Helping our kids stay safe from predators who often aren’t just strangers.
“Tricky People” is the new moniker for what used to be described as “strangers.” . Experts have now coined this term to help explain adults who prey on children in children’s terms, so they may understand it’s not just strangers who may pose a threat as child predators tend to be adults who they are familiar with.
The term “Tricky People” encompasses a generalization for anyone who may make the child feel uncomfortable, giving the child permission to trust their own instincts. It includes the understanding that not all adults are to be trusted and/or have a right to tell you what to do. Tricky people are not just some stranger trying to lure kids into a white van, but rather an adult who wants you to keep a secret with them, or a grown up who tries to manipulate or trick you.
Here are some basic tips for helping our kids be self actualized and conscious about protecting themselves.
- Talk to your kids about child predators. Yes, even when they are young. It starts as simple as “private parts are private” and can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. It is important for kids to have an understanding of their own personal space and basic body integrity. This also speaks to the importance of relaying that all adults are not always right, and sometimes there are bad people. This must be handled in age appropriate ways, but the emphasis must be on the child’s safety and right to say no to anyone who is inappropriate with them.
- Let them know that there are no secrets kept with any adult from Mommy and Daddy. This is essential. It is important for kids to understand that this is dead wrong for any adult to ask of them. Also, any adult who wants to bribe you with gifts or attention is someone to be wary of. This must be done delicately and may require continual conversation as we don’t want to create an atmosphere of paranoia, but rather a conscious awareness.
- They won’t be in trouble. Let them know they can tell you anything. It is important to have a safe place to communicate any troubles and can be the difference for a kid who is vulnerable to abuse or not. Predators are savvy in choosing their victims and often go after kids who don’t have strong parental influence or protection around. Be that shield to your children by letting them know that they are safe to tell you anything, and you won’t “get mad.” The feeling of shame that it is their fault and fear that they won’t be believed are some of the biggest reasons why kids don’t tell right away.
- Help them to trust their instincts. Children are hard-wired with intuitive understanding that we often have filtered out over the years. They may not have the language or the ability to express the whys of it, but they know what they feel. Give them permission to honor this.
- Pay attention. Be aware of your own instincts. Ask who is going to be at the sleepover. Do your due diligence. Let’s find that balance in our parenting between cynicism, or assuming the worst about others, and naivete, where we are blind to red flags. A coach that wants to spend unsupervised time with your kid? Nope. Someone’s college age son who is only too happy to babysit at the slumber party? I don’t think so.
It’s better to err on the side of caution than risk putting our kids in bad situations. It takes a combination of our own common sense, basic parental intuition, and informed decisions to help keep our kids safe.