Parenting is an intricate dance of nurturing, guiding, and protecting. While we strive to cultivate a world of curiosity and joy for our children, it’s also our duty to prepare them for life’s darker corners. It’s not about sowing seeds of fear but equipping them with discernment and knowledge. Predatory behavior is, unfortunately, a reality, but by instilling certain principles, we can help our young ones navigate safely.
Officer Brandon Bennett of the Tulsa Police Department is no stranger to the darker alleys of human behavior. With a commendable tenure of 31 years with the department, Bennett’s credentials are robust. He has worn many hats: a detective, a member of the tactical training unit, a SWAT team member, and a defensive tactics instructor. Drawing from this vast pool of experience, Bennett recently presented a video elucidating vital principles parents should be teaching their kids about recognizing and evading potential predators. His insights, rooted in years of on-the-ground experience, offer a realistic and vital guide for parents.
A New Look at “Strangers”: Focus on Behavior Over Familiarity
We’ve all grown up hearing “Don’t talk to strangers.” But this message is evolving. Rather than emphasizing unfamiliarity, we should highlight behavior. “Strangers are people that act strange” teaches children to be observant of actions over appearances.
Consider This: Your child has known Uncle Alex for years. But one day, he insists on frequent, inappropriate hugs or tries to be secretive about their interactions. This is “acting strange.”
Mrs. Parker Scenario: Mrs. Parker might be your child’s favorite teacher, but if she starts sending texts late at night or wants to meet up outside of school without any educational purpose, that’s also “acting strange.”
The Child-Adult Help Dynamic: Know the Limits
Children, with their innate desire to help, can sometimes be manipulated by adults with ill intentions. “Adults don’t ask kids for help” is a principle that aids in discerning genuine interactions from potential threats.
Red Flags to Teach: If a stranger says, “Can you help me find my cat?” or “I’m lost. Can you guide me?” These are situations where an adult is inappropriately seeking a child’s assistance, and they should be viewed with caution.
Distinguishing Secrets from Surprises
“Adults don’t ask kids to keep secrets.” It’s a rule that fosters transparency. While surprises are fun and ephemeral, secrets, especially those that an adult asks a child to keep from other trusted adults, can be harmful.
Surprise Scenario: “We’re baking Dad’s favorite cookies as a surprise! Let’s not tell him until dinner.”
Secret Scenario: An adult friend tells your child, “This is our little secret game. Don’t tell your parents, okay?”
Reinforcing through Role-Playing: Practice Makes Perfect
A powerful tool in solidifying these lessons is role-playing. By enacting real-life scenarios, children can practice their responses, making them better prepared for genuine encounters.
Scenario Setup: Create a storyline. Maybe your child is playing at the park, and a ‘stranger’ approaches, asking for help. Act out both the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ responses.
Immediate Feedback: After each role-play session, discuss what went well and what could be improved. This open dialogue reinforces learning and gives your child confidence.
Switch Roles: Allow your child to play both the adult and the child. This reversal not only makes the exercise engaging but also provides them a perspective on adult behavior.
By actively participating in these mock encounters, children can internalize their lessons and react swiftly in real-world situations.
Our world, vast and unpredictable, requires us to arm our children not with fear, but with wisdom. As they grow, face challenges, and encounter various individuals, these guiding principles serve as their protective compass. Our role, as caregivers, is to continuously reinforce these lessons, ensuring their young minds internalize them, paving the way for a safer journey ahead.