Police: Strangers don’t always look scary

Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – With the school year under way, police are asking parents and children to talk about encountering strangers when playing or walking to and from school.

When Mary Robinson’s daughter started first grade, she talked to the then 5-year-old about strangers. She was shocked to learn her daughter thought strangers were anyone that looked scary. Robinson said her daughter is 9 now and the conversation is brought up more because she walks a block home from school.

Authorities said a stranger is anyone your family doesn’t know well. They note that children thinking a stranger looks scary or like a cartoon villain is common, but it is dangerous for them to do so. Police said pretty strangers can be just as dangerous as not-so-pretty strangers.

Robinson, of Lincoln Park, said she was happy she talked to her daughter when she did. A few months following the talk, someone in a van was giving away puppies. She said her daughter wanted to pet the puppies, but didn’t know the person giving them away.

“I remember thanking God I talked to her when I did,” Robinson said. “I don’t know if the person was legitimate or not. But, I’ve heard about people acting like they were giving away puppies and kittens just to lure a child into their vehicle.”

Shanitra Powell, of Taylor, remembers when schools used to teach Stranger Danger. She wishes they still did.

“I work two jobs and I make my boys call me once they are home,” she said. “I tell them never to get in a vehicle with anyone they don’t know. Even if they say they are a parent of one of the teens’ friends and they don’t personally know them.

“There are good people who wouldn’t hurt a child. But there are so many stories about ones that would,” she added.

Powell said she also asks her boys to look out for other children either when they are walking to and from school or when they are outside playing.
Authorities say introducing them to people that it is OK to trust helps children make better decisions about who to turn to. Police name teachers, principals, police, firefighters and librarians as examples of adults students can trust. They also emphasize that children should go to a public place and ask for help if they need it.

Police suggest teaching children about “No, Go, Yell, Tell.” If children are in dangerous situations, they should say no, run away, yell as loud as they can and tell a trusted adult what happened.

Letting children know it is OK to say no to an adult is important, Robinson said.

Powell said when her sons were 9 and 11, she took them to a crowded amusement park and she made them hold her hand to avoid being swept up in the crowd.

“They protested up and down, but I knew they were safe,” she said. “I told them, ’At least you won’t be on the news as a missing person.’”

(Tereasa Nims can be reached at dstreporter@gmail.com.)