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The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) suggests that parents revise the idea of “stranger danger” in favor of teaching children the difference between safe and unsafe strangers. Safe strangers are people that can help a child in an emergency. Such as a uniformed officer, a store clerk with a name tag, a teacher, a sports coach, or a neighbor that you trust.  

Here are 5 things to discuss with your child about stranger safety:

1. Prepare kids for what to do if an unsafe stranger approaches them

Explain to your child what to do if an unsafe stranger approaches them. Start by defining what an unsafe stranger is, practice what to say and how they should handle the situation. The best thing to enforce in this conversation is that it is okay to be rude and say no if your child feels uncomfortable in a situation with an unknown person, or even someone they do know. 

2. Safe places to go for help

Help your child understand what safe locations they should go to if they need help or are in danger.   

Public places: Grocery stores, public libraries, schools, religious buildings.

Emergency response: Fire departments, police departments, hospitals, doctors’ offices.

Trusted neighbors, relatives, or friends’ homes: Speak to your child about people you trust for them to go to in an emergency that may be close to home.   

Once in a safe place ask a safe adult for help. Call 9-1-1 in case of an emergency if they have access to a phone.  

3. Reporting suspicious activity

Discuss what suspicious behavior looks like and how to report it to a safe adult. What details are important- what the person looked like, what did the vehicle look like, where they went.   

What is suspicious behavior? 

  • Unusual noises including screaming, fighting, breaking glass. 
  • Unauthorized people in restricted areas. 
  • People who change their behavior when they notice they have been seen. 
  • People dressed inappropriately for the weather (I.e., heavy coats in warm weather). 
  • An unknown adult asks a child to come with them. 

When to report suspicious behavior? 

  • You believe someone is in physical danger. 
  • You believe a crime is happening. 
  • You believe something is suspicious.

4. Body consent

Speak to your child about consent and empower them to have respect for their own bodies and others. 

  • Teach them that it is okay to set boundaries and limits on their bodies. 
  • Practice asking permission to give another person a hug, a high five, shake their hand or any other form of touch. Let them know they can speak up if they aren’t comfortable with someone giving them a hug, high five, shaking their hand or touching them. 
  • Educate them on letting another trusted adult know if any person is asking them to keep a secret, asking them to touch them in a way they aren’t comfortable with or in places that are private, asking them to take photos or watch videos that make them uncomfortable. 

5. How to be safe online

With so much time spent online, it’s important to start teaching kids online safety early. Who are safe and unsafe people online and what information is okay to share online versus what not to share online. This will help ensure that their privacy and identity are safe online.  

Reframing the conversation of “stranger danger” instead with a conversation of safe and unsafe strangers will help young children to understand who is there to help them and who may not be safe to interact with.