And yet we’re always being told that we’re overprotective of our kids, that we should let them go places on their own. We’re told that the chance of a child being abducted by a stranger is so small that it’s almost non-existent.
Well, I don’t know about that anymore.
A few weeks ago, I heard from another parent at my child’s primary school about a disturbing incident. A young girl at the school was being picked up by her mother from after-hours care when the girl said she had to go to the toilet. Inside the kids’ toilets, she ran into a strange man. He put his hands on her, but she managed to run back to her mother.
What. The. Hell.
This had happened at my child’s school? Inside the kids’ toilets? Just the previous afternoon?
The school sent out an email to parents, not mentioning the incident, but saying that local police would be giving a talk on stranger danger and parents were welcome. At the talk, police gave a few more details about what had happened, and also revealed that twice, in the past couple of weeks, children had been followed by a man as they were walking to school. The man had tried to convince the children to go with him, but they’d refused. This man matched the description of the man the girl had seen in the toilets.
I was now reeling. So there had been two previous occasions where a man had approached kids from my child’s school and attempted to lure them away, and parents hadn’t been informed?
I’d always thought that this kind of thing was rare, that something like the encounter in the school toilets might even rate a mention on the news. I had no idea that there could be three scary incidents involving a stranger within the space of a few weeks at my child’s school, and the principal wouldn’t even mention it in the newsletter.
Of course I’d talked to my kids about stranger danger, but I started to wonder if I’d pushed the message hard enough.
Kate Power spent 15 years as a police officer. She’s the author of the book My Underpants RULE!, which helps educate children against sexual abuse, and she’s just released a new book about stranger danger, called My Tricky EYE-SPY!.
I asked Power if incidents like the ones involving kids at my child’s school were common.
“There are lots of approaches,” she says. “It can happen all in one area, at the one time, because it’s usually the same person. The police may follow it up, depending how busy they are, but it doesn’t go to the news, unless they actually grab them and there’s a fight.”
She says parents aren’t necessarily informed by the school.
“It’s really up to the principal.”
Power believes kids need to be taught about stranger danger. She says even though parents tell their kids not to speak to strangers, kids think that only applies to strangers who look “scary or mean”. They will happily chat to strangers who are nice and friendly and have puppy dogs.
“There are heaps of social experiments you can see online. Most kids will walk away with a stranger in 30 seconds.”
Power says when it comes to teaching protective behaviours, there’s been a move in recent years away from stranger danger.
“But we shouldn’t forget about stranger danger. We absolutely shouldn’t.”
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