I was sent a link today of one of those goofy “stranger danger” instructional videos. The kind where absurd caricatures of pedophiles, every single one wearing a mustache, act out scenarios designed to teach kids how to stay out of harm’s reach. While completely silly, these videos are also ubiquitous in our culture. Everyone is shown a variation as a child. Adults like these videos because they empower children with the knowledge that some adults out there wish to do children harm without revealing the tragic truth about what those adults do after they lure some ignorant kid with the prospect of finding a lost puppy. No matter what the video, there is one phrase that is always tagged on at the end of the lesson, a little bit of sensible adult wisdom. “If you feel afraid, go tell a parent, teacher or some other trusted adult.”
While these types of videos (or at least this type of advice) seem wise, and almost essential, to give to children, the horrifying truth is that the message they portray is completely opposite of reality. Sure, every now and then some sicko picks up a kid off the street. But sadly, it’s mostly parents, teachers or some other trusted adult that does the abusing. That’s why kids don’t tell on their abusers very often. Because it is someone they had trusted, someone in authority over them. In my opinion, this is fare more damaging (though not to say other types of abuse are anything but earth shattering). That is the type of abuse that has the potential to last for years.
But what are we supposed to tell kids? That it’s not the guy on the park bench, but uncle Jim they need to stay away from? we are faced with a kind of choice really. We can frighten kids with a vague mustachioed threat that exists some where outside the confines of a normal childhood existence, or we can teach them that no one is capable of being absolutely trusted. And which would be the more valuable lesson?
What is it that Puck says? Oh what fools these mortals be?