How to Make the Stranger Danger Conversation Helpful

The weather is getting warmer and school is almost out for the summer. Do you remember how exciting this time of year was when you were a kid? You were looking forward to weeks of freedom—being outside, spending time with friends, running all over the neighborhood. As summer vacation begins, kids are going to have more free time, at least some of it with comparatively little supervision. As a parent, you might be wondering what you can do to help keep your kids safe, especially as you think of them terrorizing the streets with all of the other neighborhood kids. Is now the time to have a conversation about stranger danger?

When it comes to sexual abuse, perpetrators are actually far more likely to be someone the child knows instead of a stranger. In fact, only 10% of perpetrators are unknown to the child.[1] But you want to keep your child safe all of the time, not just 90% of the time, and there are some good things you can teach related to stranger danger to help keep kids safe on those long days of summer vacation.

Focus on useful principles

Rather than concentrating on specific situations like “don’t take candy from a stranger” or “don’t get in a stranger’s car,” it can be more useful to discuss principles that a child can use in lots of situations. For example, teach your child that they shouldn’t accept any type of gift from someone they don’t know and they shouldn’t accept transportation from a stranger.

Avoid letting your child be alone

There can be safety in numbers. You can’t always be with your child, but you can make sure that your child is with another trusted person, even if it’s just a friend. A perpetrator will be less likely to target a child if there are other people around.

Help kids develop their intuition

You can’t foresee and talk about every situation your child will be in, so it’s important to teach them to develop and trust their own feelings. Tell your child that if a stranger (or anyone, really) ever makes them uncomfortable, they should get out of the situation as quickly as possible, and they don’t have to explain or justify their decision. Let your child know you’ll support their actions.

Teach kids it’s okay to say no and make a scene

Hopefully your child will never find themselves in a threatening situation with a stranger, but prepare them by teaching that they should say no, fight back, and make a scene. Sometimes children feel like they need to agree to what adults are asking. Teach your child that if a stranger is trying to do something, the child should yell and get other people’s attention.

Don’t teach kids to be scared of all strangers

Your child might be in a situation where they need to get help from someone they don’t know. (Think getting lost at the grocery store.) Teach your children about “safe strangers,” people they can go to for help if they need to: a uniformed police officer, a mom with kids, etc.

Be prepared in case something does happen

As a parent, you want to keep your kids safe all the time. But just in case a stranger abuses your child, ensure your child can communicate with you as quickly as possible. Have your child memorize your phone number and address, or put a card in their pocket with important information on it. If abuse has occurred, report it to the police immediately and try to preserve any potential DNA evidence (like hair the child might have grabbed or scratched off skin that might be under fingernails).

You don’t want your child to feel like it’s dangerous and scary to go outside and play, but covering a few basic principles about stranger danger can give you peace of mind and allow your child to focus on what’s really important when you’re young and you’re on summer vacation—having fun!


[1] U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). National sex offender public website. Facts and statistics. Retrieved on May 14, 2018, from https://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Education/FactsStatistics#prepetrators