On Tuesday, the National Wildlife Federation hosted a twitter chat on the topic of Stranger Danger, focusing on how to keep kids safe when they are out on their own.   As the mom of two young daughters - this is an issue that I worry about frequently, especially as my girls get to the age where they seek more and more independence from my ever watchful eyes.


So I tuned into Tuesday's chat and the info was so good that I wanted to recap it for you here.  The expert speaker for the event was Nancy McBride (@NSDNCMEC), the National Safety Director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), an awesome resource for information on teaching kids about personal safety.


McBride started off the chat with a chilling statistic - according to an NCMEC study, in 7000 cases of attempted abduction; 35 percent happened going to and from school.  As my eldest daughter has recently started begging to be allowed to walk to school by herself - this stat sent a shiver down my spine.


Several tweeters (including myself) asked McBride at what age kids should be allowed to walk to school by themselves but not surprisingly, she wasn't really focused on the age as much as a child's maturity, self-confidence, and preparation (conversations you've had with them about safety.)  And she's not really a fan of kids walking alone at any age but would prefer to suggest that kids walk with friends or an adult.


What should kids do if they are approached by a stranger?  McBride's advice is that we teach kids to just walk away.  "The only thing a child has to do is get away. Don't talk to or be polite. Safety is more important," she tweeted.


An NCMEC publication on abduction goes into more detail:


If anyone tries to grab your children, tell them to draw attention to themselves and loudly yell “This person is trying to take me,” or “This person is not my father/mother.” Instruct your child to make every effort to escape by walking, running, or pulling away; yelling; kicking; attracting attention; and/or otherwise resisting. Tell your children if they are ever followed by someone to get away from that person as quickly as possible. They should go in the opposite direction than the one in which the person is traveling and quickly try to get to a spot where a trusted adult can help them. Advise your children to tell you or another trusted adult what happened.

McBride said kids should seek out a "low risk" adults that can help if there is an emergency: a uniformed police officer, a mother with children, or an employee (with a name tag) if the child gets lost at a place of business.


Parents should practice "what-if" scenarios with kids to help them learn what to do.  McBride cautions parents to keep these scenarios age-appropriate and non-frightening.  So you don't need to scare your kids, just ask them what they would do if a stranger approached them and asked them to help find their lost puppy (candy, animals, asking a question, and offering a ride are still the top tactics strangers use to lure kids away.)  This is also a good time to reassure your kids that you would never send a stranger to get them.  Kids should be taught that they should never go with anyone they don't know.  Period.  If there is trouble, they should know your number (like this little girl did,) so they can call you or another trusted adult.  


So back to my daughter's quandary.  Following McBride's advice, I don't plan to let her walk to school alone.  But when the rest of her friends are old enough and their parents are comfortable with the situation, I will consider letting her walk to school with a group of friends.  There is safety is numbers.  


Kids are smart and strong; it's important to teach them what to do if they are approached by a stranger so that they can keep themselves safe.  The NCMEC study that I mention above also found that of the kids who got away from a "stranger danger" situation, 81 percent did so by running, walking, yelling, or resisting.  The other 19 percent were helped by good samaitans or parents.  Don't be afraid to get involved if you see a child who needs help, said McBride.


And don't let your fear of strangers keep your kids from going outside.  


What do you do to keep your kids safe from "stranger danger?"

Stranger danger: How to keep kids safe
Nancy McBride, National Safety Director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shares tips on empowering kids to protect themselves from str