How do you talk to children about 'stranger danger' without frightening them?
When I was in primary school, we had a visit from a policeman to warn us not to talk to strangers. I can remember that for several months afterwards I would have a dream in which I went up to a front door to seek help because someone in the street was threatening me but when the door opened, the same scary man was inside. So I went to the next house seeking help, but the same thing happened and so on. It was a neverending scenario of fearfulness.
My son's now old enough to be allowed to walk by himself for short distances (as long as he doesn't have to cross any busy streets en route.) A couple of incidents in the Sydney news recently led me to instigate a conversation with him about the risk of talking to strangers - actually, the risk of strangers talking to him. I decided to be very black and white about it - any adult who asks a child for help (eg for directions) is trying to trick you and is bad. Don't help them, walk away from them (or their car). An adult should never ask a child for help - they should ask other adults.
This conversation made him nervous - he said, "I hope this never happens".
When I was about 14 or 15, I was waiting at a bustop in a heavy downpour when a car with three men in it pulled up and asked if I needed a lift out of the rain. The men were wearing suits. I said no and they drove off. Even if they were perfectly respectable, I would have felt very awkward, not knowing how to make small talk with adults. I much preferred to be by myself and didn't care about the rain. Anyway, nothing happened, but I've often wondered about that situation. Even now, thinking about it makes me feel very uneasy. I think that's because the subtext was and probably still is that if I had accepted the lift, I would in some way have been accepting their 'interest'. I would have been viewed by 'rape culture' as halfway to consenting.
Of course, I don't know if there was any 'interest' or threat, but my fear and uneasiness even nearly 40 years later tells me that there was.
My first attempted conversation with my child about all this took place when he was four.
"What should you say if a grown-up you don't know leaned out of a car and offered you some sweets?"
I realised he was too young for that talk and anyway, he'd never be alone so it was a redundant issue.
But now it's become relevant but I'm not sure that I handled the most recent talk vey well. I don't want to convey a sense of distrust or fear and I suspect that there might be a more positive way to approach it, I just don't know what that is.