Understanding Stranger Danger
By Priyangwada Perera Ceylon Today Features
How do you know whether you are safe? You might tell me that you never go out alone or that you are taught by your parents and teachers not to talk to strangers. You have nothing to do with unknown people, no talking, no close encounters. The dangers are many and we often know to stay away from strangers. But it is not always just the strangers that we have to be careful of.
Other countries have even come up with awareness campaigns with slogans like Stranger Danger. Looking at every stranger as someone who might be ‘harmful’ is a difficult thing to do. It is also not good to have so much distrust. But we can never be too careful. So, the new slogan is CLEVER NEVER GOES. It teaches children how to stay safe from getting kidnapped. It is both in real life as well as online. To teach about being safe in real life situations, Dr. Nuwan Thotawaththa has written a beautiful book which is translated by Sandini Tennakoon to English as My Body is Mine.
With radiant eye-catching illustrations by Sindupama Chandrasena. It is the story of little Alice who is in Grade 2. How many of you run to the nearby shop or the grocery to buy a handful of toffees or an ice cream? We all do. It is the shop you always go to, it is the people you have known all your life. We have relatives, friends, neighbours who often visit us and give us things. Once in a blue moon there can be those who want to harm us, even among the people we know. Yet, how do we keep ourselves safe? It is the encounter between Little Alice and uncle John.
You would not take chocolate from a stranger, would you? All of you would reply ‘No, never!’ But what if someone you know well asks you to come closer and take one yummy bar of exotic chocolate? He might tell you something very reasonable like, “Now, if you take this home to eat, your malli might want a piece of this. Is it not better to eat it here and go?” It makes sense. You might want to sit there and eat. You might want to go inside and eat. The kind, caring ‘uncle’ will pat you on the head and pinch your cheeks, while you munch the chocolate away.
This is when you have to be careful. Not everyone who tries to come closer to you is your friend. Even if it is someone well known to you, they might mean harm. Little Alice is all alone and luckily for her, it is the mango tree which comes to protect her. But the message she is given is what we forget. “Your body is yours. You should protect it. Only your mother and father can touch you. Someone you know can touch your hand or head but not your body.” The most important part is beautifully explained.
“Remember, the parts of your body you cover with your clothes are STRICTLY yours! If you allow anyone to touch ‘your body parts’ you are in BIG TROUBLE. When you are alone with someone and if they ask you to touch THEM, say “NO!” “What if someone tries to touch me?” asks little Alice. Then the author has cleverly incorporated CLEVER NEVER GOES. It teaches children “never to go anywhere with anyone, a stranger or a familiar face, unless plans have been made beforehand.
The mango tree in the book helps little Alice. In the simplest of terms, we must know when someone is coming too close to us, making us uncomfortable, touching us or forcing us to do something. Instruction is to remember NO, GO, YELL, TELL. No matter how little a child you are, say a loud ‘NO’. Stop them and ask them to GO. If they do not listen, you have to YELL for help. Next is to TELL a trusted adult. In the story, Dr. Thotawatta beautifully brings out the function of the guardian and when a child does not know what to do, how the Mango Tree comes to help. But we may not be as lucky as Alice, so we have to remember what to do. My Body Is Mine is a good book to read and easy to learn to be safe.