Experts say 'stranger danger' warnings hurt, not help child safety

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Parents here in South Central Kansas generally feel pretty safe about letting their kids play outside.  Wichita Police say Monday's attempted abduction of an 8-year-old girl is a reminder pretty safe isn't the same as completely safe.

"You don't hear about a lot of abduction, kidnappings here in Wichita," Captain Brent Allred, Wichita Police, said Monday.  "(It's a) good time to remind parents and kids that unfortunately we do have predators out there that prey on our children." 

Child experts say that reminder needs to be more than just a simple 'stranger danger' warning this week because that can be counter productive when it comes to protecting kids.

"We actually are instilling that fear and we're making it so that kids are afraid to go seek help," said Terri Moses, director of security at Wichita Public Schools.  She is, in part, responsible for teaching young kids about personal safety.  "The most important thing you can do when you talk to your children is instill confidence, not fear."

A stranger walking up to your child while they're at play is not the only danger your child faces outside and some of those other dangers could require your child to talk to a stranger.

"Say you're in a store and your parent has a stroke, or loses consciousness," Moses postulates.  What does the child do then if they can't talk to strangers?  Instead, she says, teach your child to "go to that person in a uniform, a store clerk, somebody that has a little bit of legitimacy." 

Another step in protecting your child is making sure kids know they have the right to object if an adult does something that just doesn't feel right.

"If they're ever grabbed, or they're uncomfortable, we ought to talk to them about, 'Hey, make noise, let people know this isn't right, I'm not comfortable with what's going on," Moses said. 

That's what happened in Wichita on Monday.  Police say the girl screamed for help as a man was pulling her into a storage shed against her will. When she screamed, he let her go and ran away.

All of these conversations, Moses says, should be broken up into multiple mini-chats with the child, repeated over and over again, to make sure they're not forgotten.

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