This is not a topic that I really want to write about, but I feel compelled to given some recent events that have happened in the inner west and north west of Sydney.

We need to have a conversation about ‘stranger danger’. 

It’s particularly important to discuss this because there have been a number of incidents in Strathfield, Drummoyne and Hunter’s Hill over the past week that are quite alarming.  This follows a spate of attempted abductions in Hornsby, Thornleigh, Westleigh, Turramurra, Wahroonga, Pymble, St Ives, Coogee, Cambridge Park and Colyton earlier in the year.

For my Sydney readers, here are a few of the awful details. 

On Monday, at 8.35 am, a ten year old girl and her brother were riding their scooters to school, when a man driving a white van approached the girl.  He offered to drive her to school if she got inside the van.  She made her way to a friend’s house and the man drove away.  The police describe the man as being of Caucasian appearance, aged in his forties, with a medium build.  He was unshaven with a long pony tail.  The white van had some minor damage and had black and yellow rego plates.

I think it’s important to discuss this not just because of these incidents in Sydney, but also because school holidays can be a time when kids are home alone.  Up to one in five kids under 15 will be left alone at home during the school holidays.  So if you were thinking of leaving your children unattended for the school holidays, consider whether you could make alternative arrangements.

Unfortunately, predators aren’t just driving the streets in vans, they’re also at the other end of the your child’s computer.

We were always taught about ‘stranger danger’ when we were kids.  At that time,the safety house program was in operation. We were told to go to a safety house if we were ever approached by a stranger.

I have a very strong childhood memory of getting a car with a stranger, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do.

I had tripped over and was crying, when a car stopped and a lady offered me a lift home.  I said ‘no’ two or three times, but she insisted.  She even said, ‘I know where you live.  You live in that white house next to the café, don’t you?”  She persuaded me to get in the car, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do.

I cried the whole way home and I can’t tell you how relieved I was to get safely out of the car. 

So even if your children know that they shouldn’t get in a car with a stranger, adults can be very persuasive and children may not have the confidence to keep say ‘no’.  That’s exactly what the research shows – that children know the safety messages, but when placed in the situation, they are still more likely to give in.

So what do parents need to discuss with their children to make sure they know what is or isn’t safe?

Fortunately I was able to hear my daughter’s principal talk about this with the children last week.  The main message to give kids is that they should never go anywhere with an adult that they don’t know.  He may say something like, ‘Mum’s been taken sick and she said I should pick you up today.’  Or ‘I’ve lost my dog, I think he went that way, can you help me look for him?’

Tell your children that you will never send a stranger to collect them.

Also tell your kids, ‘When you are on your own don’t talk to people you don’t know.  Don’t get in a car with someone you don’t know.  And if a car stops and you don’t know the person inside, keep walking.’

This may sound obvious, but it’s also important to make sure you know where you child is at all times. Make sure your child doesn’t walk the streets alone.  At least get them to walk to and from school in a group of children.  It’s also a good idea to have a designated route that they have to stick to.  That way you know where to look for them.  You can make sure they take busier streets and that they know where there are safe places to stop along the way if they need to, like at shops, service stations, a police station, the library.

It’s obviously important to talk about these things, but you also don’t want to alarm them, or make them think that adults can’t be trusted.

My daughter’s school principal told the kids that they should tell their parents if an adult makes them feel uncomfortable or ‘yucky’ and that they should also learn to trust their instincts.  If something doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably not.  At the same time, they also need to know that most adults are good, and that there are lots of people who can help them if they need help.  So talk with your children about who they know that they can trust.  It’s good for children to know that there are lots of people looking out for them, not just you.

How do you discuss stranger danger with your kids?  Do you let them walk to school alone?  Do recent events in Sydney concern you?