Why You Should Say ‘Tricky People’ Instead Of ‘Stranger Danger’

by | August 8, 2018

Is ‘Stranger Danger’ a phrase used in your home? 

What about the people your kids know that might hurt them?


The van with the kittens, and not taking candy from strangers. It’s every parent’ worst nightmare and instilled in kids from the moment they talk to someone they shouldn’t. “Never talk to strangers” or “stranger danger”. It was a rational guideline to give kids, and instilled fear in them, that they should heed their parents’ warnings.

Yet, not every person who is unsafe is a stranger –

1. Approximately 20 percent of girls (1 in 5) and 8 percent of boys (1 in 12.5) will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday (Pereda et al, 2009).

2. 95 percent of sexually abused children will be abused by someone they know and trust (NAPCAN 2009).

3. Of those molesting a child under six, 50 percent were family members. Family members also accounted for 23 percent of those abusing children 12 to 17 years (Snyder, 2000).

4. The most vulnerable age for children to be exposed to sexual assault is between 3 and 8 years with the majority of onset happening between these ages (Browne & Lynch, 1994).

5. Males made up 90 percent of adult-child sexual assault perpetrators, while 3.9 percent of perpetrators were female, with a further 6 percent classified as ’unknown gender’ (McCloskey & Raphael, 2005).

6. As many of 40 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by older or more powerful children. (Finkelhor, 2012) Note: with the easy access to pornography we are seeing more and more cases of a child on child sexual abuse, and older children/siblings sexually abusing younger children. Twenty-three percent of all 10 to 17-year-olds experience exposure to unwanted pornography (Jones L., et al 2012).


The statistics are sobering. With 50% of abuse victims being assaulted by family members, it’s time to stop warning children only about ‘stranger danger’, and start telling them about ‘tricky people’.

Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc., an “Innovative, Non-Fearful Safety Programs for Parents & Kids,” as described on her site. And she says that it’s crucial we parents talk to our kids about what potentially harmful people might look like, do, or say. Because the truth is, they aren’t always big scary men. They could look like a sweet grandpa. Or even a mom, he told to Scary Mommy.

Case in point: mom of four Jodie Norton shared her terrifying story of having her sons wait outside an ER for a ride from a neighbor while she rushed inside for medical attention. As they waited, a woman with two men approached, asking them to “help” their friend in the bathroom. RED FLAG ALERT. One “trick” that “tricky people” use is asking kids for help. Safe adults will ask another adult for help, not a child.

Thankfully Norton’s kids recognized these people as unsafe and didn’t go with them to “help” their friend.

stranger danger

As our children age, we have to loosen the tight grip we have on them, allowing them their own freedoms to discover the world, meet people, stay out past curfew and get in trouble. They will be adults one day, and they need to learn about the world before that happens. Telling them that only strangers are the problem, is not telling them to be alert when a family member or a neighbor makes them feel uncomfortable.

Going through scenarios with your children, that are age appropriate and plausible, is one way to make them feel comfortable finding their voice, and also showing them what ‘tricky people’ are like.

Maybe someone has a box of puppies and needs help finding the mom. Or knows their favorite treat and offers them some. Asking children what they would do in that scenario, and going through the reasoning why it is not a good idea, and why they have to come to get their parents will reinforce what and who tricky people are, so if it ever does become reality. They are prepared.

Having a ‘safe list’ of adults for your kids keeps them in tune with what is allowed, and who they should be alone with. Especially in cases of emergencies and they cannot to their parent(s), the knowledge of a small list of adults who are considered safe, in their cars or homes alone.

Because for young kids, the line between the stranger and “someone I know” can also get confusing. If a stranger starts up a conversation with them, and they “make friends” at the park, is that person still a stranger? What about our neighbor who we wave hello to every day? He’s not a stranger, but he’s not on that list. And it’s important that they know the distinction.

Safely Ever After, Inc. also offers other valuable tips to talk about with your kids, such as: “I don’t have to be polite if someone makes me feel scared or uncomfortable. It’s okay to say NO, even to a grownup, if I have to.” They also tell kids to pay attention to their “Special Inner Voice,” especially if it’s sending an uh-oh feeling. Because it’s a valuable lesson to teach our kids from an early age how powerful their intuition can be.

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Raise Vegan

Associate Editor, USA | Contactable via [email protected]


Categories: Parenting


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