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Child Safety Is More Than a Slogan: Stranger Danger Warnings Not Effective at Keeping Kids Safer

NCJ Number
252024
Date Published
Author(s)
Nancy A. McBride
Agencies
OJJDP-Sponsored
Annotation
After explaining reasons why child safety messages based in “stranger danger” are ineffective, suggestions are offered for a more effective approach for preventing children’s and youth’s criminal victimization.
Abstract
When well-intentioned professionals and parents/guardians use the term “stranger danger,” it mistakenly suggests that only strangers harm children and fails to address the various situations that pose the highest risk to children’s safety. This instructional brief notes that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children does not support the “stranger-danger” message. Rather, the majority of missing and exploited children are abducted by someone they know. Children conditioned by the “stranger danger” message tend to view strangers as inherently mean or not to be trusted. They do not perceive attractive or friendly people as “strangers” and do not appreciate that strangers can be helpful when a child is having trouble. The recommended focus for instructing children in safety precautions is to teach them how to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations and how to take effective steps to remove themselves from a perceived dangerous situation. Parents must engage their children in “what if” scenarios in which their child may be harmed or exploited. Children will thus be aware when a situation has the potential for harm and how to avoid or remove themselves from the situation. This teaching through hypothetical “what ifs” can be reinforced when parents are with their children in various situations where risks can be identified and safe behaviors can be suggested.
Date Created: September 30, 2019