“Teaching Children ‘Stranger Danger’ Is Terrible” – Missing Child Organization, Belgium

From Belgium comes this encouraging note:

Dear Free-Range Kids: 

Have you seen this [Joey Salads’ puppy/park/predator] video circulating on the internet which warns parents about child abduction? It’s going viral right now.

Good news, the Belgian public organization (called Child Focus) that helps families whose child has been lost of kidnapped, has taken a stance against this video.

Child focus says that the situation of a kidnapper approaching a child with a young puppy in a peaceful manner, while its parents are sitting nearby is completely unrealistic. Kidnappings mostly take place when a child is all alone, and the kidnapping often takes place under violent circumstances. But more importantly, Child focus claims that giving your child the advice to not talk to strangers is a bad advice. Freely translated from Dutch, the spokesperson of Child Focus says:

“If you teach your children not to talk to strangers, you create a fearful child. They will think that the world is generally a dangerous place with few safe havens. A child must above all develop self-confidence and inner strength, and it does not happen by repeatedly hearing how dangerous strangers are. Besides, there are many examples showing that “strange people” do good deeds to children. Just think of those who bring lost children back to their mom and dad on the beach or in a busy shopping center.”

Full statement (in Dutch) can be found here: http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20150504_01662183?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_term=dso&utm_content=article&utm_campaign=seeding

I think this statement is especially relevant, given that Belgium has been traumatized by a serial killer (Dutroux) who raped and killed several girls in Belgium in the 90s. This has had a huge impact on free play in public spaces.

Cheers, Sarah

I wish that someone in a position of great authority here would issue a similar statement, instead of presenting the video as half of a debate — as if full blown hysteria about the rarest, most random of crimes and a rational approach to risk are equally valid. (See this CBC interview with me.) – L

Teaching your kids not to trust anyone but you isn't fair or wise.

Teaching your kids not to trust anyone but you isn’t fair or wise.

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12 Responses to “Teaching Children ‘Stranger Danger’ Is Terrible” – Missing Child Organization, Belgium

  1. JP Merzetti May 10, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    Adults in any community or setting, and in many circumstances – can be a great positive resource for any child in distress. And I mean the adults a child does not personally know.
    ‘Worst-first’ thinking cancels out this resource.
    All because they haven’t been formally introduced and “vetted” by whomever has taught and instructed that child.

    A friend in need is a friend indeed.
    And I mean, friend in intent.

    We will never employ the magic crystal ball that allows us to look into another heart and know exactly what resides there. That god-complex will never exist.
    So in the meantime, common sense should prevail.
    Worry fury never was a replacement for common sense. (Though some would like to think so.)

    But the re-definition of the word ‘adult’ bothers me considerably.
    Would a kid alone, and in distress, automatically rule out talking to another kid? Probably not, if they had not been so instructed. It would not occur to them that another kid was dangerous.
    Yet adult automatically means danger.

    It is one thing to step forward to address the task of calming young fears and taking a situation in hand.
    It is another thing entirely, to attempt to do this where the solver of the problem (on behalf of the kid) must undertake a double solution: the actual problem itself, and whatever part of the problem that the “solver” exacerbates (by being a dreaded strange adult.)

    Many kids are by nature, shy around adults they don’t know. Add to that, this universal distrust of adults (and especially male adults) and this also compounds the problem.
    How sad to think that a kid could actually be in real trouble – and that trouble is made worse by the fact that the resource of a competent, trustworthy adult is not used. And the trouble turns into a tragedy.

    Yet we are being trained to not think that way. Tragedy that comes from trained distrust, is somehow, okay.
    (Well at least the kid didn’t talk to a stranger.)
    It has become so easy to narrow down liklihoods into convenient familiarities. No familiarity – you’re clean outa luck, kid.
    And where does familiarity come from, in a given community? A more open and natural set of communication and circumstance in a kid’s life.
    Which can be self-started, organized, controlled by and contained by the kid – with a little help from their elders.
    The ones who know that a kid can actually learn how to do this.

    The irony strikes me: a whiz at school math…….and completely hopeless at employing that spidey sense.
    When I was a kid, every kid I knew had that. It was a necessary life-skill.

    Yeah. A rational approach to risk. Learned from rational people.

  2. JdL May 10, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    Sadly, the Meitiv abductions illustrate that there is one class of people that children should be taught to avoid at all cost: cops.

  3. KH May 11, 2015 at 1:41 am #

    The headline is great “Nobody kidnaps a child with a white puppy.”

    The last line of the article gives the useful advice– “If someone tries to do something that you don’t like (which doesn’t mean this will happen to you), yell really loud and run away.”

  4. Elizabeth May 11, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    Anyone else remember the boy scout who was lost in the woods for four days because he hid from searchers, fearing kidnapping?:
    http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/06/22/missing.scout/
    I believe his parents did him a terrible disservice by drilling “stranger danger” into him.

  5. Elin May 11, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    Now that I read this article I realized that stranger danger could actually be used further if a child was in fact kidnapped and kept alive. The child would perhaps have learned from the original parents that s/he should not talk to strangers and then a stranger did prove to be dangerous and then if the child would have the chance to call out for help or flee s/he might not do so out of fear of more dangerous strangers.

    For the record I realized stranger danger was bad a long time ago but I haven’t thought about this aspect until now.

  6. jeff May 11, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    We had an idiocy with ‘stranger danger’ last week in our local park.

    This is a park where my wife takes the younger one regularly.

    This day they were having a ‘picnic’ and were surrounded by a swarm of little Orthodox Jewish children(1) around 3 years old all pointing and shouting ‘stranger!’ at my wife and son. And what did the mothers in the park do? They either ignored them (wow! That noise sure did make the parents notice) or they praised them.

    Both of our kids already know (even at 2.5 for the younger) that talking to strangers is fine, and going with them anywhere is not.

    I’m glad that it was my more gentle wife there, as I would have probably lit into the sheeple parents on reality. Not that it would help. 🙁

    (1) yes the fact that the children is Orthodox is important, as the local community is very heavy into helicopter parenting. This is not a single instance, but the most egregious of the recent actions observed.

  7. lollipoplover May 11, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    Teaching stranger danger, especially to school aged children, is also contradictory.

    Just a few of the people who are *strangers*:

    Bus driver
    Teacher
    Teacher’s aide
    Lunch Lady
    Other students
    Crossing Guard
    Policeman
    Fireman
    Ambulance Driver

    Your child will soon understand that they are meant to talk to strangers, daily, as part of this thing called education and living in a normal society. And you the parent who preaches “Don’t talk to strangers” are the idiot and your kid will now question what other stupid advise you are doling out.

    Talk to strangers, just don’t go anywhere with strangers.

  8. RJ May 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    Recently I noticed that my 5 yr old granddaughter was less inclined to talk with new people or be friendly she already had some contact with or was being introduced to which made the person uncomfortable and was embarrassing for my daughter.
    My daughter had noticed this too and it had become a problem.
    We talked it over with her and it turned out she had been given the “stranger danger” talk by her school teacher.

  9. Kimberly May 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    @Elizabeth

    I just bookmarked that article for use in the future. Best article in the world to use as a rebuttal for the parents who stress that stranger danger tactics don’t have a negative impact on the safety of children.

    On the flip side, a little off topic: Just saw this video on Right This Minute:

    http://www.rightthisminute.com/video/rtmtv-little-boy-flags-down-police-officers-game-basketball

    How awesome is that?!?!?!

  10. Emily Morris May 11, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

    I’ve yet to actually see a single child safety program that still advocates the simple “Don’t talk to strangers!” mantra. The experts seem to have weeded it out years ago. It’s the parents that cling to it.

  11. Diana Green May 11, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    Today is the birthday of a boy who dropped out of school at age eight to help support his family after his father died. He worked on the streets of New York City. This was years ago–the streets were less safe then. He sold newspapers, busked, and sang with a blind begged (an adult–presumably a stranger when they first met) on the Bowery–a rough neighborhood). A boy like that was considered “plucky” in those days–he was born in 1888.

    Were children safer then because the world was safer? Heck, no! They were safer because they were used to being ALIVE in the world in which they lived. What has become of us, that we and our kids live our lives in seclusion and haven’t a clue what our inner cities are like or how people like ourselves–they are not a different species!–live.

    It’s too bad that little boy had to do that. I support CHILD LABOR LAWS and FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE FOR EVERY KID IN AMERICA WHO WANTS IT. An educated population would hold better-paying jobs and pay more taxes and we’d all live better and all the cities would be safe…

    The little boy was Irving Berlin, who wrote WHITE CHRISTMAS and EASTER PARADE. His father who died was a Cantor, but the child never had a chance to learn to read or write music. Good thing for little Irving he didn’t live in Silver Springs, MD.

  12. sexhysteria May 12, 2015 at 6:39 am #

    Encouraging that at least in Belgium people can move on, while in some other countries people remain victims of the past. There are several Belgian photographers who still photograph children nude, and at least one offers workshops for other photographers. That’s probably hard to believe in certain other countries.