All I have heard from my parents is not to talk to strangers and not to take anything from strangers.

I am not sure if in today's date these two rules are sufficient.

What should I tell the child exactly so that she is actually aware of the danger rather than following the rules blindly because mother said so?

Detailed answers will be appreciated.


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    I actually think that the rules for online "strangers" are importantly distinct, and therefore worthy of a separate question. A casual online chat may lead a child to think they know who they're talking to, and therefore let down their guard ("this nice teenage girl I'm chatting with is no longer a stranger, so I can tell them about me"). That's a different situation from physical strangers, where it can be blatantly obvious that the person you're talking to is not actually a teenage girl and therefore not somebody who should be told personally identifiable information.
    – Acire
    Mar 17, 2016 at 19:24
  • @Erica I have removed that question and will make a separate question. Thanks. Mar 18, 2016 at 0:44
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    Blindly following the rules is dangerous -- anyone who's done search and rescue can tell you stories of kids who stayed lost because they hid from the strangers doing S&R, and kids are far more likely to get lost than get abducted by strangers.
    – Mark
    Mar 19, 2016 at 18:31
  • As per your other question - a good deal more information would be useful before we can give you anything better than you could have googled, the accepted answer makes some good points. For example, what age is the child, what is the area you live in like, what degree of freedom do they have at present, do they attend places or events where there are likely to be groups of adults who know them but they don't know but not well such as clubs/societies. Knowing the risk you're looking to mitigate is helpful too as prioritising one unlikely risk over a likely one may be counterproductive. Mar 19, 2016 at 23:23
  • @JamesSnell Child is 2.9 years old right now. I can answer only one question - that is location. Mar 20, 2016 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


Some interesting studies about what children consider "strangers" have been done. The concept is not an easy one for them, apparently, and is very easy to override. For example, in studies, they don't heed the "strangers" warning when the person is clean-cut, a young adult, or, say (in a pretty scary study) someone with a puppy. For this reason, child predators are known to use a puppy, a kitten, or some other enticement as an excuse to lure children (including "can you help me find my puppy?")

There are more practical ways to help your kids avoid potentially dangerous situations than only teaching them about strangers. In fact, teaching them that all strangers are to be avoided eliminates a valuable resource for them if the need arises.

Teach a child to direct adults with questions to other adults (preferably policemen!)

An adult looking for help with anything (including finding their lost puppy) should not legitimately be asking a child or a group of children for help. Teach your kids that adults don't normally ask children they don't know for help, and to simply direct those people to an adult. Practice this with them. For example: "I'm sorry I can't help you. Can you ask (point to the nearest adult) that person to help you?" "Can you call a policeman on your cell phone?" "Can you ask an adult to use their cell phone?" Teach them to look for alternatives to helping an adult they don't themselves.

Give them permission to say "no" to an adult when they feel uncomfortable or confused.

Most parents want their kids to be respectful of adults, and this often means compliant as well. John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states without a doubt that his child was abducted in part due to this very issue: he taught his child to obey authority without giving him permission to say "no" - to question that "authority" - when that obedience might confuse him.

This includes teaching them to make a lot of noise when an adult tells them to do something they have been taught not to do (go with them, get in the car, etc.)

Instead of teaching kids to avoid all strangers, teach children which types of people they can trust when they need help and you're not with them.

Policemen, store clerks, adults - statistically, especially mothers - with children, etc., are safe people to turn to when they themselves need help (not the other way around; that would violate the first rule.)

Warn them never to accept rides without your permission (by phone or prior arrangement) or a "password".

Many child abductions involve a vehicle. For this reason, we taught our children the concept of a "safe word". We reinforced that we would never send someone to pick them up for any reason without giving that adult the safe word, not even if we were hurt or in an accident, etc. Practice.**

Teach them not to leave a specified area with anyone else without your permission.

Some adults use other children to lure kids. If they're in a playground, they should stay there until they get picked up.

Today with cell phones, it's easier to keep kids safe than when my kids were children. This and the copious good advice found on good child safety websites is a read advantage.

Since this question asks specifically about strangers, I'll limit the answer to that.

Online strangers is a another answer (I think) with a lot of different advice than real-life strangers.

*This last scenario has been repeated often and there are a lot of videos of such mini-experiments available.
**This really proved to be a good one. Someone offered to give our kids a ride home from their play area one day. That they refused because the adult didn't know the safe word was reassuring.
Rethinking “Stranger Danger”
Child Safety Is More Than a Slogan

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    Also of note - if we exclude the relatively new rise of online stalking, children have always been at more risk from people they know not strangers!
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 18, 2016 at 0:14
  • "Today with cell phones, it's easier to keep kids safe than when my kids were children." is one of those points which can unfortunately can work both ways, especially if the risk you plan to mitigate is the more likely one (bullying) than the less likely one (abduction by an unknown 3rd party.) More children commit suicide due to bullying than are killed by strangers... +1'd for noting that merely teaching/telling a child 'rules' is rarely effective. Mar 19, 2016 at 23:17
  • You kind of mentioned it in your answer, but one thing that I was told when researching this topic coulpe of years ago is that the major side effect of teaching the child to avoid strangers is precisely the fact that it will get them to ALSO fail to talk to police or other helpers when warranted, so "stranger-nonstranger" concept shouldn't even be introduced.
    – user3143
    Mar 28, 2016 at 15:54
  • @user3143 - You're right. I did mention it specifically in my answer. It's even bolded: Instead of teaching kids to avoid all strangers, teach children which types of people they can trust when they need help and you're not with them. Mar 28, 2016 at 16:34
  • @anongoodnurse - yes, that was the sentence I meant. The approach I was taught was far stronger (don't even mention the concept of a stranger in this context), though based on similar reasoning. I wasn't provided with any meaningful references, however, back then.
    – user3143
    Mar 28, 2016 at 16:36

In US, your local police station should have events for young children to learn about "stranger danger." I think it is important think about different scenarios that could happen.

  • What should you do if a stranger want you to come with them because your parents/guardarians or other family members got hurt?
  • What happens if a stranger is giving you [insert really desirable item here] and you just have to go with him to get it?
  • What happens if a stranger want you help look for his dog? Or lost kid your age?

Ultimately, the reason why we teach "stranger danger" because there are bad people that mean us harm. The Internet is even harder because you don't know who you are talking to. Bad adults will pretend to be children and lure them away from home and hurt them. Depending on the age of your child you may consider talking about actual crimes and what could be done differently.

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    downvoted because strangers are mostly not the people who harm children, and because "stranger danger" is something that is more hamrful than helpful.
    – user19912
    Mar 18, 2016 at 23:58
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    I don't see why this was downvoted. It answers the OPs question which is about what do with strangers. Whether children should be more wary of strangers than people they know wasn't asked. "Strangers" still commit portion of crimes against children. It is as of the OP asked how to prevent breast cancer and you said forget breast cancer you should be worrying about heart disease!
    – jcmack
    Mar 19, 2016 at 0:32
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    @jcmack - If you're responding to a comment made, you should start your comment with "@username" to insure they receive notification of the comment. :-) Mar 19, 2016 at 13:21
  • @anongoodnurse thank you. I'm still learning :)
    – jcmack
    Mar 23, 2016 at 17:55

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