parents

Stop telling me that stranger danger is a myth.

BY MINDY HARVEY

I have a question for you.

When did it become a ‘bad thing’, a negative,  to be a protective parent?

I get it. Children are more likely to be abused or harmed by someone they know rather than a stranger. Police officers, child abuse experts and even free-range parenting advocates are now continually reminding us that it’s not the ‘man in the white van’ we need to be afraid of. Rather it’s that family friend who is more likely to be abusing our kids.

I’m not about to argue with the statistic or the advice of the experts. But I will say this: Please stop telling me that stranger danger is a myth.

Please stop making out that I’m a paranoid ‘helicopter’ parent because I want to drive or walk with my child to school. Stop making out that I’m over-protective because at seven, I don’t let my daughter walk to the shops alone. Or am wary of sleep-overs at the houses of families I barely know.

And please stop telling me off for sharing any stories on Facebook about suspected child abductions.

You see, last week a friend told me off for something I’d shared earlier in the year on Facebook.

An eight-year-old boy was approached by a stranger (a man) outside a fruit shop in a large shopping centre. The boy’s grandmother was at the counter. The boy was hovering on the edges of the shop when a man approached him and asked if he’d like to come with him to look at some trains.

Thankfully the boy ran to his mum. Nothing happened. All good. But when I read the story on Facebook I didn’t think twice about sharing it with my friends who – like me – live in the local area. I have a seven-year-old girl. I shop occasionally at that fruit shop. There’s some weird guy lurking around trying to lure kids away? It was a no-brainer to me to share the story. Forewarned is forearmed, in my opinion and as a parents these are the stories I want to be across.

What I wasn’t expecting to happen next was a smack down from another mum.

“What were you sharing that story for? These ‘bogey-man’ stories aren’t helping anyone. All they do is scare us all into thinking it’s not safe for our kids to go outside.”

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Sorry, what?

“Less than one percent of children are abducted by strangers. These stories are urban myths. This is what’s so wrong with the world right now, hearing all these stories is making us paranoid.”

Sorry, what?

At the time I stood there flabbergasted with no comeback. When my friend left I did some research and and found out for starters that 1% statistic is wrong.

When it comes to child-abuse 11% of the abuse occurs at the hands of a stranger. And if we’re talking about murders, sure, it’s just four percent.

Are those figures low? Absolutely and that’s a great thing but don’t tell me not to have my guard up.

Daniel Morcombe was the 1%.

The fact is, somebody has to be in that small percentage. Somebody’s son or daughter ends up in that 11%. And when that happens, when you’re the family who draws the short straw – be it for a rare form of cancer, stillbirth, or sexual abuse from a stranger – statistics mean nothing.

That 1% or 4% or 11% or whatever ‘low’ statistic is thrown around in conversations – for you becomes 100%. Your life is tipped upside down. Ask Denise and Bruce Morcombe. Somebody is always in that small percent. I think to live your life as though it will never be you is foolish at best and neglectful at worst.

Of course I am and will continue to teach my daughter about good and bad touching. I’ll talk to her about reporting any type of abuse (whether it’s at the hands of someone she knows or not). I still encourage her to play with the kids next door. To ride her bike. To trust her instincts when it comes to all adults.

But I’ll also continue to watch her like a hawk and warn her about stranger danger – about the man at the fruit shop or the guy in the white van. I’ll share with her Bruce Morcombe’s tips for kids about sticking with your friends, having a family password and not sharing information with strangers. Because in the end I’d rather be a helicopter mum and have my child safe and sound. If that makes me paranoid? Well, frankly, I can live with that.

What do you think? Are we being too protective of our children or is stranger danger still a real threat?

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