Why I refuse to teach my children about stranger danger

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

Stranger Danger was a big thing when we were kids, wasn't it? Remember how we were taught that every stranger was potentially dangerous, and that we should never talk to them, and have escape plans for any situation?

I still remember being taught in a school safety session how to kick out brake lights in the back of a car if I was thrown into someone's boot.

Luckily for me, that never happened (it was also always a statistical long shot). 

Being a child in the 80s was different from being a child now. Back in the 80s, we were out of the house in the morning and rarely showed our faces around home until dinner time. We speak of it nostalgically now, like it's something we should aspire to for the"screen-addicted couch potato" children we have now.

We had no mobile phones or any way of being contacted. If you weren't at home, your parents really had no idea where you were; and you had no way of letting them know unless you were at someone's house or near a public phone (and had the 20 cents needed to make a call). 

Life was much more dangerous then and unsupervised, free range children were sitting ducks.

These days, our children have phones and or tablets (often required by their schools, taking the option of not using them away from reluctant parents). They're are potentially hooked up to the internet from the moment they wake until the moment they go to bed – and sometimes after.

Our kids can call for help any time they feel uncomfortable or afraid. They can tell someone if they're getting a weird vibe, or if they've hopped on the wrong bus and don't know how to get home.

And the thing is, our kids are statistically more likely to come to harm at the hands of someone we let into our home, rather than at the hands of a stranger. There's a reason child abductions are big items on the news: because they hardly ever happen.

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The Australian Institute of Family Studies reports that well over 90 per cent of children who are physically or sexually abused suffer at the hands of someone they know. 

What has concerned me is that I've notice in my children a lack of connection to those around them and to their community. My teenager will often forego a day out with actual physical friends to sit on her iPad and talk to friends online. My two primary school-aged children are nervous around strangers and won't interact with adults they don't know well.

When did this become a thing? How did we let it happen?

The big danger I see in front of our children is their becoming increasingly less connected and able to form healthy human relationships.

So I encourage them to talk to strangers.

I don't see danger in strangers, I see opportunities – and stories and perspectives we haven't heard yet. Sure, there will always be people we might not want to mix with for whatever reason, but what's wrong with saying hello as you walk down the street? What's wrong with stopping to talk to a homeless person or to ask a lady on a bus how her day was?

I don't feel so confident in my parenting that I can provide a comprehensive and balanced view of the world – nor should any parent. It's impossible.

There is so much to learn out there, and our kids are missing out. Sure, going out into the world means you might get hurt, but we've got one life and it would be a shame to live it inside with the lights turned off, scared of what might happen. 

There's too much to gain.