Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Protect your kids from sneaky people

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

protect your kids from sneaky people - creepy ice cream truck van photo sneaky-people_zpsd4d4b49b.jpg

Some months back, I was watching an episode of Dateline about protecting kids from child predators. It was a segment with the theme "My Kid Would Never Do That" that puts parents' certainty in their children to the test. It's a recurring segment on Dateline, where they'll test kids on whether they'll open the door to a stranger when they're home alone or give out identifying information or, for older kids, drive with someone who's been drinking.

In this case, they were setting up a situation where small groups of kids in the mid-elementary age range (6-11 years old or so) were put at a table outdoors working on some projects. The kids thought they were alone and unobserved since the producer and other adults had gone out of sight. Then a hired actor drove up in an ice cream truck and worked at tempting the children to enter the truck without seeking their parents' permission. He promised them free ice cream if they'd just come on board.

There's a sneak peek explaining the segment available here:

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or you can watch the full episode online if you're interested:

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Now, I have some reservations about putting kids through these "reality" experimental situations. I've seen some episodes where the kids got really, really upset, whether they gave in or not, and it's usually setting them up at least for some embarrassment. That said, I found it really helpful for thinking about how to approach the subject of being wary of sneaky people with Mikko.

I first heard the term "tricky people" from this blog post at Checklist Mommy. Safety expert Pattie Fitzgerald recommends the term over the oft-repeated "stranger danger," because telling kids to be afraid of strangers doesn't actually protect them. For one thing, it's often not strangers that hurt kids but people they know. For another, once a shady adult has introduced himself, bingo, not a stranger anymore in the kid's eyes. And for a third, most strangers are completely benign (grocery store clerks, families at the park), and sometimes it's a stranger who could come to the rescue in a risky situation, like a friendly-looking mom or a cop.

So … what Pattie recommends telling kids to beware of is instead "tricky people," and I changed it to "sneaky people" when talking with Mikko. He didn't quite understand what "tricky" meant, whereas one of the shows he watches, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, has a song about Captain Hook being sneaky. Since he identifies sneaky with bad guy, I figured that was a good bet.

  • Sneaky people try to get kids to do things in secret.
  • Sneaky people try to get kids to hide things from their mom and dad.
  • Sneaky people don't want kids to ask their parents' permission to do something.
  • Sneaky people want kids to go somewhere with them without telling their parents.
  • Sneaky people ask kids for help even though they're grownups and don't need help.
  • If you're a kid who needs help and your parents aren't around, find a mom with kids and ask her for help. (Women are much more likely to stay with other kids until they get the help they need or locate their parents, and are much less likely to be … well … sneaky.)

This framework I thought was brilliant. It made so much more sense than "stranger danger" and covered a much wider range of possibilities. It covered sketchy teachers, uncles, coaches, doctors, even peers, who are not strangers but who might want your kids to do things in secret or without your permission. And it wasn't too scary to talk about with Mikko, the way just flat-out discussing child molestation or kidnapping would be. I don't want to scar the kid for life — I just want him to have a good head on his shoulders and know how to resist any of the sneaky people who would want to hurt him (even if he doesn't quite understand why or how they would hurt him, and thank goodness he doesn't yet).

So we had this conversation about sneaky people, and I thought it went all right. I knew I'd have to reinforce it again, and again, and again, but I thought the basic premise had sunk in. "Don't let sneaky people tell you do something in secret. Don't go anywhere away from us with anyone without asking us first. If someone tells you to keep something a secret from us, tell us! We won't be mad at you."

Mikko nodded along.

Only …

When I was watching that Dateline episode, Mikko came into the room and started watching it with me. I was afraid he might get upset over the suggestions of someone harming kids and the implications of what that meant, or about the drama visible as the kids struggled with whether to do what they knew was right or to go along into the ice cream man's oh-so-interesting truck as he suggested and get free ice cream.

Well, Mikko was upset, all right.

He was upset that the one boy in a group who refused to enter the truck didn't get free ice cream!

"Will that boy get ice cream later?" Mikko asked, highly concerned about this situation.

"Um … well, that's not the point," I said. "The point is that person in the truck is being sneaky and trying to get kids to go into the truck without asking their parents for permission first."

Mikko nodded. "Uh-huh. So … that boy isn't getting any ice cream?"

"He might get ice cream, but he has to ask his parents first if it's all right."

"Will the ice cream still be free if he waits?"

"Riiight. It doesn't really matter. I'd much rather you were safe than had free ice cream. I can buy you ice cream! That ice cream guy is being really sneaky. He might be a bad guy. You should always ask us first if someone offers you ice cream or wants you to go somewhere."

Mikko considers this. "And then you'll give me ice cream?"


It's kind of like my coaching on emergencies. First of all, he keeps thinking it's 9-9-1, so that's no good. Or I remind him that if he's lost, he's to stay still and let me find him, and he blithely reassures me that he's much better at finding things than I am (says the kid who can't find items he's holding in his own hand). Or when I say he should go with firefighters if they come into our burning house, even though they'll look kind of scary in all their gear and masks, he just looks at me like I'm so silly: "Mama," he says, "I'm very big and strong. I can save myself. You're a girl, so maybe you need firefighters to help."

So … we continue the conversations, and throw some feminist training into the mix. My kid's clearly a sitting duck at the moment, but I have hope that someday — someday — he might be the only kid to ace one of those Dateline tests!

Photo credit: Bryan Allison on Flickr We are not implying the creepy-van dude is a sneaky person.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn't Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she's explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she's learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren't so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she's had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller's Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter's horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges--when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who'd want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn't have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your post. Sometimes as a parent, we may think we explained everything crystal clear, only to realize that our child has heard a completely different conversation.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Oy, this whole post makes me squirm. While we've talked about related subjects, I don't think Kieran would pass a Dateline test either. Thank you for giving me the reminder to discuss these things with him again. I might even watch the clips with him - perhaps that will hammer it home.

Momma Jorje said...

haha, I love your disclaimer! It sounds like a great approach, but yeah... kids have their own priorities and view of the world, don't they?

I've seen a similar show where they sat a mom and kid in the food court of a mall. The mom walked away and someone who KNEW the kid came and got them to go away with them. It really is someone close to the family more often than not. Scary stuff!

Have you tried the password idea? Having a family password and you don't go with anyone that doesn't know it? Because there really could be an occasion where something happens to you and someone else needs to gather your children.

Unknown said...

hilarious! I'm almost peeing myself here, laughing. Though that's probably because I really want to pee, but the baby is sleeping on my lap!
I like how you say: approach a woman with children. Just a woman won't do. In Belgium, we had the dutroux case when I was in my teens an he'd use his wife to lure the girls in his truck

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

I remember that episode, and I'm afraid my kids wouldn't pass the test. So I guess we'll just keep talking about it and hope they never need the info, and if they do.. we'll hope that something sunk in.
I really do have a van in my neighborhood that looks like that picture! It speeds through the neighborhood blaring 'ice cream' music as it zooms by. Very suspicious.

sustainablemum said...

I like your list, thank you for sharing. I will bear that I mind when I need to have that conversation. It is just as important to ensure that your children will talk to you if, heaven forbid, something does happen. It must be very hard for a child to understand that anyone would want to do them harm.

Hippie Housewife said...

Great list. That's basically the conversation I've had with our oldest as well; unfortunately, he's not one to be okay without details. "But what kind of thing might they ask me not to tell?" "Well, it doesn't matter, just anything at all." "But like what?" "Well, anything..." Heh. I haven't yet figured out the best way to answer those without getting into unnecessary discussions.

He's also of the opinion that he's big and strong enough to just fight off any adult who might want to hurt him. Ah, these kids.

Regarding the "you're a girl, so maybe you need firefighters to help" comment, yesterday mine told me that he's not afraid of ogres but girls would be. Is that so, mister? Where do they get these ideas?!

kelly @kellynaturally said...

I felt physically ill watching that first video. Wow. *shivers* Thanks for this topic, Lauren.

I'm Katie. said...

That is perfect- I will definitely be having the "sneaky people" talk with my son.

I'm cracking up, by the way. I have had identical discussions with my boy about getting lost and going with firefighters or policemen. His ultimate weak spot: being asked for help, particularly looking for the "lost puppy". Oy. If he is ever asked to help look for a puppy, we're screwed.

Deb Chitwood said...

It's scary to think how difficult it is to be sure kids will be able to resist the influence of "sneaky people." Your "sneaky people" idea is a great one, by the way. I'm thankful that my kids survived childhood without being approached by any sneaky people. I don't know if I would have prepared them well enough despite my efforts. Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

Shana said...

I really appreciate your point about using the words "sneaky people" versus "stranger". I'm afraid I already made the mistake of talking about stranagers and having the "Do you ever take candy or toys (or whatever) from strangers?" talk. Now wherever we go he points to random people and asks "Is that a stranger?" and now I'm having to explain that not all strangers want to hurt him and so on. I think I'll have to see if it's not too late to change my language for all the reasons you mentioned towards teh beginning of your post.

melissa v. said...

Using the term sneaky people is a really great idea! My kids have some of this type of talk in school as a part of their sex ed program; in primary grades they start talking about appropriate and inapproprate touch, and learning to trust one's feelings about others: I really like the idea of using a term like "tricky" or "sneaky" to enforce these lessons at home.

I like the ideas behind free range kids, but to even out the safety we teach our kids street smarts. When my older ones ride their bikes alone to the park or the store, I so often hammer home the rules that they monotone them back to me at this point: don'ttalktostrangersdon'tgoanywherewithanyoneyoudon'tknowifanythingmakesusfeeluncomfortablecomehomeorfindamommytohelpus.

Hey, it's getting in there =)

I wonder if the Dateline experiment is similar to the idea of fire drills: you can TALK about what to do and what not to do, but role playing and acting it out is more valuable than talk alone.

Great topic! Thanks! =)

Anonymous said...

Remember in the original Sesame Street episodes from the 70s that the neighbors ('strangers') would invite the new kids in the neighborhood over for milk and cookies, into their homes? Lenore Skenazy (Free Range Kids) mentions this in her book. I think the whole stranger thing is pretty ridiculous, especially how you outline above that once they introduce themselves…no longer a stranger. And no danger?! ;o)

Ursula Ciller said...

This is such a critically important topic you have brought up. My parents once did an effective experiment. Told my sister who was a toddler of probably 5 or 6 (the oldest of us) to man the house while they went for a walk. "Don't answer the door no matter what," was the specific instruction. They were clearly worried for our safety. A knock on the door came, curiosity got the better of sis and she opened the door to see her mum and dad. This really frightened her as she remembered what they had told her.... and she never opened the door to a stranger knocking again! So we were safe that way with big sis looking after us thanks to mum and dad. As for the ice cream truck... we always hid in the bushes from him (must have frustrated the man)!

Unknown said...

When my husband was a young child, he was playing in the front yard alone while his mom was in the kitchen. Grandma drove by, saw him, got him in the car, and drove off for about 10 minutes. Came back to his mom freaking out! She never left him alone after that! Good thing it was only Grandma.

Gauri said...

This is brilliant. I have always leaned toward the Oprah sytle 'trust your gut' and 'just say NO' even when it is socially uncomfortable type line but that would not have got me round the ice-cream trap (meaning my kid might well WANT to say yes, even if her gut told her something was amiss, the ice-cream might be enough incentive to overlook that, alas). So this is a really good adjuct to that, I think. THANKS!

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