The most cornerstone conversation you can conduct at the dinner table is one centered on social safety, or the stranger danger talk. You cannot overemphasize the need to be aware of your surroundings and the people who are nearby. Whether your children are at the park, in the store with you, or spending the night with a friend, their safety depends on their ability to understand the risks encounter within our society today. Use these questions to start the conversation but do not stop here. Visit the suggested resources at the end to equip yourself and your family to remain safe.
What would you do if you got lost?
Use an age appropriate follow up like these suggestions: 1) for children under 10 – …. while you are at the store with me or another adult. 2) for children in the tween years of 11-15 – …. While you are at (insert theme park you could realistically visit like Six Flags or Disney World). 3) for children of driving age – … while driving in a new area assuming your GPS or cell phone is not working. Listen to the way your children answer this question.
If you sense anxiety at even the thought of getting lost, use this opportunity to help them with a plan to contact someone they trust. For younger children, a memory game to see if they know your phone number can go a long way in reducing the stress of finding themselves separated from you. Many of us rely heavily on our cell phones for all kinds of information but knowing some key phone numbers by heart is an important safety skill. Knowing contact numbers is important but knowing whose phone to use can also be a safety factor. When in a store or theme park, cashiers in public places is a good choice. If pulling off the road is the option, busy grocery stores are better than isolated convenience stores along less populated roadways. Remind your driving teenagers to always keep their fuel level at least half full to keep their options open when stopping for gas.
Who is responsible for your safety?
This is another age appropriate conversation. You, as the parent, are ultimately responsible for making sure your children are safe. However, as they mature they play an increasingly more significant role in their own safety. Helping your children learn how to accept this role will keep them safe and also give them reasons to listen and obey you as their parent. Young children often see parents as their superheroes but as they get older, parents know less and less about the world according to the child’s perception. In order to remain the authority on safety, continue open conversations about why you need to know their whereabouts, close friends, and even the password for their phones. Accept responsibility and encourage your children that obedience is their responsibility.
What is stranger danger?
Most strangers are good but equip your children, at all ages, to think first when confronted by someone they do not know. As they define stranger danger follow up with the fact that even if someone they are familiar with asks them to go with them somewhere that you, as their parent, are not aware of, they should always tell them they need to ask you first. You most likely teach your children to be polite, but assure them that if they feel threatened it is okay to not only be rude, but to also get away as quickly as possible and consider the factors you discussed in the first question about contacting someone safe in the area.
The good news is that your children are safe most of the time and you know where they are. Conclude this conversation on a positive note by saying that being prepared is the best way to stay safe and that taking opportunities to remind one another about safety and talking about different scenarios is one of the ways to keep prepared. Here are some more resources to dive into for more information about child safety and the conversations that will help them stay safe: