If your child never talked to strangers, then he would never talk to a police officer or a store clerk.  Telling a kid that strangers are dangerous equates strangers with danger, which prevents kids from finding that line between protection and overprotection.  Once again, most predatory behavior toward children involves someone they know; pinning danger on strangers is one of the best ways to destroy a child’s perception of and intuition about true danger.  Instead, teach your children to evaluate behavior, specifically strangeness (not necessarily strangers).  Teach them to pay attention to stares that last too long, a smile that’s not real, rapid looking away, and other signs of discomfort.

If a stranger talks to you and your child and doesn’t give off warning signs, talk with your child about why you felt safe around that man, and also what would have made you feel unsafe around him. 

If your kid is lost in public, train him to ask a woman for help before asking a man.  This does not contradict the fact that a mother is more likely than a father to physically abuse her child.  This is not her kid, and, furthermore, it’s highly unlikely that she’s a sexual predator.  According to De Becker, a woman is more likely to stay involved in a lost child’s trouble until it’s resolved; a man is more likely to let authorities handle the problem.

Kids should know that it’s okay to be “mean.”  In fact, being good sometimes requires you to be “mean” to others.  “Mean” in this context means conflict, which isn’t always mean.  Children need our help understanding this, because they are wired to seek the approval of adults, even when adults don’t deserve it.  Predators bank on that. 

This is hard for Christian parents to accept if they believe it’s wrong to use verbal and physical force.  But read just the first few chapters of Mark’s gospel and tell me Jesus didn’t believe in or enter into deliberate conflict.  Saying that Jesus (and, by default, Christianity) denounces conflict is like saying Karl Marx was a capitalist. 

When it comes to self-protection, conflict is good.  It does not mean retaliation.  It means telling your kid it’s okay to rebuff an adult and even injure one if needed.  It’s okay to yell and to otherwise make a scene—teach your child to yell, if he or she is being grabbed, “This is not my father!” (or mother).  That’s likely to get a bystander to step in, since most assume a child is being escorted by a parent.  

Regarding authority, a child’s view toward it can be dangerous in two key areas.  If he questions authority too much, he will be blackballed by adults, who will find him unnecessarily contentious, and his peers won’t like him much either.  But if the child is too trusting of all authority, he sets himself up to become a naïve victim.  

Next time: Protection from sexual abuse.


Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org , and http://www.paulcoughlin.net

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: ww.reluctantentertainer.com