When I read about the newest and best way to teach, I think back to all the different modalities of learning and teaching I was supposed to embrace and become proficient with during my three and one half decades of teaching. I always find it amazing that the change comes imposed from on high and swamps parents along with their children. There are workshops for teachers by instructors, textbooks publishers, testing preparers and teaching guides to facilitate instruction. Are there any materials prepared for parents to use to support this new paradigm of instruction?
With this in mind, I’d like to give you parents and caregivers some materials you might use to help enhance your children’s stranger safety awareness skills. As I read through multiple books dealing with stranger safety awareness, there are several scenarios that appear frequently. I will address one situation in each of my next blogs and suggest questions that you and your child may discuss. Each is a stand-alone dialogue I call Imagine this! There is a short description of the scene and then several follow-up questions that you can use to develop a meaningful discussion with your child. Adapt as you see fit. Add questions. Change the location. Use it as a template. Use it as reinforcement of your family’s stranger safety awareness plans.
Imagine This – Part I
You hear this -“Your mom said to come with me”.
You get off the bus. Mom is not there but a classmate’s mom tells you to go with her. Tell your child that he/she will have to decide on their own what to do after he/she answers these questions you ask of them:
- Did Mom say she wasn’t going to be waiting for you at the bus stop?
- Since you know this person, do you go with her?
- Is there a special question you ask this person?
What do you think your child’s decision will be? What is your child’s decision? What are the reasons your child gives for making these decisions? Validate the correct answers and address what you consider problems.
Along with all the other aspects of a year’s learning curve, I hope this doesn’t add too much additional stress. We cannot get to every school, into every classroom. What remains true is that the best classroom is still where we call home.
In the article, The Abduction of Children by Strangers in Canada: Nature and Scope, by Marlene L. Dalley and Jenna Ruscoe, published December 1, 2003, the authors note different classes of abductors, pedophiles, profiteers, serial killers and childless psychotics, have been identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to Dalley and Ruscoe,
“…abductors use the advantages of their physical strength over their victims… (their) age, social position, economic power, authority and/or manipulative lures as their weapons. They rely on their victim’s fear, vulnerability and obedience to adults’ authority.”
One method used by these abductors is known as the Blitz Attack. Dalley and Ruscoe provide the following description of this event:
“A stranger appears suddenly. Children’s responses resemble reactions to any other sudden, unexpected, dangerous event in their lives: (a) they are in so much shock that it interferes with any defensive action they might take; (b) the shock of the stranger’s behavior precludes seeing or remembering much of the incident, so that they may have considerable difficulty recognizing and identifying the individual at a later time; and (c) they label the experience as an assault and themselves as survivor. This type of attack may or may not involve an assault with a weapon.”
This forms the basis of Imagine This! …Part II
Your child hears this – “Come with me!”
Paint the picture for your child. The child is at the park, or on the way to school, walking home from school, at the movie theater, in a store or at the mall. Someone comes up to your child and grabs your child by the arm and tells your child to get moving with them. Have your child, unaided, given no cues, either oral or visual, decide what to do after you go over these questions:
- Do you ask them who they are?
- What if it is a little boy or girl who asks you?
- What if it is a woman?
- What if you think you know them?
- What if they say I (the parent) sent them?
- What if they say I was in an accident?
What is your child’s response? Did the child think to yell the word, “STRANGER“? Did the child say he/she would make a fuss? Go over what you want your child to do, but moreover ask how he/she got into the situation where he/she was ALONE at the time of the confrontation. Stress again the need to practice the BUDDY SYSTEM time and time again.
We are all partners in this endeavor of stranger safety awareness. Let’s help insure that our children’s response to a potentially dangerous situation begins with an instinctual response to that threat.
Many years ago, I participated in a three year National Science Foundation grant program called The New York State Technology Education Network, NYSTEN. Technology, math and science teachers endeavored to create a prototype of what we now call STEM, courses using natural, not forced, combinations of science, technology, engineering and math. Part of the agreed upon pedagogical approach was the use of the Five E’s. This teaching method was developed from the constructivist idea which holds that any learner, child or adult, builds new ideas with old ideas as their underpinning. Each of the 5 E’s describes a phase of learning, and each phase begins with the letter “E”: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.
I see Engage, Explore, Explain as the basis of Imagine This! I hope each of the scenarios presented allows you to focus your child’s thinking on the problem at hand, to help them identify and develop stranger safety awareness skills you believe the child should have, and, for your child to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and processes you are presenting, to change ideas into life-saving actions.
Alternatively, consider the Behaviorist Theory of Education developed by John Watson in the early 20th century. This model is based on the belief that learning comes from observation and reinforcement. With younger children perhaps the strategies of drill, segmentation (breaking down topics into smaller, more understandable bits), and modeling might work better.
The Abduction of Children by Strangers in Canada: Nature and Scope, Marlene L. Dalley and Jenna Ruscoe note types of methods used by abductors to facilitate their crime. One of these is The Confidence “Con” Assault.
An elaborate scheme is set up by the abductor. It is more of a psychological assault than it is a physical assault. Initially, the abductor has to gain “the confidence of the targeted child/youth. The target’s trust is used to manipulate her or him into physical and psychological vulnerability. The victim begins to notice a change in the behavior of the abductor from a nice person to an aggressor. However, by the time this realization takes place, the abductor has already assessed his or her potential for escape; many of the child’s options are thus eliminated. Trust is devastated after such a con assault. The key to continuing the con assault is to have the abuser convince the victim that he or she is a participant in the crime; the he or she shares the responsibility for the abuse or has no other alternatives”.
Before you use this exercise, remember this frightening statistic: Eight of ten abductions occur within one-quarter mile of home.
(As the elderly Sophia Petrillo said so often on The Golden Girls, Picture it!)
Tell your child to imagine that he/she is walking down your block. Imagine This: “A car pulls up next to you. The person rolls down the window and talks to you. He or she, young or old, asks you to give them directions.” Make it as complete and complex as possible. Get into role-playing. Have the child describe the car, color, style, whatever characteristics they can give to produce a vivid, elaborate scene. Have the child make up the driver’s words. Ask the child these questions:
- What if the person has really gotten lost? How would you know?
- What if they ask you to ride with them somewhere?
- What if they offer you a gift to help them?
- What if it is a teenager in a hot new car?
- What if the ice cream man asks if you want to come into the truck?
What is the child’s decision? Can your child draw a map of your neighborhood with some degree of scale? Ask your child to give you detailed directions to near and far locations. Stress that the ability to give specific spatial directions is age dependent. Ask why an adult with today’s i phones and GPS systems would ever ask a child for directions. Depending on the child’s age and maturity, you might want to talk about some recent reported instances of a child making a tragic mistake by remaining close to the car of a stranger or by moving closer because of the abductor’s lure. Remember abductions in Missouri and upstate New York.
We do learn from our mistakes and those of others. Let’s hope we have learned something from all our yesterdays.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Something that’s given or is it earned? Adults develop many ways of defining and bestowing respect on others. For children, it is more than likely to be a question of responding to an adult’s authority.
Childhood is a time when we see such tremendous changes in a child’s size, strength, agility, thinking skills, and socialization.
According to Marlene Dalley, “Most abductors are usually highly skilled in the art of manipulation. More simply expressed, in order to be successful, they must lower the children’s inhibitions or make them afraid of the consequences if they do not comply”.
In Missing Children: A psychological approach to understanding the causes and consequences of stranger and non-stranger abduction of children, James N. Tedisco, an Albany area New York State assemblyman and psychologist Dr. Michele Paludi wrote, “They (abductors) use seduction techniques, competition, peer pressure, motivation techniques, and threats to get children to comply with their requests to engage in sex, steal, abuse drugs, or participate in prostitution or pornography”.
Further, they write, “Children often believe that they can easily identify an abductor –someone who is sinister and offers ‘goodies’ . . . children are taught to respect adults, especially adults’ authority, and to only talk to people who look ‘nice’. Children that are more vulnerable to stranger abductions are the quiet, thoughtful ones; children who appear to have special and intense needs for adult affection and approval”.
Psychology professor at Nicholls State University, Dr. Monique C. Boudeaux’s research has included child abduction and homicide, and child victimization. In a 2001 article she noted, “Child victimization appears to be quite dependent on the age of the victim and the motivation of the offender. Offenders generally select victims that hold some kind of significance to them…Routine activities most often bring potential victims and offenders together. Crime is most often a result of interactions between motivated offenders, available targets, and lack of vigilant guardianship to prevent crime . . . often, it is this vulnerability, coupled with ease of access that is apparent to offenders and serves to elevate their interest in children as desirable prey”.
Dr. Boudreaux writes of John Walsh saying he wished both he and his wife had “spent more time encouraging my son (Adam) to respect his safety instead of respecting adults’ authority”. Further he says, “If I had taught him to scream, he might be alive now.”
Obviously, research shows that these predators do their homework. We just have to do ours better.
Imagine This! Part IV: I Can’t Believe How You Have Grown!
You paint this picture for your child: Playing in front of our house or just down the block, you hear someone (a man or a woman) call out to you. You hear your name and look at the person. You see they are neatly dressed. The person calls out your name again, smiles at you while shaking his/her head slowly side to side. You hear, “It is you. My, you have gotten so big. I can remember when your father called to tell me how proud he was to be a daddy. And your mom? She told me how she cried happy tears when she held you for the first time.” The person walks closer and closer to you.
These are a few questions to discuss with your child:
- What is your first reaction to hearing your name and our names? Do you stop to listen to the person?
- Since they know your name, do you talk with them?
- Since they know my name, do you talk to them?
- What if the person tells you he/she is looking for our address?
- What is mirroring?
- What is personal space? How big is your personal space?
It is a truly worrisome to realize that in this day and age a parent needs to take time to develop a stranger safety awareness strategy for his/her family. I hope these few scenarios have helped underscore your own awareness philosophies.