The dangers of strangers come in all forms, and this article will explain how to use role playing to instill a powerful resistance in your children against the abduction tricks that predators use.
For this article I consulted with child/adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Benoit, Chief Clinical Officer and SVP of Clinical & Professional Affairs of Devereux. Devereux is one of the largest not-for-profit behavioral health care organizations in the U.S., helping children and adults with emotional, developmental, educational and cognitive disabilities since 1912.
Keeping your kids safe requires a lot more than telling them like a broken record, “Don’t talk to strangers.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children studied 7,000 attempted abductions that occurred between Feb. 2005 and Jan. 2012. Some results:
- 32 percent of the kids were lured by the offer of a ride.
- 12 percent were lured by sweet treats.
- 8 percent were asked a question by the alleged predator.
- 8 percent were offered money.
- 8 percent of the alleged predators asked for help with a lost puppy or cat.
I use the word “alleged” because the adults did not succeed in (and thus were not convicted of) these particular attempts. However, ask yourself why an adult would need a child’s help in finding his lost puppy, and why an adult would just go up to a stranger-child and offer candy. Hmmm.
“Role playing is an excellent way to teach children the importance of stranger safety, and how to protect themselves, and how to react when situations make them uncomfortable,” says Dr. Benoit.
However, not all situations that morph into an abduction initially make a victim feel uncomfortable. A lure is what reels them in; the key is to teach kids to recognize when they’re being set up.
In addition to the above abduction ruses, here are more:
Posing as a talent scout; posing as a new teacher; offering money to help lift something out of a van; claiming he knows the child’s parent; claiming the parent is in the hospital and he’ll drive the child there; asking “help” for other things (directions, lost child) that adults should not ask children for.
Run through all of these ruses with your kids. There are only so many ruses, though they can have derivatives (informed-older kids will easily spot these, such as a full-grown man offering a 12-year-old money to help him change a flat tire).
“Role playing activities need to be repeated,” says Dr. Benoit. “You can role play with your children simply by first explaining the concept of strangers, and give them directions on how to resist and protect themselves.”
Select one of the ruses, then have your child pretend you’re the stranger, says Dr. Benoit. See what kind of script unfolds, based on the premise that 1) you will be persistent in your pretend role, and 2) your child will never accept. Give your child permission to “yell” at you in your make-believe role.
Use props, such as a bag of candy and a photo of a puppy. Take the role playing outdoors. Practice various permutations: your child on a bike, you in a car; your child on foot, you on a bike or in a car, etc.
Role play in the rain, cold and extreme heat so that your child builds up the resistance to lures of a heated or air-conditioned car or of getting out of the rain.
All of this role playing will imprint upon a child’s brain, making the resistance to the lures of abduction attempts increasingly reflexive and increasingly impenetrable.
Rehearse over and over so that it becomes second-nature for a child with tired legs in the heat to run in the opposite direction when a stranger offers a ride in his air-conditioned car.
“Play through different scenarios,” urges Dr. Benoit. Ask your child to come up with some of these different scenarios. This will get the brain cells firing.
“It may be useful to have the child pretend that he or she is the stranger,” adds Dr. Benoit. This will really get the brain cells exercising – and proliferating as new insights are formed.
“Role playing is a great opportunity for children to learn and develop skills,” says Dr. Benoit. Never assume your kids are too young to benefit from learning how to recognize an abduction attempt or the common ruses. Do not put this project off, and once you start, keep it ongoing, especially since lures for older kids are different than lure tactics for younger kids.