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Everyone knows the phrase “Stranger Danger,” and many parents teach their children this in hopes of keeping them safe from child predators.  But—they shouldn’t, it is a mistake.  Teaching a child to be afraid of all strangers is actually the opposite of what you want to teach your children to keep them safe.

In that frightening imagined scenario where your child is somehow left alone in a public place, you actually DO want your child to approach a stranger, says Gavin DeBecker, a national expert on safety and predators.  In his fantastic book “Protecting the Gift,” De Becker explains that a scared, immobile, vulnerable child is actually an ideal potential victim to a predator.   Instead of teaching “Stranger Danger,” he says, parents need to teach children how to pick the safest stranger, and feel confident in approaching that person and asking for help.

How can a child pick the safest stranger in any given situation?  It’s simple—the child should pick a woman.  De Becker explains why, saying that this rule works “because it’s practical (there will almost always be a woman around) and simple (easy to teach, easy to learn, easy to do).”  Furthermore, he says, “a woman approached by a lost child asking for help is likely to stop whatever she is doing, commit to that child, and not rest until the child is safe.”  It may not be politically correct, but it is statistically correct and the safe thing to do.

If you are ready to put this concept in to action, and help equip your child, even just a little bit, for a situation that we all hope will never occur, here are two practical steps you can take.

  1. Teach your child that if he or she is ever alone or lost, go to a woman.
  2. Practice with your child looking at strangers in a public place.  Talk about which one would be the best person to ask for help from if your child was lost.  Discuss why.

A parent’s physical proximity and active supervision will generally always be the best protection against predators, but these two steps can give your child accurate and helpful guidance and the confidence to take appropriate action if you are ever separated.