A TikTok mom is igniting an important conversation about “stranger danger.”
In a video that has been seen more than 648,000 times, life coach Marcie Whalen explains why she’s teaching her daughters about strange behaviors rather than stranger danger.
“Most people are good people. And we want our girls to be outgoing and have conversations with people,” Whalen says, in part. “And so instead of talking about strangers, we talk about strange behavior.”
“My girls understand what to look for, whether it’s in somebody they know really well or somebody they don’t know at all,” Whalen continues. “It’s categorized as strange behavior and therefore the red flags go up.”
For example, Whalen’s children know that an adult asking them to keep a secret from their parents is strange behavior, whether or not the adult is a friend of relative.
Fewer than 1% of child kidnappers are non-family, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Callahan Walsh, an executive director at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, agrees with Whalen’s message. Callahan is the son of John and Revé Walsh, who co-founded NCMEC in 1984 after the kidnapping and murder of Callahan’s brother, Adam.
“At the National Center, we don’t teach stranger danger, either. We know that child safety is much more nuanced than just a rhyming phrase,” Callahan told TODAY Parents. “There are inherent flaws with that strategy.”
He noted that one of the main problems is that when a child is asked, “What does a stranger look like?” They almost always describe someone who is “ugly” “mean” or “monster-like.”
Also if a child is abducted, it is often a trusted stranger such as a woman with children, security guard or store clerk that will come to their aid.
“You want to have conversations with your kids about trusted strangers because those trusted strangers can help rescue them,” Callahan said.
While Whalen talks about “strange behaviors,” at NCMEC they are referred to as luring tactics. According to Callahan one of the most common lures is when an adult approaches a young child for driving directions.
“We’ve seen that time and time again where someone will ask a child for directions and then grab them,” Callahan said. “Same goes with, ‘Hey, I’ve got candy in my car,’ and ‘Help me look for a lost puppy.”
Callahan noted that 80% of kids are able to get away by kicking, screaming and drawing attention to the situation.
While chatting with TODAY, Callahan, who co-hosts Investigation Discovery’s “In Pursuit,” shared four rules that could save a child’s life:
Rule No. 1 is to check first with a parent or guardian before going anywhere with another adult.
Rule No. 2 is use the buddy system. “Don’t go anywhere alone,” Callahan said. “There is power in numbers.”
Rule No. 3 is tell people no. “Many children are raised with the idea that they need to respect their elders,” Callahan said. “But if they feel sad, scared, confused or uncomfortable, they should know they have a right to say no.”
Rule No. 4 is tell a trusted adult. “If someone does make you feel sad, scared, confused or uncomfortable, make sure to tell a trusted adult,” Callahan said.
Comments continue to pour in on Whalen’s TikTok video.
“Strange behavior teaches kids to recognize when they feel uncomfortable & to look for help. Trust your gut, if it feels strange, it probably is,” wrote on person.
Added another, “In fact ‘Strangers’ can often help if you find yourself in need of help!”
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