Right after Diddy was born, I was in the car listening to NPR and I heard a child safety educator say, “Stop telling your kids not to talk to strangers. They might need to talk to a stranger one day. Instead, teach them which sorts of strangers are safe. You know who’s safe? A mom with kids. Period. Your kid gets separated from you at the mall? Tell her to flag down the first mom with kids she sees.”
This was fantastic advice. I have shared it with everyone who will listen, ever since.
Last month, I finally got to meet the woman who’d said this brilliant thing, when I had the enormous good fortune of attending a kid’s safety seminar led by Patti Fitzgerald of Safely Ever After. Safely Ever After offers seminars to adults and children on the subject of “keeping kids safe from child molesters and abuse.”
I didn’t seek Patti out. I don’t spend every moment of the day worrying that my kids are going to end up in white slavery. But Diddy and Gaga’s preschool offers the material to parents of pre-K students as a preamble to teaching it to the pre-K kids, and Diddy’s a pre-K kid, so I went to hear what Patti had to say.
If it makes you uncomfortable to think about offering this sort of material to a 5 year-old, let me reassure you by saying our school offers an opt-out. But after spending a morning listening to Patti’s presentation, I can honestly say I would have let her go teach my 3 year-old about “tricky people.” If the boys could understand it, I’d have her come over and talk to them, too.
And they’d like it. Really. I did. Sitting around listening to all the horrible things that could happen to your kids might not sound like a good time — but oddly enough, with Patti Fitzgerald, it is.
For one thing, Patti knows her stuff, and I felt confident that her information was accurate and her advice studied and strong. For another, she’s pretty funny — so the material she presented never felt horribly gloom-and-doomy so much as matter-of-fact and manageable.
It is unlikely your kid is going to be abused by a weirdo at the park (huge sigh of relief).
That said, if there is a weirdo at the park, he’s not going to fit the “stranger” model — so stop teaching your kid about strangers! He’s going to come up to your kid and introduce himself. Voila! He ain’t a stranger anymore.
Teach your kids about TRICKY PEOPLE, instead. TRICKY PEOPLE are grown-ups who ASK KIDS FOR HELP (no adult needs to ask a kid for help) or TELLS KIDS TO KEEP A SECRET FROM THEIR PARENTS (including, IT’S OKAY TO COME OVER HERE BEHIND THIS TREE WITHOUT ASKING MOM FIRST. Not asking Mom is tantamount to KEEPING A SECRET.)
Teach your kids not to DO ANYTHING, or GO ANYWHERE, with ANY ADULTS AT ALL, unless they can ask for your permission first.
See how I said ANY ADULTS AT ALL? That’s because:
It’s far more likely your kid is going to be abused by someone they have a relationship with, because most cases of abuse follow long periods of grooming — both of the kid and his or her family.
Bad guys groom you and your kids to gauge whether or not you’re paying attention to what they’re doing, and/or to lure you into dropping your guard. Don’t. Kids who bad guys think are flying under their parents’ radars, or kids who seem a little insecure or disconnected from their parents, are the kids who are most at risk.
Be suspicious of gifts that adults in positions of authority give your kids. There’s no reason your son should be coming back from Bar Mitzvah study with a cool new keychain or baseball hat.
Be suspicious of teachers who tell you your kid is so special they want to offer him more one-on-one time, or special outings. That teacher who says your kid is into Monet, he wants to take him to a museum next weekend? Say thanks, and take your kid to go see the exhibit yourself.
You know that weird adult cousin of yours who’s always out in the yard with the kids, never in the kitchen drinking with the grown-ups? Keep an eye on your kids when he’s around.
Oh, and that soccer coach who keeps offering to babysit for free, so you can get some time to yourself? NO ONE WANTS TO BABYSIT YOUR KIDS JUST TO BE NICE.
And, here’s another good reason to add to the PANTHEON of reasons to teach your children the anatomically correct names for their genitalia:
There isn’t a child molester on earth who’s going to talk to your daughter about her vagina. Really. But if she suddenly starts calling it a cupcake, you can ask her who taught her that.
* Ultimately, after spending an hour with Patti, I felt LESS worried, not more. That, to me, is the number one sign of a good book or seminar about parenting — it doesn’t stress you out. And you know why Patti Fitzgerald and Safely Ever After won’t stress you out?
BECAUSE SHE’S CHOCKFUL OF CHECKLISTS!