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The Myth of Stranger Danger

By now many nannies have heard this unsettling statistic: 90% of child sexual abuse happens to kids by someone they know… not by a stranger.  Yet, so often the “stranger-danger” concept is the only safety strategy parents and caregivers review with their children. And it doesn’t work.   In fact, it’s doing a disservice to kids because it’s distracting them from the reality of whom they (and you) should be paying more attention to. Here’s why:

1) Unfortunately, most often a “predator” or molester is someone close to your family circle.   Someone you trust, someone charming, someone who’s continually seeking access and private time with your child. Sometimes that person works with children and singles one out for extra attention.   Or it may be a relative, a family friend, a coach or other person who interacts with the kids. It can even be an older child or teen who has a preoccupation with a younger child.   Stranger-danger isn’t going to work here!

2) Even when it is a stranger who seeks out a child, that stranger will most likely appear friendly, charming and outgoing… often enticing a child with an interesting lure or trick. They may even tell that child their name as way to “break the ice.” Kids think strangers will be scary or someone who seems mean or villainous.   Your child’s stranger-danger radar may not kick in, even when it should. Stranger-danger isn’t going to work here!

3) Kids see us talking to strangers every day… at the market, the bank, the park, a restaurant.   We engage with people we don’t know all the time, it’s impossible not to and most strangers are not dangerous to begin with. So… stranger-danger simply doesn’t make sense.

Forget stranger-danger and introduce the concept of tricky people to your children.

In kid-speak: A tricky person is someone who tries to trick you into doing something yucky, or that feels weird or wrong. A tricky person is someone who’s asking you to break a safety rule.

The concept of tricky people works because the tricks used are crafty and shrewd, and they can come from people you know, people you don’t know, or people you know “a little bit.”

It’s time parents and caregivers started to watch out for tricky people, as well. No one wants to think that someone they trust could be capable of such manipulation and trickery. And to be fair, most people are not molesters. It’s not that you need to be a helicopter nanny but it’s important that you understand how tricky people operate… with lots of flattery, lots of attention, lots of ingratiating themselves into your family circle.

A tricky person needs 2 elements to carry out their victimization… ACCESS AND PRIVACY.

In nanny speak: Pay attention to WHO’s paying attention to your kid! And if they have every reason under the sun why they seem to always seek alone time with your child, which excludes you, ask yourself WHY? Does it make sense? Is it a little “over the top” or somehow excessive?

What’s The One Thing That Deters A Tricky Person?

The possibility of being caught. If a molester thinks your child won’t “keep the secret” or sees that you’re a visible caregiver, involved in your child’s daily life and activities, you significantly lower the chances of being their target.

My #1 reminder for nannies and caregivers is to stay alert to people who seem extra nice and want to help you out in your job, or take care of the kids to give you a break.  There are times when a caregiver is more vulnerable in a predator’s eyes, because the predator feels they can gain that caregiver’s trust more easily than a parent.

It’s time to let go of that outdated stranger-danger concept once and for all.

  • Start talking to kids about listening to their “Uh-Oh Feeling” when something just doesn’t seem right.
  • Teach kids that it’s not what someone looks like but rather what they say or want to do with you that makes them tricky.

In this way, we’re empowering them with the right information that is actually accurate and effective.

Please visit www.safelyeverafter.com for The Super 10 Safety Rules for Kids and for the most common red flag warning signs of tricky people. We can STOP tricky people, when we know how!


Pattie Fitzgerald Safely Ever AfterPattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After.com and is nationally recognized for her work as a Child Safety Educator, Children’s Advocate, and author.   She is a former preschool teacher and a former court appointed Child Visitation Monitor. Pattie is also the author of two highly acclaimed children’s books, “No Trespassing-This Is My Body!” and “Super Duper Safety School”, available on amazon.com. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, MSNBC and CNN.

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