LOVE This Letter (About “Stranger Danger!”)

Hi Readers: This letter made my day. Might make yours, too. (After your blood stops boiling.)

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am 14 years old. I go to a school in small town Kentucky that is extremely over-protective! Rubberbands are consided a weapon and if you are caught with one, you get the same punishment as if you carry a knife or gun! It’s ridiculous! But this is just the beginning.

Every year we have a lady who wears a “National Center for Missing & Exploited Children” t-shirt come and tell us that all people in the world are evil and want to kidnap, rape, and kill you. She tells us that if someone you don’t know walks up to you (no, not to say “excuse me” or “hello”) but WALKS UP TO YOU, you immediately run away and start screaming. Seriously!

After 9 years of school, it has been drilled into my head that all strangers are bad and that every little thing in life is dangerous. But since a year ago, when my father told my family about this website, I’ve been less afraid. It used to be that I wouldn’t go anywhere with out my brother or sister. But thanks to Free-Range Kids, I’ve learned that people in the world are here to help you, and not to kidnap you! Thank you Free-Range Kids!

My gosh, you are welcome. I am overwhelmed. It is great to get a letter like this. — L.

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57 Responses to LOVE This Letter (About “Stranger Danger!”)

  1. Lisa March 10, 2011 at 1:17 am #

    What a great kid! It is shameful that he/she has been subjected to such lessons from school. Good for him/her for listening to such a wish parent and reading your blog. :)

    Another reason for homeschooling…

  2. sue March 10, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    I can’t believe that this is what is being taught in Stateside schools. In German schools kids learn common sense things about strangers, such as only accepting rides from people that you know. I have always taught my son that most adults are good people. At 12 he goes skiing with his friends without adult supervision and knows that if he or a friend has a problem or gets hurt, the first thing to do is flag down the nearest adult to summon the “Bergwacht” (German ski patrol). When he swims with his friends, also without parental supervision, he knows to call the “Bademeister” (lifeguard equivalent) if he or a friend needs help. He has also seen my husband and me helping others, mainly giving directions to tourists.

    If all adults are viewed as “bad,” how can a child or teenager get assistance in a store, airport, train station, bus stop, etc? If a salesperson in a store approaches a child and says, “Can I help you?” is the child really supposed to run away and scream? Ridiculous!

    I’m glad that the letter writer is becoming less afraid of the world. Most people really are good. Anyway, it’s not the strangers that kids need to watch out for. People who a child knows are more likely to abuse or kidnap him.

  3. Heila March 10, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    My daughter first introduced me to the concept of “stranger danger” after her grandmother told her about it. I find it strange. Yes there might be strangers out there who are dangers but there are 1000’s who are just ordinary people like you and me.

  4. EricS March 10, 2011 at 1:27 am #

    Sad state for her community, especially when there are adults who perpetuate the problem rather than finding a logical solution. Watch, listen and learn using common sense, and you’ll be just fine. The sky is NOT falling. So while everyone else is running around like it is, take solace in your peace of mind for knowing better. It’s kind of like knowing 1+1=2, while everyone is freaking out thinking it’s 11. lol

  5. Jen Connelly March 10, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    So sad, but doesn’t surprise me. The things I hear from grown women on parenting sites just baffles me. There was a question the other day about locking doors and all but 2 people that answered said they lock their house up tight when they are in it. Their doors are always closed and double locked at all times, windows are never open, always locked, they don’t answer the door for anyone they don’t know. These are grown women. If they are that fearful of the world how are their kids going to react?

    I grew up in Chicago and our door was always unlocked, if not wide open. Windows, too. Now that I’m an adult with kids we’re the same way. What’s the point of locking a door when you have kids running in and out all day. Oh, right, these paranoid people never let their kids leave their sites so there would never be a time their kids would be outside without them.

    The death of common sense is a sad, sad thing.

  6. Mike March 10, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    If someone ran screaming just because I walked by, I’d think they were a psychotic nutcase. Good job to that girl, realizing the idiocy she was taught, and rejecting it.

    Said it before, the BEST thing a child can do when lost or in trouble is… ask a stranger for help.

    And (bit of personal bias here) the safest strangers of all, for a child: A group of motorcycle riders. The kid will have some SERIOUS protection, if asked. Most riders are parents, and love their kids. Nobody is going to mess with them!

  7. Marie March 10, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    Very sad to hear kids are being taught such extremes of stranger danger. You don’t have to be afraid of strangers, just take appropriate precautions.

    Glad the poster is figuring this out. Life’s a lot more fun when you aren’t afraid of the people around you.

  8. Becca March 10, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    I took my 4 month old with me to a yarn shop the size of a walk in closet. I set her down (she was in her infant car seat) so i could walk around easier The owner was the only other person in there. She started talking to my daughter, who of course smiled and cooed at her. This women then said, oh your to young to know not to talk to strangers. All I could think was, a) why are you talking to her then and b) were in a store that’s so small I can see her no matter where I am, why should I be worried about her talking to you, the owner? (who I should add gave my two year toys to play with a minute earlier)

  9. KyohakuKeisanki March 10, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    @Lisa: In most cases the thing about homeschooling is true (the mom of a 13-year-old homeschooled friend of mine [who looks like he’s 10 or 11 btw] lets him walk to friends’ houses about a half mile away on occasion… and other stories of homeschool families I know are similar), but from personal experience I can assertively say that in some cases homeschooling does much more harm than good.

  10. bmj2k March 10, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    If rubber bands are weapons when will Staples start asking for ID when buying office supplies and requiring a five-day waiting period for fountain pens?

  11. MikeTeeVee March 10, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    “She tells us that if someone you don’t know walks up to you (no, not to say “excuse me” or “hello”) but WALKS UP TO YOU, you immediately run away and start screaming.”

    Maybe this student and her friends should agree to practice this skill at school, any time somebody they don’t know walks toward them.

  12. Kimberly Herbert March 10, 2011 at 2:26 am #

    I’ve written before about the self defense classes we had as part of PE. They were very practical and saved a classmate who was kidnapped for ransom.

    We were taught things like
    1. Adults don’t ask kids for directions, because you don’t drive you walk and ride your bike often crossing fields that cars can’t take.

    2. Never go with a stranger ask other adults for help or scream Fire – I don’t know you.

    3. If a car stops and someone tries to talk to you stay on the far side of the ditch or sidewalk. You don’t have to answer their questions if something feels strange.

    4. We were taught some breaks and basic defensive moves.

    Most of the class focused on good citizenship, road safety, and first aid. The parts about strangers focused more on kidnapping for ransom, because it did happen a couple of times to kids from our school. I actually wish we had more sexual safety lessons. Because no-one really explained that until a rape prevention class in 6th grade (focused more on breast exams and periods)..We shocked the teacher by telling that a classmate had been threatening to do everything she just explained plus some sick variations for the last 6 years. If a teacher had more training maybe they would have figured out he was being abused. That may have saved the women he later raped.

  13. jess March 10, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    when i was in school we were taught you don’t go anywhere with a stranger. if someone in a car stops and asks for directions or something, just step back so your not in arms reach. none of the run away in fear because they want to kidnap you.

    my cousin was taught all strangers want to hurt you. she got to the point that even asking her to order her own drink from the snack bar would cause her to cry since the cashier was a stranger.

  14. Tuppence March 10, 2011 at 2:48 am #

    Looks like the next generation may be the ones to lead the way out of jungle of fear that American has become!

    In a way, incorporating the hysteria into the schools to such a degree that they are shuffling in the Missing and Exploited Children Lady to give a “teaching moment” every year, may be a good thing: Nobody has a better BS detector than a teenager.

  15. Donna March 10, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    “1. Adults don’t ask kids for directions, because you don’t drive you walk and ride your bike often crossing fields that cars can’t take.”

    I disagree with this one. I’ve asked older kids for directions. I’m not going to ask them to give me step-by-step directions to a distant place but I’ve asked where a particular neighborhood street is or if I was going in the right direction to get somewhere. Usually it’s when I’m walking but I’m not going to walk around lost when I’m sure the 12 year old I just passed can point me in the direction of the local park. I was also asked directions as a kid.

  16. KyohakuKeisanki March 10, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    “1. Adults don’t ask kids for directions, because you don’t drive you walk and ride your bike often crossing fields that cars can’t take.

    2. Never go with a stranger ask other adults for help or scream Fire – I don’t know you.

    3. If a car stops and someone tries to talk to you stay on the far side of the ditch or sidewalk. You don’t have to answer their questions if something feels strange.

    4. We were taught some breaks and basic defensive moves.”

    1. If you’re the only one around they often will, especially if they are from out of town.

    2. The lack of commas in that sentence makes it ambiguous, but my main issue is why would a kid scream “Fire!” just because someone asked for directions?

    3. Very good advice.

    4. Even better, and not just for self-defense reasons… many studies show that controlled violence like that in a self-defense class may reduce the amount of uncontrolled violence (in addition to keeping the kid’s fitness level high).

    5. About the rest of that comment — agreed that #3 should be supplemented with a basic understanding of “good touch, bad touch”.

  17. Jynet March 10, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    @ Jen Connelly: We also haven’t locked our doors since we moved into our home 16 years ago. We never locked our doors growingup either.

    This year … last month in fact … we started locking our doors. NOT because of strangers, but because of one of my daughter’s “friends”.

    How sad is that :(

    On the funny side: I’ve locked myself out 5 times in the last 3 weeks, lol! Good thing my daughter was home all 3 times!

    MOST people are good people. When we start remembering that we are much happier! (And more often we are correct!).

  18. Mompetition March 10, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Can I get a witness! AMEN!

  19. Dreamer March 10, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    I often wonder about the generational impact of our “fear-all-risk” culture — how it was created and how it is being perpetuated. I think many of today’s parental and cultural fears are rooted in the events that headlined during this generation of parents’ formative years (e.g., the Walsh kidnapping, Challenger, Chernobyl, Columbine, 9/11) — isolated or uncommon events that were imprinted with such a great impact that they still affect our perception of risk in the world — and our parenting.

    It seems to me that “stranger danger” really took off in the early ’80s, when I was just starting school, due to a few high-profile kidnappings and the beginnings of the shift toward today’s 24-7 news cycle. Suddenly, child safety and stranger-danger programs sprouted up everywhere. While some children’s safety programs are/were very good (e.g., Brite Music’s “Safety Kids”), many found that it is easier to teach “safety” with the same kind of broad brush as “zero tolerance”: Isolate yourself and don’t talk to anyone you don’t know. Ever.

    The unintended consequence of this training is that the sense of ever-present threat is carried into adulthood. I consider myself a fairly competent, confident, personable adult. Yet, in my thirties, I _still_ find it difficult to talk to “strangers” — people walking down the street, neighbors, salespeople, etc., and I’m always taken off guard by people who want to talk to me or my children out in public. (It could be worse: I have a college-age sibling who is so threatened by unfamiliar people that he’s scared to death to approach college professors, hiring managers, or even classmates to ask for help.)

    As a parent, I often ask myself, “If the line between threat and safety isn’t as far out there as we were taught as children, then where is it really?” How do you tell the difference between a “good stranger” (most of them) and a “bad stranger” (the rare person who acts erratically or intends harm)? How do you talk to someone unfamiliar who approaches you, and how do you approach someone to ask for help yourself? Since I don’t intuitively know the answers myself, it’s really hard to pass those skills along to my children.

    But I try.

  20. timkenwest March 10, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    These extremist stranger danger “educators” are really starting to make me mad.

    First of all, I love helping other people (to the point where I’ve built my business around excellent customer service), and would gladly help a hurt child or overwhelmed parent, but because of this propaganda, many opportunities where I could fulfill that side of myself are being denied. (Aside: have you read “The Five Languages of Love”? Totally cheesy, but totally eye-opening.)

    Then, I get to suffer the indignity of having rumours spread about me (and all other strangers) being evil creepers up to no good. How can anyone possibly think this is healthy for our society?

    And finally, I get to be insulted by these indoctrinated twits who don’t know how to interact with other humans. Run away screaming if I come near? I’m sorry, but that is just f&^%ing RUDE. So I guess these are the same people who didn’t hold doors open for other, give up their seat on the transit, wave when let in by another vehicle, give directions to someone who looks confused, etc etc etc.

    I am all for safety. I’ve spent a lifetime not getting in strange cars, keeping my wits about me in public, not making myself vulnerable to threats. But there’s a difference between self-preservation and generally behaving like an impolite prick. What are people thinking when raising their kids to be this way?

    BTW, congrats to the 14-year old and his/her family for seeing the light. Great letter!

  21. RobynHeud March 10, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    I got asked for directions quite a few times as a kid. I think when you walk, you have more time to read the street signs. I really like all the comments about being prepared but not scared. When I’m walking in a public place, I love to make eye contact with people and smile at them, especially if they’re saying hello to my son. There always seems to be this sense of relief from them, like, thank you for not assuming I’m a pedophile just because I’m smiling at your kid. I want to encourage that kind of interaction and teach my son not to be afraid of the world, especially since it’s when you’re running around with your head down that you get into the worst situations. Be aware, but don’t beware, strangers.

  22. tdr March 10, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, but which I tell my kids all the time is “follow your intuition.” Most of the time you can tell when someone is a creep. I would think that most “baddies” except for those true (rare) sociopaths give off a rather unpleasant vibe. Most people who are normal, act that way — normal! Kids’ radars are particularly keen and they should be encouraged to pay attention to them.

  23. Marlene March 10, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    The sad, sad irony of all the stranger danger nonsense is that most children are not hurt by strangers. They are hurt by people they know and are told to trust and/or obey. The statistics don’t support this stranger hysteria at all. I really wish some social scientists would do some work on what kids LOSE by all this indoctrination that the world is a bad place that is out to get them. How has this indoctrination cost them?

    I taught my son never to obey someone just because they are in a position of authority. I taught him to trust his own feelings about people. I also taught him to say how he feels and ask for what he wants. These abilities protect him far more than being afraid of everyone he doesn’t already know. He is incredibly polite and self-assured. He doesn’t let people push him around but he is not an a-hole calling other people names unjustly either.

  24. Swain March 10, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    Walking on the beach in Florida last week, I reached down in the shallows and picked up a really beautiful conch shell. I straightened up and almost bumped into a little girl who was watching me. “Whachyoo got?” she said.

    I held out my hand to show her the shell and said, “You can have it.”

    She reached, then stopped, and said, “I’m not supposed to take things from strangers.”

    “Good point,” I said. “How about I put it down on the sand right here and then you can pick it up?”

    “OK,” she said. So that’s what I did, and she picked it up and went running off to her parents hollering with joy, “MOM! Look what the lady gave me!”

    I’m still giggling thinking about it. Awful glad she didn’t scream.

  25. Nancy [Fear and Parenting in Las Vegas] March 10, 2011 at 4:25 am #

    I’m so glad you posted this. Last night, my 7YO told me about a nightmare she recently had in which she was kidnapped by robbers. Of course, she didn’t know the word, but that’s what she was describing. Having to explain the term after I used it was a challenge. I didn’t want to scare her since the odds of her disappearance at a stranger’s hands is extremely remote. Telling her that she’s more likely to be kidnapped by someone she knows wasn’t a better option. So, I diverted to pirates. Yes, pirates sometimes kidnap people to take them hostage and collect ransom. We live in a landlocked state, so we’re pirate free. Phew! Crisis averted.

  26. Jane Howard March 10, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Like I said before, some of these super-sheltered kids are the ones you’ll see on the “Girls Gone Wild” videos. Once they get out of the house and some freedom, that’s all she wrote…

    Secondly, I blame a lot of this on John Walsh, of “America’s Most Wanted” fame. After the kidnap/murder of his son, Adam, there was a huge push for all this stranger danger crap. I am all for cautioning kids on safety but this has gone overboard.

    I can remember when my younger son was about four. He has always been a chatterbox and would talk to anybody. Once, after he had been conversing with a – gasp – total stranger I told him, “Alistair, you shouldn’t talk to strangers.” He responded with, “Why? I like to.” It made me laugh and realize that he was just a social kid who enjoyed talking with others.

    He has always helpful with others – at 6’4″ he helped little old ladies reach items off high shelves without asking. Another time, while working for Boy Scouts, he stopped along the freeway to change an elderly couple’s tire who were on their way to a wedding. (I tried to imagine their reaction to seeing a giant Boy Scout walking up to their disabled vehicle! )

    I’m glad that my boys grew up to be self-reliant, confident and sociable – not scared of their own shadows and paralyzed with fear that the boogeyman was going to grab them. Parents who raise their children this way are guilty of bad parenting and I feel so sorry for the poor kids.

  27. Ellen Seminara March 10, 2011 at 4:56 am #

    My daughter is 2 and one of those extremely extroverted kids. Last year I had a lady ask me if I have had her fingerprinted yet. “I find missing kids and you’ll need that if something happens.” Rather than engage her in a discussion about the fact that 100% of her cases probably involve family members and that I really didn’t appreciate her fear mongering I just walked away from her. Just ridiculous.

  28. View Point March 10, 2011 at 6:50 am #

    If rubberbands are considered weapons, are pens and pencils also weapons?

    How about fingers?

    I’d rather be hit by a flying rubberband than a pencil or pen. Wouldn’t you?

    You might want to suggest to your school administraton that THEY start reading this blog, so they can keep up with the subversive ideas being presented here. (Ha! Ha! )

    Years ago when I was in high school, I remember a student rolling up a small piece of paper into a
    tiny tube and inserting a straight pin in the end.
    When the teacher was writing on the blackboard, the kid threw this “dart” and it stuck in the blackboard.

    And how did the teacher react when he saw it? He threw it into the wastebasket as he made a funny comment, then went on with his teaching. That was all.

  29. Jennifer Herb March 10, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    Ugh, can’t we just all practice some common sense?!? For instance, last night my 5 year old daughter walked to the mailbox with my husband. While they were picking up our mail, a teenage boy said “Hi Aurora” to my daughter, and she started talking to him. Neither my husband nor I knew who he was, so we asked my daughter. Apparently he is a kid who lives in our complex and who plays with the younger kids a lot. My daughter knew his name and where he lived and everything, and apparently he is a really fun playmate. Instead of getting all freaked out, I was happy that my daughter had an older kid to kinda look out for her and her friends. I did remind her never to go off with him just by herself, just cuz I don’t know him. But I’m glad the neighborhoods kids, of all ages, are interacting like that. And yes, I allow my 5 year old to play outside with her friends UNSUPERVISED.

  30. MommyMitzi March 10, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    I say, next year when this lady comes and starts talking, run away screaming! I mean, she’s a stranger, isn’t she? How do you know she’s not going to kidnap you? Pretending to give you “helpful” advice is the perfect guise….

  31. Laura March 10, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I never taught my kids “stranger danger” because it doen’t make any sense. If one of my kids gets lost, how will they get help if they can’t talk to anyone? Also,how scary would it be to be a child lost in an environment where everyone wants to kidnap/rape/kill you? I taught my kids that most people would be happy to help them if they were in trouble but that some people were more likely to have the skills to do it- ie parents with other kids in tow (Dads too, not just Moms) Doesn’t it make more sense to give kids the skills they need to succeed, rather than teaching them to fear their own shadows? @Mike- I am now adding motorcycle riders to their list of people to ask for help!

  32. SgtMom March 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    John Walsh makes millions of dollars pandering scare stories for his missing and exploited children’s foundation.

    The truth of the matter is, this foundation has done next to nothing to actually save or find missing children – yet it continues to rake in federal funding while John Walsh continues to have fawning admirers.

    Sheer madness.

  33. Staceyjw aka escaped to mexico March 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Americans are losing their minds.

    I also want to know why we have to make EVERY single thing a crime? I just saw this, and am annoyed:

    http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=8003261

    In short, two very young parents (16, 19) got in an argument. Put babe in baby carseat, and in car. Daddy forgets to connect the baby carseat to the car, and when he pulls out, the doors fly open and baby falls out. BABY IS FINE, and unhurt, he was properly strapped in to the seat. Cops are called, baby is removed from parents and in CPS care, and parents are facing serious charges.

    I’m sorry, but this is not appropriate. This family would be better served with some mandatory parenting classes, and some anger management classes, not losing eir kid and going to jail.

    They are not criminals, they are parents who missed ONE thing- and if you think it couldn’t happen to YOU, think again. EVERY parent forgets little things, or they both think the other one took care of something. And I bet NO ONE here fights with their SO either…..

    MOST of us get lucky though, and when we miss a buckle, the babe doesn’t fall out. I think this is a case of making a one time problem a life long issue, penalizing the parents while they are still so young and hurting the baby through removing him from his family.

    DO WE FORGET ACCIDENTS HAPPEN? let me say again- babe was FINE, unhurt. Parents are NOT criminals or child abusers with past CPS cases. YES, it’s awful, but the punishment seems like it will cause more harm than the “crime”

    I know I’ll probably be on the minority here, but I think the criminal charges are over doing it, and just one more example of American insanity and love for criminalizing everything.
    ~~~~~~~~
    OH, today I was driving on my street (narrow, nearly zero traffic, so narrow you have to go real slow) and there was a kid, maybe 7, happily standing on the front seat, with her upper half out the sun roof, while her mama drove. It was a beautiful 70 deg day, sunny and clear. She was SO HAPPY- they were SO slow I got a good look. At the end of the street (maybe 2blocks) she sat down, buckled up, and off they went. OH NOES THE WORLDZ GONNA END!!!!! CALL CPS AND THE POLICE THAT MAMA IS A KILLER!

    (Wait, no CPS to call here, and police will laugh in your face. Guess she will get away with it instead of sitting in jail where she belongs)

    We are moving back to USA for awhile and I DREAD IT. For just this reason. Accidents, even when the outcome is fine, can end your happy life. SIGH.

  34. Staceyjw aka escaped to mexico March 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    I also hate “stranger danger”. it teaches kids the world is a horrible place and all people are dangerous. it is a sad way to live. Kids can learn street smarts, but they have to be out there to do it. Overly cautious rules and parenting only makes for better victims and less savvy children.

  35. Cera March 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I have a story about having to teach stranger danger that I think will show you how free-range we really are where I come from… and perhaps a rare case of needing to reign it in a little. 😉

    A boy in grade five, who has moderate to severe autism, at the school I volunteer at is working on “life skills” along with the regular curriculum. In assessing his need to learn “Stranger Danger”, he was asked, “If you are walking alone from school (yes he walks to and from school either alone or with his non-verbal, fourth grader brother who also has autism), and someone pulls up in a car and stops beside you and asks you if you would like to get in for a ride home, what do you do?”

    And what’s he say? “Buckle up my seatbelt and say Thank you very much!!”

    So we’re working on that.

    But y’know… it’s totally fine that he walks. Everyone does. There is one mom that I see come into the hall (only grades 4-6 in our hall, but still..) regularly to pick up her daughter, and she’s certainly not the norm…

  36. JP March 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    ah, Swain –
    Your story says it all, really. That is exactly what kids lose…a certain perspective of the world, when they are smothered by the over-reaction of their elders.

    I always thought that the proper evolution of a child’s consciousness of the world around them happens in a zillion layers of collected experience, gradually growing outward to include a true sense of community around them.
    Seems to me those not in favor of this (or too frightened of risk, real or imagined) may have become perhaps, too immersed in their own sense of privatised existence, and don’t really understand the fundamentals of participating in the public realm.

    This never used to be a big heavy complicated thing to explain to a kid – it was just something that grew in their understanding, as the years went by.
    But there is no doubt that some weird inverse retraction is going on, and robbing kids of their rightful inheritance of experience, learning, judgement, tuition, gut feelings…as they grow.
    Sometimes it seems as if there is a strange yearning out there, that this can be provided by some “magic pill” – but at what age? 16? 18? 21?

    Of course it doesn’t happen that way. Think of a criminal who has been in prison for 2 or 3 decades or more. When they finally get out – the world is a strange and alien place.
    Conditioning a kid for those kind of results is criminal, isn’t it?
    I paid my way into a movie theatre for the first time when I was six years old.
    Strangers scolded me on Main Street if they figured I wasn’t minding my elders.
    Smiling grannies bestowed blessings on Sunday afternoons all over town. I didn’t know them…
    but I’m sure all that stuff added up to a sense of my place in the world…………..publicly.

    – which is the point:
    If children are truly little people (emphasis on the people part) then as young citizens they are endowed with the right to participate in our world.
    How the hell can they do that, when treated like they’re the prize 1000-carat diamond in a room full of master thieves?

    It’s ominous, isn’t it? – that so many commentators mention over and over again that overwhelmingly…the real dangers most kids face are from people they know…not strangers at all.

    Now consider: If that be the case, and most certainly it is….then where is a child’s refuge from familial danger? Who do they turn to if they are in danger from relatives, or people in whose trusted care they are placed?
    Would perhaps, a complete stranger care enough about them to step forward and offer help, assistance, protection?

    When I was 10, a complete stranger saved my life.
    No big deal really….I was just drowning on a public beach, in choppy waves out a little over my head.
    He was the only one who noticed, and he got the job done lickety-split.
    ha!
    Imagine me screaming Help! Save me from HIM !!!
    …….and not the water. Ridiculous.
    I was embarrassed as all get-out after being dragged up on the beach, coughing up oily water.
    But I was fine – he was cool………………I wish I had’ve possessed the social grace to actually thank him, but he was gone pretty quick.
    A complete stranger.
    A guardian angel, was what he was.
    (and even at the age of 10, I had an inkling of what that was.)

    Perspective is something kids have a hard time learning, if their elders and betters don’t have it themselves.

  37. Emily March 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I like the bit in your book, Lenore, where you explain that talking to strangers is fine and it’s much more sensible to tell children not to go off with strangers. I will be teaching that to my son.

    For the original writer from Kentucky, there is hope. I grew up in small town Kentucky as well, and got all the lessons about stranger danger. But I recently read a story in the local paper saying the town is planning to build more sidewalks in order to encourage students to walk to school! I was very happy to hear that.

    Oh, and I remember when I was little (back in the 70’s), there was an old man who used to drive around town giving candy to children he saw playing out in their front yards. We called him the candy man, and he used to give us those lovely old-fashioned soft peppermints. Mom always told me never to take anything from strangers, unless it was Mr. Green!

  38. Edward March 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    A very subtle point in the original post is being mostly ignored.
    Why isn’t this Blog required reading for school children?!!!
    Why isn’t a Free Range Kids presentation a yearly event in ALL schools?!!!

  39. Sean March 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    Welcome back….to reality! :-)

  40. Sean March 10, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    By the way, check out the Penn and Teller BS episode on stranger danger. Very funny (if ‘adult’) and informative.

  41. Tuppence March 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    All this “stranger danger” talk has made me realize — my daughter very conceivable owes her life to stranger.

    The story: Friend and myself are walking with my daughter, 4 yrs old, and her twin daughters, 6 years old. The girls are walking together ahead of us. Admittedly, I did not witness what happened, but my friend saw it all (you know these things happen in the blink of an eye, and are over before you’ve even grasped it).

    Our daughters for some crazy reason, to this day known only to themselves, starting crossing the busy city street in the middle of the street, rather than at the corner, at the traffic light. My friend, sees this, starts running toward them and screaming STOP STOP Don’t cross the street! My daughter though, had started out a second before the scream got out, so she had already started crossing. Her daughters DID stop and didn’t cross the street, but my daughter, who was now already on the other side of the street (safety across, as it were) hears this, panics that she HAD crossed the street, and turns to run BACK across the street.

    Now, she got across safety the first time, probably (I have to hope) she had looked for cars the first time. But her turning around to cross back over the street was in blind panic, and my friend said she was just starting to run and wasn’t looking.

    THANK GOD, A STRANGER!!!! on the same side of the street as my daughter noticed all this, sprinted forward and grabbed my daughter, restraining her from crossing the street again. He picked her up and carried her to the corner, where, after waiting for the light to change! we met up.

    (BTW, the hero of our story – The Stranger – was a handsome, dashing young man. Had I been a young, single mom, could have been time to cue the start of a Hollywood rom-com).

    Alls I can say is, blessed be the STRANGERS! They save lives.

  42. Tuppence March 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    @Staceyjw aka escaped to mexico — indignant outrage is the only sane response to that story.

  43. crowjoy March 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    @Jane Howard, you bring up something I hear a lot too… that adults are scared of THE CHILDREN! Not the bitty bits I guess, but adolescents and teens. So many of my elder friends are immediately suspicious and scared if a young adult approaches them. Why?? I think it has to be the same media fear mongering that scares parents into leashing their kids.

    Now ok, I myself have been terrified of 13 yr old girls, but only because my inner 13 yr old needs to calm down and remember that I’m an adult (for whatever that’s worth.) But if the kids can’t trust adults and the adults don’t trust kids, where the heck are we as a society??

    Kudos to this writer, her dad, and all the kids out there insisting on some of getting some of their personhood back.

  44. RobynHeud March 10, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    @ Staceyjw, It took my husband and I a little while to always remember to buckle our son in his car seat. We’d put him in it while walking around and not buckle him, then put the seat in the car and not think to check. If one time is too many, then we should have been arrested many times. Luckily, nothing ever happened that would have called attention to our forgetfulness and now, without a carry-able seat, we remember to do it every time. There was also about a six-month time span where I would be driving then suddenly panic because I thought I had forgotten the baby, only to glance back and see him safe in his seat. It still occasionally happens, and I’m 27. I can’t imagine having enough discipline at 16, or even 19, to remember every thing that I had to do for my child to keep from getting arrested.
    Also, I’m a little amazed at the aggressiveness of CPS in certain areas. When my sister’s son was born, the hospital found small levels of marijuana in his system, but didn’t take him away. Instead, my sister was on probation for a year, with CPS looking the other way even when reports came in regarding drugs she was taking and even giving him. She’s cleaned up now, which is great, but I don’t see how a one-time incident is jsutification for taking a child from their parents, when someone like my sister was given second chance after second chance.

  45. pentamom March 11, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    @Tuppence, what I want to know is, how long after that was it before you stopped dreaming about it? Goodness gracious, what a terrifying situation! Thank God for strangers!

  46. Tuppence March 11, 2011 at 4:32 am #

    @Pentamom — You can probably appreciate the number of alcoholic units I needed to consume that evening to take the edge off.

    After this happened, I was, even more than before, badgering my daughter about road safety and, if I felt she wasn’t “listening” properly, was apt to remind her what happened. One day she finally said: Please Mommy, don’t talk about that time anymore. And then in a (I swear!) calm, comforting voice — I promise Mommy, I’ll never, ever do that again. And now when I remind her to be careful crossing the streets, she looks me straight in the eye and says – I will Mommy. And I believe her. Now, if only the drivers could be trusted to do their bit, I could relax a little.

  47. Kimberly Herbert March 11, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    @Donna That was when we were K – 2

    When we got to 3 rd and up they switched to the stay an arms length from the car rule.

  48. Brooke March 11, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    @Stacyjw – I don’t know that the story is a total CPS overreaction. The two had a fight and according to the witness, they sped off fast enough that two car doors flew open and the child fell out. I have never once had my car doors fly open while driving. The mother’s sister didn’t seem completely shocked at the turn of events either.

  49. Staceyjw aka escaped to mexico March 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    From what Ive read, I think they deserve mandatory parenting classes, anger management, and maybe even relationship counseling. But losing your kid and serious charges? OVERKILL!

    CPS does go overboard. I’ve seen it happen, and it is very scary.

  50. Amy - Parenting Gone Mad March 11, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I find it somewhat disturbing that a 14 year can be so frustrated about something like this. I certainly don’t remember being so over-protected as a child.

  51. Sera March 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Today I saw a toddler drop her toy cow in the mall – the parents were walking along with her in a stroller and didn’t notice. I picked up the toy and handed it back to her. Her mother smiled and thanked me, I said no problem and walked off.

    It made me think about this article and I realised something – this whole “stranger danger” thing forces children to think about adults in two categories – one being “known” adults who are to be trusted and obeyed implicitly, and “strangers” who are not to be trusted at all because there is every possibility that they mean the child some kind of harm. This is, honestly, socially crippling children, by not allowing them or training them to make any sort of judgements of their own about people and dangerous situations.

    We live in societies. Societies are full of people we don’t know but will occasionally have to interact with to various degrees. Being totally distrustful and afraid of these people is not at all conducive to having a working, pleasant society with proper open channels of communication.

    On the other side of the coin, being unquestioningly trustful of people who aren’t strangers is a bad idea too, and that’s exactly what we’re training children to do if we’re teaching them to assume that all harm will come from the malicious Stranger and it is never mentioned that it’s quite possible to come from known adults too, such as an uncle, or mum’s boyfriend, step-parents or an older step-sibling.

    @ Dreamer – I’m almost exactly the same as you. I’m 20 and a competent adult, but I also have difficulty with “strangers”. If someone starts talking to me on the street (“excuse me, could you tell me where central station is?”), I do automatically undergo a subconscious fear response. I’m losing that with time.

    As for this: How do you tell the difference between a “good stranger” (most of them) and a “bad stranger”

    These are guidelines that I devised from my own common sense, and they work just as well for an adult out and about by themselves as it does for a child:

    – Avoid any interaction with anyone who exhibits the following: Slurred speech, restlessness, seeming “antsy”, outwardly displaying anger (note: not the same as looking irritated or annoyed), doesn’t seem to be making sense as they talk, or behaves aggressively or lewdly. These signs usually point to the person being either drunk, high on some kind of drug, or mentally unstable. Any of these factors can make them erratic and unsafe.

    – Never let a stranger lead you from a public place to a secluded or private one, under any circumstances. As long as there are other, impartial witnesses around, you should be ok. This includes private vehicles.

    – Never let a stranger give you anything (unless it’s something you dropped/left behind and they’re returning it to you, obviously)

    – A stranger shouldn’t touch you on purpose beyond a gentle tap on the shoulder if they really want to get your attention. If someone does, politely tell them to give you some space. If they don’t, remove yourself from that situation.

    – Do not answer questions from strangers that you find intrusive. Then leave.

    – Don’t spend time with, or go anywhere with, a stranger that you find “creepy” or gives you a “bad vibe”. That is your subconscious trying to send you a message that your conscious has not picked up on yet.

    – If you do feel that a stranger is following you or doing something else that makes you uncomfortable, duck into a store or something until they leave. If they don’t, calmly and politely explain the situation to whoever’s over the counter and ask them if you may use their phone to call either your nearest available source of help (i.e. parents, family friend, aunt etc), or the police. Do not attempt to lose them by ducking into side alleys or going anywhere that isn’t visible, public, and full of people.

    That’s pretty much all I can think of. Situational awareness and common sense is pretty much all that’s required when dealing with strangers.

  52. Kate March 13, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    I am going to put a different perspective on the whole idea of “stranger danger”. I am an adult and I am terrified of strangers approaching me in public and I NEVER answer the door or my phone unless I know the person calling. I don’t walk my dogs anymore and I don’t open my curtains. I no longer garden in my backyard because of the possibility of someone harming me or my husband.

    Now, I am sure you are asking why all the precautions? Because my husband is a registered sex offender and our lives depend on us being on our toes all of the time. Because we are the people that this woman is warning these poor children about. We are feared and reviled and all I can tell you is that we fear strangers just as much or more than anyone else.

  53. Lafe March 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    @Kate: We as a society should feel just as terrible about people in your situation as we feel when a child is genuinely harmed. Instead, we treat all children as if they MIGHT be harmed, and react in ridiculous ways, like this “stranger danger” presentation, as we endlessly punish those on some list for any remotely-sexual offense. Not a normal punishment that fits a crime, but eternal, horrific punishment — effectively banishing people from society and treating them as non-humans.

    It grieves me that when people like you and your husband most need a society to come to their aid, to help them get over their problems, and to get them back into a normal, functioning relationship with society, but the society is too busy taking the easy way out — ignoring real, necessary healing activities and spending their energy brainwashing children with false fears.

    It damages the kids — it puts them in MORE danger when they won’t ask strangers for help if needed, it damages ordinary adults who are afraid to ask a kid for directions or help a crying kid on the street for fear of how someone might misconstrue their good actions, and it hurts people like your husband who needs rehabilitation, not crucifixion. It hurts every category of person, and yet this society continues down that path. Why?

  54. wow January 11, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Just wanted to remind everyone that this is a 14 year old that wrote this. I’m guessing that the advise of everyone being bad is a bit stretched. Remember what it was like to be 14? The snake you saw on the side of the house was at least 3 feet long, not the 12 inches it actually was. Aside from that, I live in a safe town (for 34 years) with safe surrounding towns. Recently the gas industry has overtaken our area, though great for jobs, area small businesses as well as the big guy, healthcare, etc, it has also brought in a large number of people from other states. Crime is normally low however with in the past two weeks we have had 3 attempted abductions (all different vehicles). 1 a 16 year old, 1 a 14 year old, and 1 a 10 year old. All of whom were traveling the same route as usual on their way home from school and also traveling alone. This is a REAL threat for all areas. It’s okay for our children to be afraid of the actual danger that potentially be there. Do not become complacent and actually think this will never happen.

  55. Teona February 2, 2012 at 5:24 am #

    There was just an potential attempted child abduction in our small community. How do we teach our young children about strangers without immediately impressing on them that all strangers are bad? What should we be teaching our kids about how to be safe when waiting at the bus stop, or walking home (or to) school or a neighbours? Would love some tips to share with other parents in my community.

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