By Anna Groff
Last month, I took my two daughters to McDonald’s to play in the play area and get some ice cream. We needed to get out of the house, and it was too dark for the park. While I was in the parking lot getting them out of their car seats, a security guard alerted us that we might want to use the drive-through, as there was a man inside “tweaking out” on meth. I thanked him and said we’d head to another McDonald’s up the road.
Getting my four-year-old, Ella, back in the car was a challenge. She was confused and had a lot of questions. Why would there be a “mean” person in McDonald’s? Why couldn’t we go in? What was the man doing?
I tried to explain that the man in the restaurant was potentially dangerous, meaning he could hurt someone, although he was probably more likely to hurt himself than anyone else.
Finally, she said, “Oh, he’s dangerous because he is a stranger.”
I try hard not to perpetuate the myth of stranger danger in my own life, in my family, as well as in our Dove’s Nest trainings. But it is a very human way to understand the world, and despite my efforts, Ella’s picked up on this—the people we don’t know might hurt us, while the people we do know are safe.
It’s not bad to be cautious wherever we are. Situational awareness is important, and our instincts are often our best protectors. Strangers aren’t always benign. Ella encounters a lot of homeless people in our city, and I want her to be able to demonstrate care for their humanity while keeping safe boundaries in mind.
But stranger danger is misguided. The greatest danger to a child is not strangers; it is someone who is known and trusted by the victim (and their parents). Over 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows.
Dove's Nest's mission is to empower and equip faith communities to keep children and youth safe in their homes, churches, and communities. "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children" (Luke 18:16 NLT).