99.999+ percent of the world is made up of people your child doesn’t know, and nearly every one of those gazillion people pose absolutely no threat to your child. Teaching her that strangers are not to be trusted can cause her unnecessary fear and anxiety when she encounters people she hasn’t met before.
Kids often have a warped sense of who strangers actually are and may believe they’ll know one when they see one. But in the HBO special “How to Raise a Street-Smart Child,” the children featured thought a stranger was someone who appeared threatening and evil, when, in fact, bad people don’t always look “bad.” Elementary schoolchildren in the film described strangers as appearing “bigger than most people” and looking “mean and ugly.” Clearly, what and who constitutes a stranger is a tough concept for kids to grasp.
Your Very Worst Nightmare
What are we really afraid of when we warn our children not to talk to strangers? Let’s put it out there—we’re afraid the strangers will harm our children by molesting or abusing them in some way, possibly even kidnapping and murdering them.
But consider this, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, of all children under age 5 murdered in the 30 years from 1976-2005:
- 31 percent were killed by fathers.
- 29 percent were killed by mothers.
- 7 percent were killed by other relatives.
- 23 percent were killed by male acquaintances (people known to them).
- Just 3 percent were killed by strangers.
Everyone is a Stranger at Some Point
Literally every single person we know was once a stranger to us—even our mom and dad. It took time and interactions with each person to get to know them as well as we do now. Your child will meet thousands of people in his lifetime, maybe even tens of thousands. Some will be bad, but most will be good. And guess what? You won’t be there most of the time to help him sort out who to trust and who to avoid.
So rather than teaching your child to fear people he doesn’t know, it’s far better to teach him from an early age how to use his intuition to assess whether a new person (or someone he knows well, for that matter) feels and acts safe and trustworthy.
Be the parent your child deserves!
the Badass Grandma
About CJ Scarlet
CJ Scarlet, aka the “Badass Grandma,” is a danger expert, victim advocate, and crime survivor herself. Most importantly, Scarlet is the doting grandma of three precocious toddlers. CJ has given speeches and workshops at national and international events; and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, including MSNBC and NPR.
The former U.S. Marine photojournalist and forest firefighter holds an interdisciplinary master’s degree in Humanities with an emphasis on human violence from Old Dominion University. Named one of the “Happy 100” people on the planet, CJ’s story of triumph over adversity is featured in two bestselling books, including Happy for No Reason and Be Invincible.