I spoke with Sergeant Brian Randazzo of the Voorhees, New Jersey Police Department about how parents can talk to their kids about such a scary topic. “The age to begin talking to your child depends on their maturity,” he says. “You don’t want to scare the heck out of the kids but you really need to make sure they understand what you’re talking about. It’s important for kids to understand that strangers are people who you do not know. What comes into play is if a stranger becomes a dangerous stranger.”
What makes a dangerous stranger is when someone tries to trick or harm a child, often with lures. Make your children understand that if a grown-up needs directions, is looking for a lost puppy, or wants to ask for help, he will ask another adult, not a child. Tell your child that if someone he doesn’t know tries to offer him candy, a game, or something else, that is a sure sign that he should run away.
“It’s important for kids to know it’s a dangerous stranger if they are offering you something,” explains Sergeant Randazzo. Give your child a plan if they do find themselves in this situation. If they are approached by someone in a car, they should run in the opposite direction. If a person tries to grab them, they must kick, scream, and cause attention to the situation so someone can help. The police rely mostly on witnesses accounts when searching for abducted children. Pay close attention to the vehicle, it’s color, license plate number, and anything else that can help in the search.
What’s scariest is that in many cases child predators are people our children do know. In that case, kids need to understand right from wrong, and how far to trust someone. “You need to make it clear that only Mommy and Daddy have the right to help you wash your private parts, which are the parts covered by a bathing suit,” explains Sergeant Randazzo. “If anyone ever touches you there, tell an adult right away. Say no and try to get out of the situation. Always tell your parent or someone you trust what happened.”
Registered sex offenders are required to list their current home address, and that information can be accessed by visiting www.familywatchdog.us. If you discover that there is a registered sex offender in your neighborhood, it is important for you to explain that to your children. While you would prefer that your kids completely avoid that person’s home, that’s not always possible. If not, they shouldn’t enter the home or engage in conversation with the sex offender. Whenever possible, they should not be alone when they are in that area.
“Up until a certain age, we hang on close to our kids,” points out Sergeant Randazzo. “We want to keep them close and we want to keep them safe. But at some point in time we have to let go.” Arming them with information of how to stay safe is vital.
The Voorhees New Jersey Police Department visits third graders using the McGruff Crime Dog series. Their website, www.mcgruff.org can provide parents with tips to help them broach these sensitive topics with their children.
Speak with your kids to keep them safe from predators, sex offenders, and strangers.