When Is It Time For Stranger Danger?

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After dealing with a bored & impossible child all day on Saturday, I was more than happy to head over to Spur for brunch with a friend on Sunday morning. I could spend some quality time chatting with my friend and Ava & Amy would have fun playing their hearts out at the recently revamped play area at Lone Wolf Spur, as a side note, this Spur has one of the best play area’s I’ve ever been to, it’s better than… dare I say it… Pappachino’s! What I liked most is that there is only one entry/exit point from the kiddies play area and the girls would have to walk right past us in order to leave so we could kick back and relax a little and enjoy some grown up conversation while the girls were playing.

We arrived at 10h30 and after a quick hug, the girls were off to play their hearts out, running between the swings, the sand pit, the tunnel slides, the trampolines & jumping castles. At one point they even found a face painter who painted their faces like Hello Kitty.

Ava & Amy @ Spur
Neither of them wanted to leave and so brunch turned into wine & starters & eventually we dragged to very tired & sleepy little girls out of the Spur at 4pm. At one point, I got up to go and check on the girls and after walking the play area, I eventually found Amy, watching Ava, be lifted up and hanging from the monkey rings. What really freaked me out…. who was lifting her up and touching her body. Not one of the child minders but an old man who can best be described, and I mean no disrespect when I say this, as every parents image of a child molester. He looked scruffy and a little dirty, when he turned to look at me, I also noticed he only had one ear and part of his jaw was missing from some kind of horrible accident. He had his hands around my child’s waist while she was gleefully begging him to swing her faster from the monkey rings. I nearly tripped over my own feet running and grabbing her away from him.
I know it’s unfair to make a snap judgement like that based on someone’s appearance but I was really uncomfortable with this old man touching my child, no matter how innocent it may have seemed or that she’d asked him to. It made me realize that perhaps it’s time to start talking to Ava about stranger danger. It’s something I have avoided up until now. I don’t want her to live her life fearful but the reality is that we live in a society where bad things happen, where bad people exist, people who may seem like they want to be nice to her but have ulterior motives. I don’t want her talking to strangers, especially not in a kiddies playground or anywhere else for that matter. My imagination immediately ran away with me, what if he was indeed a paedophile scoping out the play area? Or a child kidnapper? Or a scout for a child slavery sex trade…. Or … or … or….
Ava is a friendly child, she’ll strike up a conversation with just about anyone and I’d always thought this was a good quality, now I’m not so sure, now I’d rather she ran screaming Paedophilia Paedophile Paedophile every time a stranger tried to speak with her.
When did you start talking to your little ones about stranger danger? And how do I go about it in such a way that I can teach her to be aware and be cautious without putting the fear of God in her?

 

March 11, 2013
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18 Comments

  • Reply Denise

    I started with Jaden years ago. First with – no one ever touches his private parts – not even mom and dad, family or anyone (my experience is that sexual abuse is usually someone you know – a close friend, family etc), he learnt to wash his own private parts a few years ago. Also he can never touch anyone elses private parts (I explained private parts being the bits you cover on the beach)

    Also, I have told him never to go with strangers and always to make sure he can see me because some bad people can steal children. It has made him a bit unfriendly to strangers (he was also super friendly and used to go to anyone) but quite frankly I’d rather him be mistaken for rude than end up in a dodgy situation.

    Its a tough one because you don’t want your kids to grow up afraid but you also don’t want them in a precarious position!

    March 11, 2013 at 10:20 am
  • Reply Sian

    That is freaky. I seriously don’t know the answer, but I will be reading the comments to see what everyone else has to say.

    March 11, 2013 at 10:27 am
  • Reply Fairy Girl

    I’ve already started Sharon, as both of my girls are very friendly and will talk to anyone. I’ve taught them they may not speak to strangers *people they don’t know* unless mommy is with them. No person is allowed to touch their fairies (privates) except mommy, daddy and nanna. They often chirp in and say Gogo too cause she baths them lol. Logan is quick to tell me if Abigail is speaking to a stranger and she will tell them person straight ‘I don’t talk to strangers’. I believe we can never be too careful. A few years back a man grabbed Joshua in Checkers while he was with my mom and it scared the absolute shites out of me.

    March 11, 2013 at 10:52 am
  • Reply jenny

    One thing I have learned Lee-Ann is that the experts say all children must refer to their privates as the proper names (not fairies, apples, etc) as this plays into the confusion if abuse does take place. It is easy for a teacher or somebody to not take ‘that man touched my fairy’ seriously – see?

    March 11, 2013 at 11:07 am
  • Reply jenny

    Leigh-Ann. Sorry!

    March 11, 2013 at 11:10 am
  • Reply Daryl Faure

    We have been talking to Dylan for about a year now about stranger danger. He has to have a little ritual at night now where daddy pretends to be a bad stranger and mommy chases him away. He knows the theory of stranger danger, but I certainly wouldn’t bet any money on him not going with a stranger if he/she offered him sweets or a toy. That is why we as parents can never get too complacent. One good thing about Dylan is that he doesn’t do strangers well, but still, a paedophile knows all the tricks.

    March 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm
  • Reply Robyn

    Liam, too, will talk to anyone and everyone. While this is sometimes cute, it is absolutely terrifying for me because I think they are more of a target because they talk willingly to strangers (and will possibly go willingly with strangers!). I have already been having these sorts of conversations with both Liam and Hannah for a long time about stranger danger, about ONLY getting into mommy and daddy’s car UNLESS mommy is with you and physically puts you in another aunty or uncle’s car, etc. I already have “sex ed” talks with them as well about their private parts and what to do if anyone touches them there. I’ve even said that if anyone TALKS to them about private parts they need to come and tell me. It’s very difficult because of course I do not want them to become afraid and I do not want to steal that childlike innocence away from them, but it is a sad state of affairs, when we need to instill fear in order to keep our kids safe! I’d rather they treat every single person they don’t know as a potential enemy, than have them innocently think that every grownup is a friend. If that makes sense. And yes, I agree that it is important to call body parts by their real names – for the child’s safety and also to throw off these weird ideas about our bodies that can carry through to adulthood. The fact that we “cover up” the real names of our private bits already creates this sense of “taboo” and mystery, which is rubbish. We grew up calling our vaginas, puffniks. I mean really, it sounds so foolish! And when I DID eventually start saying vagina, I was somehow shy and embarrassed because it seemed like a dirty word I was finally allowed to use when I reached a certain age!

    March 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm
  • Reply jenny

    Okay I have been thinking about this all day and this is what I think. Kids accept things very readily without actually having to know why. So you can say: if anybody touches your vagina, shows you their bits or makes you do anything that makes you feel funny inside then come and tell mommy. Don’t really have to say why – it is just what it is – a rule that everyone must accept. I think just keeping those lines of communication open is essential but also want to say: I really don’t care if anybody else thinks my kid is weird. Because as a normal adult you would know what a normal level of interaction with a kid would entail. I don’t think that dude at the Spur had that – may not make him a paedophile but it does make him inappropriate and that is enough to have got your gut instinct going. The other really good advice I got (as this is not just strangers and in 90% of the cases is in fact not strangers at all) is to have a safe word. Something you can teach older kids: if you need somebody to pick up from school for instance – they have to say the word ‘Lasagna’ to know you are okay with it. If the person doesn’t know the word, your child stays put. This is probably relevant only to much older kids because my kids would probably tell the whole word what the safe word is. So what the heck do you do? I reckon hover, hover, hover until you don’t have to. There are places I don’t go to because I don’t feel comfortable with the safety of their play areas – too many exits/entrances etc. But Sharon maybe it is also worth discussing it with Spur management who actually do need to get into the staff’s head that randoms should be watched in the play area. Obvs you don’t want oupa to feel like a dirty old man (but again he wouldn’t, if he wasn’t) but their staff need some real training in what is appropriate in a play area and what isn’t. But I guess that is pie in the sky. Anyway, rambling comment but I am going to commission this one for the magazine because there are a lot of tips out there and I am sure very age appropriate ways of dealing with things. I really thought my son would tell me everything but he didn’t say a word about the bullying -so you can’t trust they would tell you either! 🙁

    March 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm
  • Reply Pandora

    I would have reacted just like you did. Also, what if it is not a stranger? Yesterday, someone we do know, although not well, was picking L up, hugging her and wanting to kiss her, and although we were both standing right there, I was terribly uncomfortable with the whole thing. My husband had his back to us, so he did not see it. I was about to grab her, but luckily she wanted to go play, so wanted to be put down. I don’t want to suspect everyone, but I just can’t help it. I think it is totally inappropriate if it is not a close family member. Lots of people at church want a quick hug from the kids and that is fine. It is the overly touchy feely thing that gives me the absolute creeps, and the kissing and trying to hold her closer. This is not the first time he has made me uncomfortable about how he treats her, and I try and steer her away as much as I can. Yes, it could all be very innocent, but it is a very fine line, and I am taking no chances. I will have to ask him in future not to pick her up.

    So how do you teach them to apply stranger danger to people they don’t consider as strangers? We can tell them no-one can touch you private parts etc, but what if it is not so blatant? What if it is ‘just’ a squeeze or a kiss?

    When I was about 13 we were on holiday at a caravan park, and one evening I went to the TV lounge. It was quite full, so I stood near the back. Suddenly I felt someone putting their arm around my shoulder, it was some old man. I was stunned, but all I did was step away from him. He then left the room. Here’s the thing:
    He was willing to do this in a room full of people, both adults and kids, to a 13 year old, quite capable of screaming, pointing him out etc.
    I did not know what to do, or how to react.
    I never told anyone. I can’t even say why, my mom would have raised the alarm immediately.

    I just did not know what to do. Maybe that’s what he was counting on.
    Stranger danger to me then was seen as someone coming up to you on the street when you are alone, not in a room full of people. It’s was also not someone you knew.

    I want my child to know what to do if she feels uncomfortable, to know she can tell me, to know she can scream, shout and even kick if she has to. Even if it is someone she knows.

    I am going to start to teach her now that must not let people pick her up and she must not hug and kiss people other than her family or family friends that we kiss hello too, and then only if she wants to. If people are offended, then that is just too bad

    March 11, 2013 at 4:02 pm
  • Reply Reluctant Mom

    Yikes, that made my blood run cold.

    I do not have the answer – I talk to my children about strangers in the same way I teach them to respect and be aware of dogs.

    All dogs look friendly,and they probably are, but you don’t know – even the one who has a waggy tail can bite you. So treat every dog with respect, realise you do not know the dog even though you know his name and he looks friendly. Do not touch dogs you do not know, do not put your face anywhere near a strange dog, and never ever follow a strange dog anywhere.

    I make it very clear that they do not need to be afraid of dogs, but they need to just be aware that they do not know the dog, so they need to take a certain measure of care.

    Once I work the principle in, then I apply the principle to “strange people” ……. but Connor used to tell strangers his name, and then when he was with strange people, tell me they weren’t strangers because they knew his name … {sigh} so it is definitely a constant reinforce exercise!

    March 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm
  • Reply Rene'

    I have been reading up on this for some time as it freaks me out. Found an awesome article that teaches you how to tell your child about tricky people and what tricky people do and how to avoid them. Will share with you tomorrow.

    March 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm
  • Reply Melinda

    Not quite sure what the answer is….all i know is that children are naturally very trusting..and most times it is not that creepy stranger, its that nice person with open arms that are the danger…I think that most important is to teach your child the right terminology for their private parts and to ensure that they understand that NOBODY touches it.

    Blimin scary that our children have to be taught these things at a young age because of some creeps that should be identified by “I am a pervert tattooed across their foreheads”

    March 12, 2013 at 8:19 am
  • Reply cat@jugglingact

    I might have freaked out a bit…. Anyways, as early as possible. Invest in a little book called “Parmant” or “Cheeky” in English (both available on Kalahari) which is the PERFECT book to start the conversation.

    March 12, 2013 at 11:16 am
  • Reply Julia

    I would have freaked out too. There is no right answer to this question. As far as I am concerned, the best time is NOW. I like how Celeste does it. I also had a problem with child1 being too friendly and this was something that I battled with. In fact, I still have to remind him not to be too friendly.

    March 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm
  • Reply Jeanette

    You do it as soon as she can understand it.
    Seriously Sharon, that Spur may be the nicest one around where we live, but there have been a few incidences there… a few have been urban legend, but I remember one case that wasn’t… and thankfully it was stopped before the child left the premises.

    March 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      OMG! Now I’m not sure I can ever go back there!

      March 13, 2013 at 12:43 pm
      • Reply Jeanette

        Well, I can’t find the story online… must be an urban legend… maybe? I’ll ask Lance tonight, he’ll remember the story

        March 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm
  • Reply Jeanette

    Ok I can’t find anything by googling, but I can find the attempted kidnapping incident at Lifestyle in 2009 (they’ve now upped the security and put cameras and screens everywhere)
    Those stories about Spur did the rounds at bookclub and kids parties a few years ago.

    March 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm
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