We are finally realizing that our children need to be warned that some adults who appear friendly may be dangerous to them. We are beginning to educate them on what to do to protect themselves. There have been television programs on this topic, the Campfire Girls have a program called, “Caution without Fear” and schools are dealing with the problem.
One of the concerns expressed about these programs is that we may be making children unnecessarily fearful of the world and their mistrust may affect them emotionally and socially. I believe knowledge is power and children should be helped to function in the world as it is. The shy, unassuming, quiet, non-aggressive child is sometimes cast in the role of victim. This is also true of adults. Adults and children, however, can be taught to stand up for themselves and say “NO” when appropriate.
Parents and teachers can begin to help young children by not stepping in and solving their problems for them. If a child is being taken advantage of by another, he needs to be helped to tell the offender that he does not like that behavior and to stop doing it. If the child is not successful, he may need adults guidance and support, but as far as possible, the child should take whatever action is needed by himself.
When giving children the information necessary for them to protect themselves, adults should present it in a factual, non-threatening way. Do not put fear into the children. Making them fearful does not make them safer. What you are trying to convey to children is that if they are alert and in control and know what to do in any situation, they can be less fearful. Children can be told that nobody has a right to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable and if somebody does they are to tell that person in a loud voice to STOP and immediately run away. They also should be told to tell an adult they know what has happened confident in the knowledge that the adult will respond by taking appropriate action to protect the child. An adult should never let the child feel that he or she has done anything wrong.
Children should feel that their parents love them completely and will always be ready to help them no matter what happens. They should be told that they do not have to keep secrets from their parents no matter who says they should not tell.
Since many children are on their own, they need to be taught how to respond when somebody they do not know comes to the door or calls on the phone. They need to know that they never to in a car or accept anything from a stranger. It is not necessary to dwell on horror stories of what happened to other children, you simply give children the information they need to to know in order to be safe. It is information every rational person should have in order to protect himself.
I recently witnessed an incident in the grocery store where a child innocently wandered away from his mother. The mother found the child within seconds and then began to punish him severely. She proceeded to tell him all the horrible things that could have happened to him because he had been out of her sight for thirty seconds. The child became petrified and could not be consoled. The mother in this case not only did not model responsible behavior but she did not give the child tools so that he could function well himself.
Children will not become fearful if adults are not. Adults who act competently in life and who are not victimized themselves are good models for children. These are usually adults who are well informed and who have taken charge of their own lives. I encourage you to do the same.