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Washington State Patrol, counselors move away from ‘Stranger Danger’ teaching

SEATTLE -- We’ve been teaching our kids “stranger danger” for decades.  It's the idea that strangers are bad and will try to hurt you. However, statistics show us the overwhelming majority of kids who are abused, abducted, or killed are done so by people they know.  Now there’s a nationwide push to change the narrative.

Nanny and grandmother Lana Brown says parents today have a tough job to keep their kids safe.

“Anyone of the people in our space could be a predator type person,” said Brown.

She says she teaches kids boundaries by modeling behavior.

“They came up and they would talk to us and he would look to me like, are we supposed to be talking to this guy or not? So it was my modeling,” said Brown.

With school letting out across Puget Sound, child safety experts say we have to move away from the term 'stranger danger' and talk to kids about their personal space with everyone they know in their life.  Recent cases and crime stats prove that kids are more likely to be harmed by someone they know.

Cases about trusted adults turned abusers come across Carri Gordon’s desk at Washington State Patrol.

“Children who are victimized by those they think they can trust.  Relatives, neighbors, coaches, teachers. I think that’s the hardest thing for us to deal with,” said Carri Gordon with Washington State Patrol.

90 percent of child abusers are adults kids know says Shepherd’s Counseling Services Executive Director Janice Palm.

Palm works with adults who are child sex abuse survivors. She says it’s up to parents to see the warning signs.

“If someone is unusually befriending your child. Especially finding instances where they want to spend time alone with your child: Be aware. Ask questions. So that adult is building trust with that child, so their red flags don’t go up,” said Palm.

So parents have to show kids how to honor their boundaries.

“Letting their kids know if they feel uncomfortable at all it doesn’t matter who that other person is or that adult is, they get to say 'I don’t want to do this anymore,'” said Palm.

Gordon says only about three percent of child abductions are done by strangers. So WSP doesn’t teach 'Stranger Danger' anymore.

“We don’t want to scare them. We don’t want them afraid to talk to people. There are people they need to talk to,” said Gordon.

It’s a hard conversation, but ultimately Palm says it comes down to teaching kids to go with their gut.  It’s a lesson Brown is trying to teach.

“It should be as important as explaining to them that carrots make their eyesight better,” said Brown.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children say everyone should re-think 'Stranger Danger.'  Instead, teach that adults don’t ask kids for help.  Trust your instincts.  And always ask permission before you leave or go anywhere with an adult you don’t know.

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