Stranger Danger

My daughter’s preschool presented a week of safety issues to the children. I felt she understood about calling 911, but I don’t think she got it when they covered not talking to strangers. Is there something else we should do?

Teaching young children about a complex issue such as the dangers of talking to a stranger is complicated because of the way they think.

A very young child can be taught simple life-saving procedures like dialing 911 to bring help. There are basic action steps that stay the same each time. Unfortunately, issues like kidnapping are not as easy for children to understand.

Children under the age of about 8 believe what they see without using logical thinking. They see a man as a daddy or a man, but they do not think that he could also be a stranger. A 4-year-old told her mother after a “Stranger Danger” program that a stranger was anyone who had curly hair and glasses — the costume the teacher wore during the lesson.

Secondly, we must consider if the information from these programs would be used if the child were faced with the situation. A recent test by the news program “20/20″ indicated it would not. Thirty children were presented a program on gun safety. They carefully practiced three things they should do if they ever encountered a gun. Four days later, the children were left in pairs in a playroom with three unloaded guns. Of the 20 children tested, only two girls resisted the temptation. All the others quickly found the guns and began pointing them at each other, pretending to shoot while their stunned parents watched from another room.

My concern is that parents may believe that if their child has been taught the information, then they are protected, much like receiving a vaccine. Unfortunately, teaching something doesn’t change the way a child thinks.

It is important for parents to talk with children about these issues, but ultimately they are responsible for their child’s safety. No matter where kids are, parents must know that their child is with a capable person who is able to assess each situation and make good decisions.