I took the kids to a new doctor the other day, and one of the questions she asked is if we teach Stranger Danger. She was shocked when I said no, I don't agree with the whole concept. Why?
1. Kids learn best by example and we model talking to strangers all the time. Every time we talk to the cashier at the grocery store or have a random conversation with someone we're standing behind in line at the bank or welcome a new neighbor to the neighborhood or stop at a gas station and ask for directions. Our kids see us breaking this rule (if you have in fact made it a rule) every single day.
2. At some point, we're going to want them to be confident talking to people. At some point, you'll have to give up the Stranger Danger and start the "talking to strangers using common sense." Why not just give them the tools to do the later in the first place? In some families they'll be simultaneously taught Stranger Danger and then shamed for being "shy" when they don't talk to the people their parents want them to talk to. What a confusing message!
3. Statistically, kids are FAR less likely to be abducted or abused by a stranger. It's the creepy uncle, the basketball coach who wants to "mentor" them, the youth pastor who gets a bit too chummy who are the real dangers. Friends and family who can get close enough to groom them. So the much better approach is to is to have them be on the lookout for "tricky people." Those are people, either strangers or people who are well known, who act like they are safe, but then try to get kids to do things that make them uncomfortable, feel unsafe or do things that are inappropriate. I've talked to my kids about specific examples of this, like if a neighbor tries to get them to go into their house or anyone tries to get them into their car, if anyone asks them to help them do something like find their lost dog, if anyone tries to touch them inappropriately, or in any way that makes them uncomfortable or does not stop doing something when they say stop.
4. Little kids figure that once someone introduces themselves they are no longer a stranger because they know their name. Not the criteria you want them relying on for whether or not a person is safe!
5. Kids have a natural instinct about people. They have gut feelings that if we don't ignore, shove down, and punish them for, they can learn to listen to. They don't want to hug that pushy family member? Don't make them. They said "stop tickling me," STOP! Help them learn that their body is theirs and theirs alone, that they don't have to do things just because an adult or authority figure says so, warning signs to watch out for with creepy people, and listen to them if they aren't comfortable being around someone. Far more effective than Stranger Danger. For more info on all of that, the book Protecting The Gift by Gavin DeBecker is excellent.
So, here's the really ironic thing. After being shocked that I don't teach Stranger Danger and asking other standard questions like if I've taught them about "good touches and bad touches," the doctor proceeds to do the following.... She was pressing on one of the kid's stomachs and unbuttoned her pants. At first I thought that was just to get a little lower on her tummy. Then she says, "I just need to check your bottom," WHILE pulling down my daughter's pants! I grabbed the doctor's hand and said, "We had not discussed that being part of the check up. She was not prepared for that!" The doctor immediately put her hands up and said, "Oh!" She explained that she was going to check for a fused labia and said I could just do it in the bath at home. I told my kids that it is ok for the doctor to look at our vaginas and labias because she helps take care of our whole bodies, BUT that since we had not discussed that we would wait until the next visit and ask if they were comfortable with that first. At the end of the visit, I told the doctor that she needs to ask permission to touch them next time. After we left, I told my daughter that it was completely inappropriate for the doctor to pull down her pants without asking first, and that it was her choice if she wanted to see that doctor again or see a different one next time.
That experience just makes my whole point about Stranger Danger for me. Strangers don't normally run up to a kid and pull down their pants. And it's not that I think the doctor intended anything at all inappropriate by what she did. But if I had let that go unchecked, it would have sent the message to my kids that it is ok for a an authority figure (as doctors tend to be, unfortunately) to pull down their pants. That's it's ok for an adult to not respect their body and autonomy. That is not a message that I ever, ever want to send.