I’ve probably watched this video eight times in the past minute and the little girl’s reaction just keeps getting more adorable. In the video a Korean mother is attempting to teach her daughter, Ye Bin, the perils of stranger danger, and how you must always say No when a stranger offers you things like ice-cream, cookies, or wants to take you swimming. Ye Bin struggles to understand why her mother wants her to say No.
As a City kid, the concept of a stranger is especially difficult for Kavya to understand, and the idea of a dangerous stranger is an even more odd concept. We interact with strangers everywhere, on the street, in the subway, at the grocery store. When Kavya was about a year old, she started having conversations with strangers by smiling at them on the subway. Nothing disarms a New Yorker more than when someone smiles at them. This evolved into her offering strangers things like goldfish crackers, and asking questions like, “what’s his favourite color?” and “what’s her name?”
When she was a little over a year old, we were taking the bus to the beach in San Diego and she started a boisterous conversation with eight people, all of whom spoke only Spanish. It’s a fine line to want her to still be the sociable girl she is, yet know that danger exists and she needs to be careful.
As a grown man, I am often given warnings as well, but mostly when I travel. When I travelled through Asia in my twenties, I was warned about the biscuit gang. Apparently, there was a gang targeting foreigners in trains – one would be an aunty or grandmother type, who would offer biscuits to those sitting nearby, and these would be laced with drugs to knock you out. Then, depending on who was warning me, victims would wake up without their organs, without their belongings, or without any clothes. I knew other travelers, who would walk around areas not even lifting their heads to talk to anyone because they were so scared of what someone’s intentions were. And female solo travelers are given all kinds of free advice that basically amounts to: don’t talk to anyone, ever. That’s no way to travel, and definitely no way to live your life.
We haven’t broached the subject of stranger danger head on with Kavya, but we have ongoing conversations with her about who is safe. And while I’d like to think she wouldn’t go off with someone she didn’t know, pre-schoolers are easily manipulated and tricked. I trick Kavya into eating her breakfast everyday. When I was her age, my mum used to trick me into getting out of bed by telling me to stand up and give her a morning cuddle. What a fool.
For a social experiment on ITV Daybreak, a hidden camera documents, while a professional “stranger” lures seven pre-schoolers away from a playground by asking them to help find his dog. The experiment doesn’t unearth anything all that groundbreaking. It shows us that kids are still kids, no matter how clever and grown up we think they are, or even how they may act.
Kavya knows the correct answer to questions like, “If I let you watch another episode of Sofia the First, are you going to brush your teeth by yourself and not put up a fuss?” She will nod her head vigorously and even add, “I’ll also change into my night suit.” When it comes time to switching the TV off, everything goes to hell. The lesson here, aside from children being liars, is that children don’t have very good judgment. I’d never leave Kavya alone in the playground and neither should you. Even when we’re at the bookstore and she finds a little corner to read by herself, I make sure she’s in my line of sight, as I helicopter around.
There’s an article on Babycenter that gives some excellent advice on how to approach this subject with pre-schoolers, who generally think everyone is awesome. It shouldn’t be thought of as one all encompassing chat.
As you begin talking about strangers, keep in mind that despite sensational media coverage, stranger abductions are extremely rare. According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, only 115 children in the United States per year are victims of kidnappings by a stranger. And preschoolers are the least likely age group to be targeted.
What are your tips on talking about this with your kids?