I had an upgraded version of The Stranger Talk with my oldest on Friday night.
This is a talk we’ve had at least twice before, but as he gets older and interacts more – and with less supervision – with the greater world, I feel the need to reinforce it, and to be more specific about my concerns. He's not quite a pre-teen yet, but he's getting there, and I'm getting nervous.
So we talked about the usual issues: People you see in public places, people in shul, teachers and relatives and friends and friends’ parents and so on. And Internet use, naturally.
And I tried to help him define Danger Signs – ways to identify people as potential risks.
This is not simple. I don’t want to make my son paranoid and fearful around everyone he sees. I also don’t want to make him judgmental, so that everyone who doesn’t fit a certain ‘safe’ mold is considered defective.
Beyond the obvious reminders about being touched inappropriately or feeling intimidated, we came up with a couple of Danger Signs which should warn him to escape the situation:
• Adults who look to spend time with pre-teens, without parents present and without a formal role [teacher, shul rabbi].
• Adults who interact childishly with young children.
But I’m not even comfortable with those relatively simple signs. In one light, they are too limiting; #2 excludes adults who just like to joke around with kids. In another light, they are too permissive; #1 allows access to people who start out with a formal role but want to inappropriately transcend it.
So, of course, I tell him to ask me if you have any questions about particular situations, so that I will be able to modify the rules to fit specific cases.
I’d like to hear from other parents:
What are your Danger Signs? What do you tell your children to notice, and what do you tell them to do when they see it? And at what age?
All responses welcome.