nothing, it didn’t hurt to keep everyone in the loop.

Talking to Graham’s teacher made me feel somewhat better but the whole thing opened my eyes to a bigger problem. Graham is such a happy, friendly kid, much like a puppy who would surely jump in the car with anyone. Up until this point, I had always seen that as one of his strong points. I’m proud when I see him interacting with people so well. But where do I draw the line?

I’ve since started the “stranger danger” conversations with Graham. It kills me that I have to explain to my sweet, innocent boy how there are “bad” people out there who might want to hurt him or take him from his mommy and daddy. That he can’t just go around talking to anyone and everyone because it could lead to something bad. Graham doesn’t understand either, he keeps asking me why someone would want to hurt him. I just don’t have the answers to give him but I try my best to explain anyway. I hate that this is the world we live in, but I’m doing my best to prepare my kids just in case. How about you guys, how do/did you deal with stranger danger?

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  1. MamaBug

    Each of my boys are so different and each need different approaches to this situation. My oldest is overly dramatic, and so situations where I present possible tragic situations, he automatically jumps at the drama of it all. I made sure that I down played the “evil” component but made sure he understood that talking with any stranger was not ok. It was important to make sure he absolutely knew he was not to talk to anyone without a grown-up present, even to say hi. Fortunately, he is/was a really obedient boy, and didn’t question me.
    For our 911 segment of emergencies, we practiced with a disconected phone and made pretend phone calls. That was always a popular activity and one that you should make sure you son can do as soon as you are comfortable that he won’t make the accidental calls.

  2. Mad Woman

    We kind of avoided the whole “stranger danger” talk in favour of what a cop friend called “situational danger”. I can’t tell my kids to not talk to strangers and then tell them in the next breath to go and find someone dressed in a certain way if they get lost in a store, or to say hi to the old lady or man that’s talking to them in line at the grocery checkout. I needed to teach them what to do if someone tried to do something…odd. Like a guy in a purple car coming up and talking to them about odd thing.

    I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this. It’s terrifying when they come home and tell you something like that.

    Is it possible he saw something like that on tv?

  3. Jenni

    We haven’t gotten there yet, but I think about it because Oscar is also a very sweet, open little boy. When we have company over, it’s not long before he’s climbing into their laps, demanding that they play trains/cars/dinosaurs. He’s so trusting.

  4. mrsbear

    I haven’t even touched that topic with Max, since I’m always on alert when we’re out because he is unpredictable and always trying to run off. At the store or restaurants, staff is always trying to get him to smile or say hello, so I actually prompt him to be friendly when really I shouldn’t. They’re strangers. I have to start drawing the line for him too.

    Thanks for the paranoia. πŸ˜‰

  5. Michele

    This is a hard one. It is very hard to teach the difference between appropriate and inappropriate conversations and actions. I wonder if there isn’t a workshop or something at the local police or fire station that addresses this issue.

  6. Stacy (the Random Cool Chick)

    I audibly gasped when I read the part of Graham mentioning the guy offering to pick him up from school in his purple car. I have had the ‘stranger danger’ talk with Princess Nagger because she’s outgoing and friendly like Graham is. I think they actually had a police man come to the school this year (for first graders) to talk about ‘stranger danger’, too. PN still doesn’t understand why there would be people that might want to steal her or hurt her, and I’d rather not get too detailed in my explanation, so I just tell her that while there are lots of nice people in the world, there are some bad ones. Sad this is the world we’re living in, isn’t it?

  7. Kendra

    That is so scary. We have had a problem with our boy yelling a lot so we have told him the only time he is allowed to yell at people is if they are strangers and they are trying to get him to come with them/take him. It is sad that we have to incorporate that into the teachings of our little ones. Hopefully a purple car stays out of your future.

  8. becky

    Whoa, funny how these conversations creep up on you before you want to have them. I haven’t really gotten there with Hank yet, but when Laura was little, I focused less on someone hurting her than, like, “There are people who want to take kids away from their moms and dads, and that’s why you never go near a stranger’s car.” Then I told her (and I still tell her this to remind her) that I would never, never send anyone she doesn’t know to pick her up. Now I tell her an exact list of the people who might pick her up places, and nobody who’s not on that list, even if she’s acquainted with them, is okay to go with.

    She’s 8 so she gets it a little more, but it is still a little heartbreaking to have to teach them all this. I highly recommend that book _Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children Safe_. It’s by the Gift of Fear guy, which you should also read if you haven’t. He talks about finding ways to make your kids feel empowered rather than scared.

  9. Andrea

    They actually say not to use the words ‘stranger danger’ anymore. Because family members/friends can also hurt us. Scary but the people who hurt kids most are people they know.

    We had a police officer come talk to our neighborhood because of attempted abductions at the bus stop one community over (and not one but like three times it happened). he said not to use stranger danger. For kid Graham’s age I can only say what he told the elementary kids. If someone approaches you don’t acknowledge them, never get closer to their car, scream and run in the OPPOSITE direction the car is facing if you feel threatened. Because then they have to turn around to follow you which will take longer.

    Bottom line tell him not to talk to strangers because they might hurt him. Let him know that if anyone tries to hurt him or ask him to look for their puppy to tell a trusted adult (mom, dad, teacher). Always tell someone. Let him know you will never get mad at him for telling (which is a reason a lot of kids don’t tell).

    Since he’s too young to ever be alone like at a bus stop, that is somewhat reassuring. But teach him about appropriate touch too, these days they are never too young.

    It’s an awfully scary world out there these days.

  10. Suzicate

    Gosh, that is scary. There are def weirdos in this world. It’s sad that we have to put our innocent little children on the alert for pervs.

  11. Captain Dumbass

    That is freaky. You handled it much better than I would have. And I guess I’ll stop using stranger danger in conversations from now on.

  12. Peggy

    Shit Casey! That is so scary! I constantly remind my kids not to talk to anyone they don’t know…12 totally gets it (obviously) 8 is just now becoming aware that there is evil in the world and 4 is the one who is constantly talking to strangers but usually only if they speak first. It’s hard to explain to her…you’re so right!

  13. Sprite's Keeper

    While I wish my neurotic tendencies would just rub off on Sprite, I have seen her walk over to a woman in Walmart because she had a little dog in her arms (not allowed, but not the point either) and I immediately went after her and told her loudly not to talk to strangers. I apologized to the women for using her as an example, but Sprite needs to know that just because someone looks friendly, it doesn’t mean they are.

  14. K

    I’m going to need to have those talks too.

    My little guy would leave with just about anybody.

    For now, I just watch him like a hawk, but I won’t be able to do it forever. I’m also outnumbered a lot of the time now and it’s scary.

  15. Maureen@IslandRoar

    Very scary!
    I’m so glad we’re past that. Not that I don’t worry about the 3 of them, but at least now I know they probably won’t get taken in by any “help me find my puppy” stories. I did talk to them all by 3, and kept talking. But I still always felt that with the right “friendly” person with a great story, they’d have gone. I used books too, which I think helped. And trying to teach them to trust that gut feeling we all get, when things just don’t seem right. I think it’s a survival instinct we don’t pay enough attention to. I’ve kind of trained them if something feels wrong on any level, listen to yourself. I think the main thing is to revisit the talk every few months, adding or revising as they’re ready for the info. Even now I tell my kids NEVER get in a car. Kick, scream, whatever, because the stats on surviving once in the car are pretty damned low. You’re such a good mom; you’ll find the right solution for your sweet babies.

  16. Tracie

    Hopefully it was something he saw on tv or maybe in a book at school?

    I don’t remember when we talked about this with the boys. I do know that police officers came to their pre-school and elementary schools to discuss this. And it was covered in Cub Scouts.

  17. steenky bee

    Wow. I know where you are coming from. We are training our oldest to not talk to strangers. It’s difficult when nice meaning people try to make small talk with us when we’re in public, but I’ve gotten over the awkward portion of the conversation where I tell the person to kindly not talk to him as we are learning about strangers. People are usually pretty understanding. Well, except for the local produce guy. He still tries it with us every time.

  18. Laufa

    Stranger Danger was always talked about, but totally confused my son. They guy in the next car could be a stranger, but there was no way a cool guy on a motorcycle was (that was his thinking).

  19. Cyndi

    Oh, no, I kept waiting for the punch line that it was a story or tv show πŸ™ I remember those first sad days of turning their little innocent world a bit to the side. You may remember it went along with a close friend’s children having a terrible experience. You have to find ways that work with your child’s personality, but we are in the ‘look inside yourself’ phase for appropriate behavior choices and try to extend it to all sorts of temptations and situations. GL, girl, I am interested in hearing how you guys approach it.

  20. Karen @ If I Could Escape

    Oh my goodness, my heart would skip a beat! I actually had to have the first talk with my little guy about stranger danger today when he and his friend ran off from the picnic shelter where we were at a Valentine’s party to the playground without mummy! When it was time to go to the playground, he was terrified to go on the slide as there was strange man there! It was just a dad playing with his kid, but I was kinda glad that something stuck. Was planning on blogging about it tomorrow … if I remember! LOL

    Hugs to you!

  21. bex

    what a difficult and awkward conversation! at least ours was. i hope he gets it – i hope all of our kids (all of us bloggers’ kids) get it!

  22. Keely

    Gah. Not there yet, but X is really open and trusting too so I’m sure I will be soon. I think you handled that really well – I guess you just have to be ever-vigilant.

  23. Ginny Marie

    When Lily was little, I had to tell her to be nice to people, because she would scream if the bag boy at the grocery store helped me bring the groceries to the car. I told her it was OK to be nice to strangers if I was with her. Her preschool teachers have taught her to yell “Stranger!” instead of just randomly screaming if a stranger comes too close, which I think is a great idea.

  24. Intrigued

    The “stranger danger” talk was handled by our school early on and is one of the key topics in earlier grades so I’ve never really had to worry about it, but it sounds like his teacher is one of those teachers that schools need to hire more often, but don’t. It is REALLY HARD to draw the line like all of you have said, a quote that stresses this is by a comedian named Dmitri Martin… “Never talk to strangers…unless you want to meet someone, EVER.” It’s hard to explain to them not to talk to strangers, yet expect them to meet new people.

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