Editor’s note: Gary Martin Hays is an attorney and co-author of "Trendsetters." He is a child safety advocate and is the founder of Keep Georgia Safe, a nonprofit organization that provides safety education and crime prevention training in Georgia.
As parents, we always have concerns for the safety of our kids.
Growing up, we were taught safety with the expression “Stranger Danger.” Ask a kid who they consider to be a stranger and they will often describe an ugly, unshaven man with a scraggly beard, missing teeth, and dirty clothes. But strangers may not be the real threat to our kids.
In Protecting The Gift, Gavin DeBecker writes, “Out of nearly 70,000,000 American children, fewer than 100 a year are provably kidnapped by strangers. A child is vastly more likely to have a heart attack, and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents (correctly) never even consider the risk. A child is 250 times more likely to be shot with a gun than be kidnapped by a stranger.”
Whenever we use the phrase “stranger danger,” it is telling our kids that everyone they do not know could potentially hurt them. It also gives the implied meaning that people we do know will not harm them. I often hear parents say, “I never leave my child alone with strangers,” as if that practice completely insures that their kids will be safe.
But think again.
We need to be more concerned about the people -- family members, friends, coaches, babysitters -- who have unfettered access to our children. The people you and your child know have two things that strangers and predators are always trying to get:
Access to your child
As parents, we need to realize and teach our kids that the issue is not strangers, but strange and inappropriate behavior that determines whether or not a person is potentially a threat. RadKIDS, a national child safety curriculum, teaches kids that there are two types of people: Good and bad. It’s not what someone looks like that makes them a good or a bad person, but what the person does or tries to do that makes them good or bad.
Some parents cope by denying the problem exists. Thoughts like “These ‘predators do not live in my neighborhood” “It could never happen to me or my family” run through their mind and they ignore that crime does exist.
Others can sometimes take their children’s safety to the extreme by putting them in protective headgear and bubble wrap every time they walk out the door.
But author Anne Cassidy writes in her book, "Parents Who Think Too Much," that the “suits of armor we provide them are as dangerous as the world we’re protecting them from.” We cannot become so obsessed with our children’s safety that our worry becomes debilitating paranoia -- for us and for them.
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