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Would my kids pass “The Predator Test?”

August 2, 2013

No.  No they wouldn’t.  The question is, do I care?

I just read this article about a test done by CNN HLN to see if kids would follow a stranger out of a  park (with the kid’s parent’s permission).  Some of the kids did follow the stranger to his car and apparently one even climbed into a dog cage in the back.  My initial reaction was “oh damn, I better step up my teaching of stranger danger!”

Then, I remembered to CTFD.  I have been overly lax I think on explaining strangers to my kids and I plan on remedying that ASAP, however, the statistics of child abductions make me feel OK with my laxness.  In 1999 (the latest year with detailed stats) while there were a shockingly large number of abductions, but only a total of 115 kids were abducted by non-family members (true kidnappings by a stranger).  That is an extremely tiny number when you consider there are roughly 71 million people under the age of 18 in the US. (although I realize it wasn’t tiny to the poor families who experienced them).

Yet ask parents in the US if their child being abducted is a daily fear and you’ll likely be told yes.  The media has created a culture of fear with specials like the one above.  Nothing illustrates this better than the South Park episode Child Abduction is not Funny.  In true South Park fashion they cut to core of social idiocy and expose it for the ridiculousness it is…and the episode has Mongolians.

This mindset of fear can really impact fathers as they are often distrusted just by being men.  I am friendly guy and when I go to the park kids tend to flock around me as I tend to play exuberantly with my own kids and they want to get in on the fun. (Unrelated, just found this old post from another dad blogger, its hilarious.  I am definitely the Peter Pan dad).

However, I am always paranoid that some parent is going to march over and drag their kid away from the “creep.”  I am always looking around for the parents so I can make eye contact, I think this helps.   I am actually nervous about bringing my camera to a busy park for fear that some crazy mom will accuse me of taking pictures of their kids.  Maybe I am just being paranoid into thinking other parents are bigger spazzes than they are…

We live in a quiet suburb off a caule de sac.  The kids and I often walk down the street and back.  During our walks we run across a house with a shy little girl, I’d guess 8, who has a little dog.  She doesn’t say anything, but she brings the dog up and very proudly holds on to it so my kids can see it.

On one particular day, after we walked away (mind you I am carrying a 1 year old girl and holding the hand of a 3 yr old boy) I see her crotchety and gelatinous old neighbor woman holler over to her.  I can see her very angrily lecturing her on talking to strangers.  I saw the little girl wilt.

I was furious.  We’d stopped at her house a dozen times, I’ve waved to Jabba the miserable neighbor numerous times.  After that, the little girl stopped bringing the dog to us and my heart breaks as I get the feeling those moments were real highlights for her.

I had an opportunity to test my reaction to a stranger a month ago when I look out the front door and see the kids talking to some random guy, by himself, taking his shirt off.  I’ll admit, my heart rate jumped, but I didn’t go storming out of the house.  I watched for a minute then decided to walk out to see who this guy was.  Turns out he was riding a motorcycle and was hot, so he was removing some layers.  The kids were fascinated by his bike.  He seemed a nice guy and I was glad I didn’t overreact.

As I was writing this post I looked around for some other opinions and ran across a “movement” I had read about before, “Free Range Kids.”  It’s the anti predator mind set.  It’s all about arming your kids with common sense and letting them experience the world without their parents helicoptering above them.  I think I am going to spend some time on that blog.

On their post on this special, Free Range Kids recommended the three R’s.  I like this method much better than “Strange Danger, don’t talk to any strangers” and I plan on sharing it with my kids.

RECOGNIZE — that no one can touch the parts of your body your bathing suit covers.

RESIST — make a fuss, run, scream, kick if you are being bothered. Often, the molester will leave. Like the rest of us, they prefer it when their job is easy.

REPORT – Tell your children that even if the creep makes you promise/swear not to tell anyone, that doesn’t matter. They — your kids — should always tell you if something weird is happening and YOU WON’T BE MAD AT THEM. This helps keep the lines of communication open, gets rid of at least some of the stigma, and also takes away the predator’s greatest asset: secrecy.

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