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How to Spot a Child Predator

How to Spot a Child Predator

Imagine a really busy day at your favorite café. There’s a long line of people flowing out the door. The crowd’s chatter creates a deafening roar, the kind of noise that gives those in the café the illusion of privacy.

Above the roar I hear it. Where’s it coming from? Does everyone hear it, or am I the only one?

Then I see him, an older male talking loudly at a table beside the open door.

My gaze moves from the man to a table on the other side of the open door. Two boys are laughing, seemingly delighted with the grown-up activity of eating alone.

Then I hear the man’s voice again. Why is he shouting above the roar of the crowd and asking the boys to solve addition problems? I decide the older man must be the one who brought the boys to lunch since this game of math is being played so effortlessly between them.


I retract my gaze and order my lunch. As I’m waiting, I feel compelled to observe the situation again.

The man asks them what grade they’re in?

“3rd grade!” the chatty one proudly says. The other boy has gone silent.

The man relentlessly continues throwing question after question at the boys.

Who do you want to marry when you grow up?

What’s your favorite subject in school?

Who is your teacher?

Do you like astronomy?

What’s your favorite planet?

My name is being called to pick up my sandwich. Then, like a thunderbolt, it hits me! Those boys are being groomed. That man may be a predator!


I don’t want to believe it. I begin looking around for any reason why this man, who appears to be a stranger, is asking so many weird “get to know you” type questions. My mind wants to believe he’s just having fun. But my body has warning bells going off.

I move very quickly to the table where the boys are and ask, “Where are your parents?” The chatty boy loudly says what his dad’s name is, not where he is. The other boy remains silent; he won’t answer my question.

I look around hoping to see a parent getting up to tell me to mind my own business. I see no one.

As I shift my gaze from the crowd back to the boys I lock eyes with the older man. I purposefully linger in the gaze sending him the strong message, I know what you’re doing! You will not succeed here!

I promptly walk to the counter and say as loudly as I can, “Miss, I’m concerned about those two boys. They don’t seem to be with any adult. There’s a man over there, the one sitting by the door, asking them questions he shouldn’t be asking! Do you see them? Do you see the man? Please look after them and call the police if they leave with anyone other than a parent!”

I leave and go to my car. My husband looks at me and says:

“You need to go back in, don’t you?”


When I return the man is gone! The boys are still eating and laughing. The waitress says, “I know his Dad, he’s on the way.”

Parents, I believe the older man was a potential predator. Am I sure? There was no way of knowing. Did I prevent him from harming those boys? I don’t know. I did what I could without falsely accusing someone of something that hadn’t happened yet.

All I do know was this man was asking the types of questions that predators ask. He was setting the stage, a.k.a. "grooming" the boys so he’d be familiar to them if he appeared again.

I’m not writing this so we can have a debate about how to deal with predators or situations like this. I wrote this so you’d read about the types of questions a potential predator uses so you can prepare your kids.

Please don’t scare your kids, but do talk to them. Use these, or examples like them, so your kids know what bad strangers ask so he can say, “Hey remember me, we had fun doing those math problems at the café didn’t we!”

Related Reading

How to Teach Your Kids about "Stranger Danger"

How I Taught My Preschooler to Talk to Strangers Safely

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the monthly Online Skills Class. This local, national and international anytime e-class provides parents with solutions for reacting, correcting behavior, outbursts and more, to create the parenting instruction manual you always wished came with your child! Click here to receive 2 FREE tips from Sharon's book. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.

Image Source: Wayne Silver via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Join The Conversation
BobbieCaslin BobbieCaslin 5 years
This lady went with her gut feeling....I say, " good for her." I was approached by a man in a candy truck close to my home when I was 8. He did ask me comfort questions as well. The only reason he drove off was I had a friend on a bicycle telling me we should go. So I applaud this woman for her concern.....and.... No one is an idiot .
RebeccaMoreno RebeccaMoreno 5 years
It's amazing to me how many people think you over reacted and are an idiot. I applaud you for having the woobies to address the situation. Think people, if this person really was innocent and/or their uncle, etc. he would have stuck around and not be scared off!
SharonSilver SharonSilver 5 years
There is something wrong with my computer and I can't read all the comments. I seem to only be able to read 40 or so. I've checked back everyday to see if I can see any more comments, but the same ones are all I can see. I want to thank all of you who read the article. Some accused me of being an ageist, sexist and lumping those who are friendly towards kids in with predators. That was not what I was doing. My goal was simply to share my experience and the types of questions someone might ask if they had other motivates. Some of you said that a predator would never be loud. My husband was standing right beside me and couldn't hear what the man was saying. I now know that the man wasn't really shouting, it just seemed that way to me. I believe it was one of those moments when the powers that be are tapping you on the shoulder and asking you to listen, listen, listen to something very important! Because of that, this man's words seemed very loud to me. Thanks to all of you who supported me. And thanks to all of you who challenged me. I learned a lot and hopefully this experience will make me a better writer.
Jen68805 Jen68805 5 years
I also enjoy how the author who has no expertise on the subject of grooming thinks just because someone is asking questions 'they are being groomed'. She is an idiot.
Jen68805 Jen68805 5 years
No what you did was facilitate the continuation of the 'stranger danger mentality'. Almost all sexual abuse happens within a family structure or through close friends of the family. So while you end up frightening the child from strangers you end up forgetting about uncle bob or aunt mary, or your friend susan, or jimmy. . The best thing you can do is explain what molesting is, and what to do if someone tries to do it, no matter WHO they are.
KimberlyCoverdillHoskins KimberlyCoverdillHoskins 5 years
The best way to protect your child from a sexual predator is to have open communication with your child(ren). Teach good touch/bad touch and teach children the proper names for their genitals (vagina, breasts, penis, anus, and buttocks). When we refuse to teach children the proper name for their genitals we are teaching children that their genitals are something to be ashamed of and to be embarrassed about. Grooming comes in so many different ways. We tend to think of the child sexual predator as a stranger just as we think of a rapist as a stranger. The reality is that many children are sexually abused by people they know and trust ( aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, mother, father, friend of the family, parent of a friend, cousin, step parent, and living together partner of a parent). Parents need to be aware of everyone who has contact with their children, and if a child discloses that someone is touching him/her please act on it.
CoMMember13631166098074 CoMMember13631166098074 5 years
You know I just bought a house then found out that there is like 30 SEX offenders within 10 miles and one right across the street and 2 others within 2 blocks from me there other r close to even near the schools so yes i teach my son that there r bad people and yes they can hurt you and i walked with him and showed him not to go around them, most important NEVER to talk to people you don't know and NEVER leave your friends with them either i know 2 kids that there parents dont teach their kids that people can be bad and you don't have to help protect anyone BUT YOU man if your kids can go outside by their selfs and play or u let them walk to school tell them that people can be bad and hurt you really bad and that if they talk to a stranger and they do steel you that they will NEVER see you again ( thats the truth not a lie) i tell you they will not talk to a stranger we would a play about it to me pretending to be the bad person in a car pulling up id try to ask him some thing he would run away every time , then i would just ask him random things telling him that what ever that stranger says I can do better and give him more we have a secret code that only his grandparents and his father and i have if that person dont give him the code he dont go thats it hes 9 and doing great i may seem mean but you know hes safe and teaches his 2 friends not to do it either
JenniferVierstraete JenniferVierstraete 5 years
I have been "assumed" of things as a single mother is what I meant to say in the prior paragraph.
JenniferVierstraete JenniferVierstraete 5 years
We are all as people living the consequences the of those who have ruined it.. men and women alike.. sometimes you just have to make peace with that reality.. I have assumed things as a woman, single mother etc.. and that is just something that is. Like the stigma that because I am a single mom I must be either overly harsh and liberal and man hating or I must be a mush and desperate. We from all genders, races, religions will have hurdles to jump to connect beyond the bound titles and stigmas and if its for the people we truly love.. we should be energized and willing to do so.. thats a proof of love for all of us. Its not fair.. but is it fair equally what has happened to so many innocent and vulnerable children? THIS ARTICLE IS NOT AN ATTACK ON MALES... I get sick of voicing my honest concerns and it being slapped in my face that I am a man hater.. thats so not true.. I am raising one .. imagine my position for a moment? I liked the article. I hate that the world we live in even causes us so much hardship and pain.. I hate that reality but still need to accept it and deal with it for the sake of my child and my family. People are friendly to kids.. if someone is not kind to my kid because of my concerns and my reality than that is their issue. GROW UP and look at the world and understand.. Its not a black and white world.. I had a guy friend tell me: "Jenny, all you need to worry about is you and Jamison and if some guy or whomever is offended that you have a reality and that you are the all to your family.. then they are the wrong people".. He is a good man and a good friend. See.. not all are bad and he gave me hope again.. and he gave me relief through understanding.. talk about forthright, respectful and mature and understanding about my concerns .. wow! He didn't try to put me down or call me crazy or tell me how ridiculous I was.. when I talk to him.. I know he is a good man. So no.. not all men are predators.. but good men will understand the crazy world we live in and will dare to speak understanding to that.. SAME for women and all people. Adults are mean to kids because they have issues and if they are punishing the kid because of some offense by the parent or the parent having boundaries than that is on the adult.
JenniferVierstraete JenniferVierstraete 5 years
You know what? A parent has every right to step in front and ask of me to respect that if they should have a concern.. I understand that and its an honor to be a part of someone's life.. not an entitlement. I do feel for men for the stigma.. but a good man of honor understands.. I do not go around assuming everyone but you DO need to have precautions. I think alot of men are great and take on very nobly and honestly the honorable place of protector.. those men and women are not afraid to exercise understanding. I have had to be labeled alot of things because of having to choose safety instead of "being cool".. thats called parenting. And being a single mom with a child.. boy it can get a bit outrageous the things that come against you.. I have learned so much this past year on this and have taken some courses on self protection.. things I was never taught and its revolutionized my life!!!! One day it hit me.. I AM EVERYTHING!!!! I am provider, protector, nurturer, and all the other things.. so if your offended that I feel sometimes like I have to protect my child instead of willing to bring understanding and relief.. then thats too bad.
JenniferVierstraete JenniferVierstraete 5 years
I have seen this actually. I hate assuming things, but its the predators and the bad intentioned that make this a reality we all have to deal with. I have been told by guys that they are sick of being accused or assumed.. but my way of thinking is "what if it were your kids?".. In my experience, a good and stable person who is forthright is not afraid to talk to you as the adult first. They are not offended as much as they are aware of your position as a parent. I have offended a few but at the end of the day, remember that its me and my son and I have the right to protect my child. I do not go around assuming that all males and people are out to hurt me or my son, but I do have a check list in my mind. If they are way too into my son, or express a vicarious outlet through my son in some way or are overly harsh and critical or insult me as a mom or attempt to bait my son to see me as the enemy rather than the one who cares and protects. I have really been scared this past year and felt helpless and unheard. I have learned better how to protect myself. It is sad that this is a reality and that though you want so much to be kind, you have no choice. Its not only men that can be predators. I once ran into a woman who was way to involved in the interests of my son and she would ask alot about how I do things and then say "Well, I would of never done that".. meaning not allow ice cream until homework is done.. to me it may just be disrespect and a sign of her own wound and insecurity but it could also be a trap. I teach my kid to not talk to anyone that is not cleared by me. No rides without my consent and no running away from me in stores. It sucks that the people in this world that are ill have made us to have to be so on guard all the time but it just is what it is. I have had to make some bold moves and yes, we have to look like the mean people in order to ensure a child safety.. but with what I know, I now know how better to see and approach other parents. So here is a hint I have learned: GOOD and DECENT people will UNDERSTAND your concerns and RESPECT you by not coming down on your rules and trying to win the kids' approval by baiting them away from you.. the WILL set aside the offense and attempt to talk to you first. THAT IS THE BIGGEST FLAG of communication. I have learned this.. kids are not tools for manipulation and filling some adults need for security. They are a gift in which we invest in by guiding and teaching and loving them and any person that is quick to override your values and dismisses you as a parent is a RED FLAG! I would rather be a bit overprotective (though it sucks at times to have to be pushed in a corner to be that way).. Thank you for this advice. Single mothers be extra wary.. if they know a parent is absent from the home.. they can also use that void and ache to "connect" .. people must get through YOU first! Stay safe!
JessicaParker JessicaParker 5 years
good job for brining the attention needed to those children think the employees be watching for him as well afterwards you might have just saved their lives or saved them from a very bad situation. Jenna if i over heard a stranger asking a child what school they go to as well id get pretty damn nervous myself and just so you know its not only men that can be predators
SamanthaAnnRoy SamanthaAnnRoy 5 years
Jenna & Sophie...are you 2 seriously that naive??? Do either of you have children?
CatrinaMckechnie CatrinaMckechnie 5 years
To ask so many questions like this is not responsible... Especially of children so young... People be reasonable. If there is very clearly no parent around... yeah, mind your own business! Don't teach kids to talk to strangers!
BrittneyMcElman BrittneyMcElman 5 years
You did the right thing. If you have a feeling just go for it. He knew that you saw him and that he was being watched. If he was just being nice then no harm done. If he was a creeper you potently saved toughs kids lives.
CoMMember13613609605701 CoMMember13613609605701 5 years
Thanks for posting this article! If it saves just one child, it was well worth it!
Very solid. So glad you spoke up. I'd take this all a step further..."how to spot a child predator"...the funny teenager down the street, the uncle who always wants to play tickle-fest, the brother who is an emotionally empty but extremely charming opportunist... The fact is they are all around us. They are who you'd least expect them to be. And 90% of the time, the child knows him/her quite well. If it were YOUR kid being groomed, you can bet you'd want the author to do what she did 'jump to conclusions'... am I right?
CoMMember1363115943773 CoMMember1363115943773 5 years
I guess you guys didnt read the part where she said "Parents, I believe the older man was a potential predator. Am I sure? There was no way of knowing. Did I prevent him from harming those boys? I don’t know. I did what I could without falsely accusing someone of something that hadn’t happened yet. All I do know was this man was asking the types of questions that predators ask. He was setting the stage, a.k.a. "grooming" the boys so he’d be familiar to them if he appeared again. I’m not writing this so we can have a debate about how to deal with predators or situations like this. I wrote this so you’d read about the types of questions a potential predator uses so you can prepare your kids." what would yall have done in the same situation? or better yet what would you have done if the guy had been a pedophile and was talking to your kids like that and nobody said or did or seen anything
CoMMember13630002390622 CoMMember13630002390622 5 years
Thank you, thank you, thank you! This article needed to be written. Most wonder what they should have done differently after the fact, but never does one hear what we should be aware of before it even gets started. Most think of some pervert kidnapping our babies in the dark of the night or right off the street, but predators are calculated and take their time finding and "grooming" kids. Hopefully there will be more articles focusing on additional information that gives parents the ability to protect their children.
MichelleTafoya39234 MichelleTafoya39234 5 years
to Sophie and Jenna: think about how any person has ever fooled you and you will see that its that much simplier to fool a child.
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