Steve Donofrio

Steve Donofrio leads a martial arts class at My Gym in Eden Prairie. He will co-lead a family safety class there that steers away from the idea of stranger danger.

Sometimes talking to strangers is a good thing.

That’s what Maddy Spiker and Steve Donofrio of My Gym Eden Prairie hope to teach parents and their kids at the safety seminar, Raising Safe-Minded Children, on May 30.

“There’s a lot of women’s self defense, but parents ask, ‘What about kids?’” Spiker said. “They voice they do not like the stranger danger method, but also don’t know what to tell their kids.”

She was inspired to create the workshop, the first of its kind at My Gym Eden Prairie, after Eden Prairie police alerted the community to a person who may have attempted to lure children into a car with candy. She will lead the 45-minute workshop, aimed at parents and children ages 3 and up, with Donofrio, My Gym’s martial arts instructor who has a background in personal safety and protection services.

The class will cover some common strategies that a child can use to stay safe and run through some role playing games to familiarize parents and children with those techniques, Donofrio said.

Donofrio started leading safety trainings with a business partner in Japan in the early 2000s, when he moved there with his family as missionaries. He learned from parents in Japan about different safety strategies and that teaching children how to be confident, respectful and kind will help them stay safe, he said.

“Stranger danger has been a disaster,” he said. “We helicopter kids to death.”

Instead of cautioning children to never speak to strangers, Donofrio said parents should introduce their children to their neighbors and community members to create a web of support in the places they’ll most often be and teach children how to safely talk to strangers.

“We want to be a part of their transformation to adulthood,” Donofrio said. “Politeness and courtesy is not weakness, it is actually true strength.”

The idea of stranger danger confuses kids, making it hard to ask for help in unfamiliar situations, he said, but as a society, “We don’t know what else to do.”

Donofrio hopes that by taking cues from other cultures, children in the United States can learn how to be more engaged in their communities and understand the difference between a helpful stranger and a dangerous one. The key is to create “circles of safety” starting with the child’s own safety strategies and extending out through their family, friends, neighbors and schools, Donofrio said.

“I’m going to teach kids, how do you help a stranger in your community and why,” he said.

Eden Teller is the multimedia reporter for Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about fostering productive conversations and empowering communities. When she's not reporting, she can be found reading a book, on a hike or tackling home improvement projects.

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