September 25, 2008

Stranger Danger

Which of the following are you (or the parents you know) most worried about?

  1. My child getting struck by lightning.
  2. My child encountering a rattlesnake.
  3. My child being involved in a train wreck.
  4. My child being abducted by a stranger while walking to or from school.

Last week, my youngest child brought home a paper from school encouraging parents to talk to their children about how to act around strangers. This was prompted by an incident involving what the paper said was an "attempted abduction" somewhere in this city of half a million residents. Of course, being a good parent, I did talk to my son about how to react around strangers.

As I thought about it, however, I wondered if frightening my child in this way, and allowing this little bit of paranoia to enter my house, is worth it. Consider the list above. I have had relatives or close friends who have experienced numbers 1, 2, and 3. But no one I know--not a friend or a relative or a passing acquaintance or even a friend of a friend of a friend--has experienced number 4. The closest I've come to #4 is seeing an amber alert posted on an electronic freeway sign. I think I've seen this three times, in this state of over 30 million people, which, by my way of reckoning, means the chance that my child would be abducted is maybe one in ten million. When you consider that most abduction cases involve someone that the child knows and that they are usually related to custody issues, the chance that a child will be abducted by a stranger on the way to or from school seems to be even lower.

But this is what we worry about in our society. We fear, and we teach our children to fear. Is it worth it?

By the way, here's some tips on preparing your child for #1, 2, or 3:

  1. Don't hike on top of Mt. Waterman during a thunderstorm
  2. Wear good hiking shoes and stay on the trail.
  3. Keep riding. It's probably still safer than travelling by car (and nearly everyone knows someone who's been in a car wreck).

1 comment:

Adam Gonnerman said...

I've spoken and continue to speak with my children about 1 and 4. There aren't any rattlesnakes (I don't think) in northern New Jersey, and we don't live near enough to active train tracks. Growing up on the farm, my mother warned me about trains (there was a train track not too far from home, and I hiked a lot) and abandoned cisterns in the middle of fields. My father warned me about bulls. Of course, in both the school and the home we were taught about "strangers." This is just a routine part of raising children. It wouldn't be right for me to shelter them from the realities of threats in the world just because I think the odds are long they'll have a problem.

One thing about stranger danger, though: most harm comes to children through people they know. We warn them about "strangers" but forget to watch "uncle" so-and-so's behaviour around them.