Growing up, my parents never really had any sort of concrete conversation with me about strangers and how I should interact with them. My concept of “stranger danger” was pretty much summed up like this: don’t accept candy from a guy driving a van with no windows.
Other than that, my knowledge was pretty limited. Now that I have my own child who is extremely outgoing and friendly, my Spidey Senses are on high alert when she starts to chat or interact with a stranger. I love her bubbly personality, but it does make me nervous at times.
One mom on Instagram says that “stranger danger” worry might be a bit out of control. While it’s good too keep a look out for weird vibes from a stranger, I shouldn’t count out those closest to myself and my daughter either when it comes to my daughter’s well-being. Learning to look out for unusual behavior from anyone is more likely to help your child than teaching them to avoid all strangers.
In a now-viral video, Marcie Whalen shared that she and her husband don’t teach their kids about “stranger danger” and instead take a more innovative approach to the concept.
Whalen says that she wants her daughters “to be outgoing, have conversations with people and to … be hospitable to those around them.”
And she understands that parents are coming from a good place when trying to explain to their kids that strangers are to be approached with caution. However, Whalen adds, “most people are good people.”
So, instead of talking about stranger danger, she suggests talking to kids about strange behavior “because children are most often abused or hurt by people they know, whether it’s a close family member or acquaintance. It’s very rarely a stranger.”
It’s true. As many as 93% of child sexual abuse victims know the abuser, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
She then goes on to explain some strange behaviors she would want her kids to look out for, such as someone asking them to keep a secret or go somewhere without their mom and dad.
She continues, “My girls understand what to look for, whether it’s in somebody they know really well or somebody they don’t know at all, it’s categorized as strange behavior and therefore the red flags go up.”
“Anybody can have strange behavior, whether we know them or not. And when that starts to happen, they’re immediately to come to us.”
Responses flooded into Whalen’s comment section, voicing both some support and some criticism for this innovative look at “stranger danger.”
“As someone who grew up not being able to even go out or go to friends houses because of ‘stranger danger’ and that ‘everyone is a bad person’ mentality i thank you for doing this for your kids,” one user wrote.
Another echoed, “Aaaah this is good advice. Parents teach stranger danger, then wonder why their child has anxiety about new people or is not trusting of teacher or their new friends from work.”
Another mom shared that when she talks to her kids about safety, they used the term “tricky people” instead of “stranger.”
“I love this! We teach ‘tricky people,’ instead of ‘stranger danger.’ Tricky People ask you to keep secrets, Tricky People ask kids for help instead of grown ups,” they wrote.
While several people showed support of this parenting tactic, others weren’t totally sold on Whalen’s approach. Many viewers of the video got stick on Whalen’s use of the word “hospitable” when speaking about her daughters.
“Wanting your daughters to be outgoing and hospitable’ to strangers is troubling to me. Teaching these are necessary behaviors, especially for those assigned female at birth, is enforcing gender roles taught by the society at large that stifle women and are OFTEN the behaviors that predators, especially male ones, take advantage of when targeting young girls and women,” one user wrote.
Another user commented, “You wanting your girls to be hospitable to those around them and me wanting mine to know she doesn’t have to be nice or pleasant to anyone she doesn’t want to or know them. Women don’t owe anyone their shine.”
Other commenters disagreed with Whalen’s notion that “most people are good people.”
After receiving some negative feedback, Whalen wanted to clear a few things up.
“A few more notes: when I said most people are good people, I meant most people are not child predators. Young children especially need the parameters with strangers to be narrow at first and as they mature, so can their discernment and understanding of this concept. The main point of the post is to teach strange behavior right away because 90% of abuse happens with adults that kids already know,” she explained.
“And teaching your child to say “no” to strange behavior is HUGE- believe it or not, 91% of abusers won’t proceed when a child says no (source: Protecting your Child from Predators book),” she wrote.
Whether this approach seems a bit too lax for you household or if the concept of shifting the narrative of what “stranger danger” actually is speaks to you, thinking more about how we protect our kids and how we keep them safe from danger is always helpful.