“Tricky People” are the New Strangers

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. (And in light of all the Miramonte Elementary madness, I am thrilled I did.)

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.

FOR INSTANCE:

  • 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.

SO:

  • 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!

She’s got a PREVENTION TIPS list, a RED FLAGS & WARNINGS list, and my personal favorite, a THE SUPER-10, PLAY IT SAFE FOR KIDS AND GROWN-UPS! list.

Check out Patti’s site. Read her material, buy her kid’s book, organize a bunch of like-minded parents to take her seminars. I promise you’ll feel better after — and way safer — when you do.

51 thoughts on ““Tricky People” are the New Strangers

  1. Love this info too. I took a safety seminar with someone else last year who said the same things and this is a great reminder to continue the conversation with Juju. Thank you!

    • Hi Nicole — Pattie basically said, it’s not that Dads are unsafe in general, but a) why confuse the issue when talking to your kids? and b) MOST OF THE TIME, unfortunately, when you hear these sorts of the stories, it’s not the horrendous things that MOMS did that make it on the news. That said, Mr. Big(Ideas) has a huge, helpful heart — and he would go to the ends of the earth to comfort a lost or frightened child — but I would tell any kid to walk right on by him and look for a Momma, first.

  2. I love this! So true how we’ve demonized all strangers… To a fault. I had a discussion with my daughter about this just a few days ago and I kept adding on exceptions to the list of strangers not to talk to. “Don’t talk to any strangers! Except employees in uniform… But don’t go anywhere with them outside of the store. Oh, and you can talk with teachers. Oh and other parents are okay, but don’t go with them if the…” Man, the list just went on. Not sure why I didn’t think of this idea of “Tricky” people. Touché.

  3. Hay
    Thanks for this article all I have 2 say is this. I do not have kid but I am a volunteer camp counselor.
    I love kids and I not some sick pp I never ever hurt a child! I have offed free child care 4 pp b4 but no one took it. I do sit 4 someone 4 free sometimes. Because we close fam friends n I friends with the kids she 12yr now. If they don’t pay me then they pay me n food n things we do. And they are not cheep also I try 2 build up a friendship with my campers. Most child abuse is in the home! It scars me when ever I sitting for the 12yr if the phone rings or the door bell she just answer it. What do I do 2 get her safe.

    • Hi Camp Mama —

      I would teach the 12 year old you sit for that she should never GO ANYWHERE with an adult who hasn’t been pre-approved (as you seem to be) by her parents without FIRST getting their permission. She should never OFFER HELP to any adult without checking with her parents first. And NO ADULT should ever ask her to KEEP A SECRET from her parents.

      SafelyEverAfter.com doesn’t teach that ALL PEOPLE ARE DANGEROUS TO YOUR KIDS — just that keeping in mind basic rules of safety, while they may paint a VERY BROAD BRUSH, keeps your kids SAFEST.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. This is so helpful! My oldest son is only three, and I’ve already found it difficult to explain the whole “stranger danger” concept (after all, don’t we talk to strangers all the time at the grocery store?). I’m so glad you shared this! Thank you!

  5. Excellent! Its also really important to teach children the correct words for genitalia as it can be a real turn off for creeps. Doodies and wee-wees keep it fun and cute whereas a child that uses the word vulva or scrotum seems much more confident and less of an easy target. They will also be able to have their testimony used in court. Generally speaking doodies and wee-wees are not acceptable in court as they are not real words.
    Women are safer for children to approach. Sad but true, a very high proportion of child abusers are men. If that offends men, too bad. Maybe they can start to call out other men more on their use of materials which sexualise violence and children.

  6. We started talking to our five year old about “stranger danger” a few weeks ago…she’s a smart cookie and kept asking, “what about this person ….and that person?” Finally we said, just always try to find a mama with kids or a woman. Thanks for this post as it confirms what we are teaching and gives us more to work with.

    • I am a sucker for anyone who can give me clear, logical instructions for handling illogical, incomprehensible things. Glad this will be a help to you and your daughter. (And I feel for you — smart 5 yos are a blessing and a curse!)

  7. Thank you so much for posting and sharing this info! I have been finding it harder and harder to talk to my kiddos about stranger-danger because they are asking more and more very good questions and I sometimes find myself having to tell them I’ll get back to them with an answer {and then I go and search for or come up with an age appropriate explanations!!!}. I am definitely going to check out Patti’s info!

  8. someone should protect your kids from you for the way that you are naming them. What were you thinking? Diddy and Gaga? I really hope that is just your baby names for them. If that is their real names then they are in for a traumatic childhood, and going to be teased unmercifully

  9. I do not have any children, but have always said that I would teach my kids these things, it’s good to see some good sense written here. I’ve sworn that I would always use correct names for anatomy, etc. Great post, Thank You!

    • So glad this resonates for you — and thank you TRULY for the FB share. I’ll go over there and like the page so I can share your feeds … I know you have tons of your own wisdom to share!

  10. This is much better than the “Stranger-Danger” way of teaching our kids. They are smart little people who are sadly more vulnerable than adults. I think this is an excellent way to respect their intelligence while keeping them safe.
    Thank you SO much for sharing!

  11. Honestly, I can’t have children and I teach young children. Some children I have developed close relationships with their parents and would offer to babysit their child for free. I am not a bad person or a weirdo! Just good hearted.

    • Hi Kari — I’m sure you’re not a weirdo. (Well, you probably are SORT of weird, as are we all ;)) These are at best general guidelines to keep parents from trusting TOO much, or not questioning ENOUGH — definitely not be-all-end-all-every-situation solutions.

  12. Have you read “Protecting the Gift”? It’s a lot of this same information with a ton of specific examples for all different age groups. I felt the same way you said, relieved instead of scared that I had tools to help my daughter and am not helpless in protecting her from abuse.

    • Hi Lori Ann — I’ve had a lot of people recommend that book to me over the years. I’ve tended not to pick it up because the title just makes me a little icky (it sounds all Carrie Fisher “Surrender the Pink”-ish to my ears). I like Pattie because she’s just snarky enough that she speaks to my totally irreverent sense of EVERYTHING. But still, yes — I hear it’s great info.

  13. What a fantastic post! I was raised on stranger danger and have done a lot of the things you mention that don’t really help. Definitely going to use some of your wonderful suggestions and also check out Safely Ever After. Thanks so much!

  14. I always hated the whole ‘teach your kids strangers are bad’ thought process. Strangers are bad, but hey go to school.. where a stranger teaches you. Get on a bus where the driver is a stranger. .. wait a second. What are we teaching them again?
    Not just that, a lot of cases where children are harmed or taken happen by people THEY KNOW. Scary statistics, but true ones.

    I choose instead to teach my children that they are allowed to talk to people, but they are not allowed to go anywhere with anyone without getting the ok from mom or dad first. This includes family members and people we see all the time.
    If the neighbour has a littler of puppies can they go see the puppies?? Sure, as long as they come and get mom and dad first. If someone asks them to help them find a lost (child, animal, toy..etc) can they help? Of course. As long as they get mom or dad.. and then we will help too.
    Can their uncle take them to the store? Yes he can, but we need to know where they are, so they need to come and let us know where they’re going and with who first.

    It’s much easier to have them let us know who, what and where then to teach them to be afraid of their surroundings.

    I loved this article. Thank you for sharing it!

  15. Reblogged this on Cherised Chaos and commented:
    I love this article.

    Like i said in a comment to the article, I choose to teach my children that they are allowed to talk to people, but they are not allowed to go anywhere with anyone without getting the ok from mom or dad first. This includes family members and people we see all the time.
    It’s much easier to have them let us know who, what and where then to teach them to be afraid of their surroundings.

    And teaching your kids proper body part names? So important. The article is right, the first time one of my kids calls their body parts a monkey doodle or something that isn’t proper I’m going to pause and go.. wait. where’d you hear that?!

    Bottom line, not all sickos are strangers, not all strangers are sickos. Don’t teach your kids to be afraid of the world, teach them to be mindful of people making them feel uncomfortable. Watch your kids. Know who they’re with.

      • I don’t have a lot over there, but i think this needed to be out there :)

        I do have a small issue though, teaching kids that other parents are safe doesn’t always work. Maybe it’s because of where i live, but there are some really questionable parents around here.I don’t teach my kids that every parent or person with a child is ‘safe’ Parents can be abusive or predators too.
        in malls my children need to look for clerks, security guards or people in uniforms.

    • Hi Senna — thanks for the comment — while you were writing: CHECKLISTMOMMY moved! You may not have noticed — URL is still/now CHECKLISTMOMMY.COM. Please come join the conversation over there!

  16. this is truly excellent advice, thank you! i will use this with my little one.

    it’s interesting that only men have commented on your children’s pet names (rather rudely, really), and don’t understand that these are obviously not their real names. SMH

    • Yeah, I couldn’t help but notice that … in the meantime, though, while you were writing … I MOVED! Please come join the conversation over at the NEW ChecklistMommy.com. Thanks!

    • Yeah, that seems to be the bit of advice people are taking the most umbrage with. Women mostly. And usually they are related to small kids of their own. Which takes them pretty far off the risk list … These are obviously general guidelines for which there are many exceptions.

      While you were commenting — I MOVED! Please come continue the conversation at the NEW AND IMPROVED ChecklistMommy.com

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