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The 'Stranger Danger' Message

November 13, 2012, 9:58 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

The 'Stranger Danger' Message
SIOUX FALLS, SD -

Is the stranger danger warning outdated?

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says it doesn't support the simple message to ‘not talk to strangers.’

The agency believes children should not just be told to stay away from strangers but says they need a more complete message on how to be safe.

"We have to make sure they know what to do since we walk to and from school so if they see a stranger, they know what to do," Sioux Falls mother Stacy Blackmun said as she walked her two sons home from school.

Blackmun has talked about strangers with her kindergartner and her second-grade son. Blackmun says that message goes beyond the simple line of 'Don't talk to strangers.'

"I think there has to be a little more to the message. They need to be aware a stranger is in fact a stranger and if something doesn't seem right, they need to just drop their backpacks and run to an adult.  Yell fire, kick if someone tries to grab them and just run.  Just get away from the person and try to tell an adult that's nearby," Blackmun said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the stranger danger slogan is a misguided message for kids because not all strangers are bad while the people children know well may want to harm them.

Bob Draeger is a School Resource Officer for the Sioux Falls Police Department.

"Stranger danger, we still use that term; it's an easy term, but we go way beyond just stranger danger," Draeger said.

Draeger gives presentations to students in Sioux Falls schools every month, including talks on how to stay safe. He says parents need to tell their children who they can trust.

"They need to be reinforcing to their kids that there are certain neighbors that are trustworthy, and they need to let their kids know who those people are," Draeger said.

Blackmun says she has done that with her children.

"We tell them either a teacher, someone who is wearing one of those fluorescent vests across the school, or go in and tell the principal. Those are the people," Blackmun said.

But when there is not one of those trustworthy adults around, children also need to know where they can go and who else can be trusted, in times of trouble.

"Kids need to know that there are strangers that they will have to talk to at times, but there are certain strangers that are good," Draeger said.

Sioux Falls mother Miranda Ankeny has talked with her five-year-old son about strangers and has told him who he can talk to.

"If you get lost in the store, you find someone who looks like they would be a mom, someone who works in the store.  But if someone tells you to get in to their car or just comes up and starts talking to you, we just walk away," Ankeny said.

Convenience stores are another safe place parents can tell children they can go if they think they are in danger.

"We tell kids, store clerks, convenience stores are everywhere. They can go there; there are cameras at all of them. They are a very safe place for a kid to go for help," Draeger said.

Draeger says parents also need to talk to their kids about people who they know that may harm them.

"Also need to let kids know that people they trust shouldn't be doing things that make them uncomfortable, even if there's a trusted person and they do something that kid doesn't feel is right, they need to tell somebody," Draeger said.

Police say parents should start talking to their children about strangers and safety anywhere from preschool-age up to first grade.

"But don't let the message get too complicated. A lot of things with kids are very black and white. If you make it too complicated, they can't process that," Draeger said.

Telling children who they can trust and where they can go in times of trouble will help them on their way to school or wherever they are going.

"To a certain extent, he has to know when someone looks okay to talk to and when it's a scary situation," Ankeny said.

Giving kids a broader message about safety can help them avoid those scary situations.

Police say you should also continue to tell your children to not walk alone, to walk on sidewalks and in well-lit places to avoid any dangerous situations.

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