The Austin newspaper had a frightening story last weekend about a local child abduction. It is the sort of story that makes parents worry a little more and hold our kids a little closer. But, it also brings up good questions about what we parents can do to keep our children safe from harm. We know how to keep them away from the knives and the bleach, but what about dangerous people?
Gavin de Becker’s book “Protecting the Gift” is a great guide for parents. In it, he encourages us to really listen to our intuition–that little guiding voice we so often try to rationalize away. Some guy creeps you out in the parking lot? There is probably a reason why–our animal instincts still work! We are able to evaluate lots of different signals like facial expressions, physical promixity, and of course the undefinable ‘creepy factor.’ And as parents, not only do we need to listen to that voice ourselves are parents–we need to teach our children to recognize and listen to that voice in their own heads, too.
Have you told your child “Don’t talk to strangers”? de Becker brilliantly illustrates why that is actually a counter-productive lesson. First, if our children are ever in need of help, being reluctant to speak to a stranger is an obstacle to keeping themselves safe. Children need to (a) know how to choose which stranger is likely the most safe, and (b) go to that person and ask for help–because a child sitting alone, looking lost & vulnerable, makes for a ‘perfect’ victim to a predator. By the way, de Becker gives a suggestion about whom children should ask for
help. Surprisingly, it wasn’t policemen–it was mothers. Citing
plenty of statistics, he argues that a mother, or even a (non-parent) woman, is far more likely to be the safest choice for helping a lost
When your child shys away from a stranger–even a friend of yours–how do you handle it? I encourage you to keep in mind that while politeness is important, so to is learning how to keep themselves safe. Parents can also help children learn to listen to their inner voice by asking questions: “How would you like to say goodbye to Ms. Smith?” or “If you were in this restaurant alone, who would you ask for help–and why?”
Although the book is a little too full (for my tastes) of frightening stories, the wisdom inside is well worth it.