Thursday, June 23, 2005

How "Stranger Danger" almost killed the Boy Scout

Before I wrote Mojo Mom, I created Spark Seminars, a child safety training program for parents. My seminars teach parents about abuse prevention skills and appropriate ways to convey this information to their children. Parents are their child's most important safety advocates, and we need to develop the knowledge and confidence to teach our children abuse-prevention strategies over time.

This week's news about Brennan Hawkins, the rescued Boy Scout who was lost in Utah for four days, is an extreme example of the problems that arise when children rely on the overly simplistic and misleading rules about "Stranger Danger."

Because Brennan had internalized the rule "Don't talk to strangers," the lost 11-year-old actually got off the trail and hid from rescuers.

"Stranger Danger" is the only safety strategy many parents know. In truth, the issue isn't as simple as strangers versus people we know. The real issue is appropriate versus inappropriate behavior, whether it is a stranger, friend, or family member. Yes, there are different rules about appropriate behavior for strangers--you wouldn't want someone you'd never met to come up and kiss you, but if you are lost you do need to know how to ask a stranger for help. We as parents need to leave the old "Stranger Danger" cliche behind and replace it with more comprehensive, ongoing conversations about safety.

Feeling like you don't know where to start? Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker is an excellent resource that will tell you all you need to know to start developing your family's safety strategy.

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