Teach kids 'safe list,' not 'stranger danger'

Old concept of 'stranger danger' may leave children vulnerable

By Jennifer Waugh - The Morning Show anchor, I-Team reporter
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Dr. Holly Antal is a child psychologist at Nemour's Children's Clinic.  She knows how children think.  She says teaching children "stranger danger" leaves a gap.   It doesn't  teach children what do to if the predator is a neighbor, someone they recognize at school or someone who they have seen before.  In a child's mind, that's not a stranger.

In two local cases, two girls went willingly.  Seven-year-old Somer Thompson was told days before her murder not to talk to people she didn't know, but her killer was someone she had seen before as she walked to and from her school.  It's the reason her mother has said Somer may not have considered Jarred Harrell a stranger at all.  Instead he was a neighbor who had a cute dog.

Eight-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle had no reason to suspect the man accused of her rape and murder.  Her mother accepted a ride and an offer from Donald Smith to buy clothes for her children. 

In the eyes of an adult, these men were strangers -- but not to these girls.  Which is why Dr. Holly Antal says teaching the Safe List is a better way to keep our children safe.

"Giving children a list of people they are safe to go with rather than telling them who they are not safe to be with," said Antal.

I asked Antal, "A lot of times it's not a stranger who is responsible for taking a child?"

"Exactly," she responded. "Statistically we know that most often it's a person who is known to the child to some extend- rarely do we see it's a person completely unknown to the child."

The concept is simple: Come up with a list of five to seven people, relatives, close friends who you see on a day to day basis, week after week and trust with your child.  Then, tell your kids when you are not with them, those five to seven people are the only people they are allowed to talk to or go with anywhere.  If someone comes up to your child who is not on that list, then your kids know to run away.     

Another really important point is to teach your kids that it is OK to be rude.

"It's not only OK, but it's advised that they are brief to the point it may come across to some adults that they are rude but that empowers children to make them feel like they are in control," said Antal.  "They do not have to give a reason as to why they are not going with that person."

Antal suggests teaching children starting at the age of 5 about the "Safe List," when they are entering elementary school. 

She adds, they may have trouble remembering who is on the list, so keep it short.  And post the list in your home and review it with them as much as you possible.  She also says to role play with them different scenarios fitted to your life.  If your child rides her bike a lot- talk to her about what happens if someone comes up to her while she's on her bike.

Remember, our children look to us for guidance.  If your at the grocery store and a stranger comes up to you, you have sent a message to your child without realizing it that the person is safe.  Remind them of the "Safe List" so there's no confusion.

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