Mommy! Help! A Stranger Touched Me!

Hi Readers! Here’s a word about stranger danger,  from reader Regina Long:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Last night I was leaving the YMCA with 3 of my children when I noticed a mom behind me carrying a baby and accompanied by a little girl of about 5, so I stopped and held the first lobby door for them. I also stopped to hold the second door for them when the 5-year-old burst ahead and started running towards the very busy parking lot just a foot away. Instinctively I put my hand on the front of her to stop here from going further till her mom could catch up when the girl turned around and screamed…and I mean screamed at me…”DON’T TOUCH ME…YOU’RE A STRANGER! HELP!! HELP!!”

Talk about being caught off guard and embarrassed! And the Mom was smugly proud of her daughter ‘s reaction, praising her for her quick response.

Now I am 100 % for giving your children the tools needed to ward off unwanted advances, especially for times when they are alone and most vulnerable. But it truly saddens me that we live in a day when the kindness of strangers becomes unwanted and suspect. I’d like to say that I will think twice before helping another mom/dad struggling with young children in public…but instinct takes over and I probably won’t! – R.L.

Lenore here: Good! Keep reaching out and try to ignore the idiots who mistake kindness for creepiness because their common sense has been totally corrupted by worst-first thinking. (Which is, of course, NOT thinking, just dreading the whole world and all its predators.) 

A 5-year-old from a different, perhaps less terrified era.

75 Responses to Mommy! Help! A Stranger Touched Me!

  1. LRH December 6, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    I’d like to say that I will think twice before helping another mom/dad struggling with young children in public…but instinct takes over and I probably won’t!

    Good for you. Don’t let this imbecile (the parent approving of the child’s response) change you. Otherwise, the “worst first thinking” will take even more root than it already unfortunately has.


  2. Tara December 6, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    I’m so sorry that happened to you! Whatever happened to a polite, “Thank you” when someone holds the door open? Anyone have any good comebacks for if that happens again?

  3. Miriam December 6, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    What a stupid mother.

  4. RobynHeud December 6, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    And of course, if you hadn’t stopped her and she had run into the parking lot, possibly getting hurt, you probably would have gotten blamed for that too.

  5. Nicole December 6, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    I was at a Y one winter with my 3 young kids. My middle child, a toddler, was having a terrific tantrum I couldn’t carry her with the bucket seat the infant had fallen asleep in & the bag. (and she was old enough to walk- just having a stubborn moment). A kind woman offered to take her hand and walk her to the van w us. I thought it would never work since she prefers me & had already turned down the pre-schooler’s offer to hold her hand. but, she took it & actually stopped crying. It was super helpful. All winter people had been saying the less-than-helpful, “looks like you have your hands full” so this stood out in contrast as someone lending a hand, literally.

  6. Warren December 6, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    And parents say that you cannot be overprotective these days. Well there is the proof, right there. This child will grow up paranoid and suspicious of everyone. Friends will be hard to come by for the kid.

    The ill effects will also be seen in adulthood.

  7. Jennifer December 6, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    This seems like it was a perfect opportunity for the other mom to say “Good job protecting yourself honey but actually this stranger was just trying to help you. Sometimes strangers can be helpful too.” Or something like that. And then thanking you for attempting to protect her child.

    Well that’s what I would have done anyway!

  8. Captain America December 6, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    YMCAs can be funny places.

    At any rate, when my son was about 5, I remember being at a pizza joint with the family and while we were waiting, he walked over to a table with some old grandparent types and chatted them up. They got the biggest buzz from it, enjoyed seeing the little kid and talking with him, and it was the woman, I think who in the middle of this, did a little jolt and asked over to us if it was okay for him to talk to them! Sure, no problem.

  9. Kate December 6, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    When my 10 year old was born we lived out of state from our family. When we would be out to dinner with him many older women would oh and ah over him. So we would ask if they’d like to hold him. Many thought we were crazy to allow them to hold him. But we would explain that we wanted him comfortable with strangers because when we would go home an visit all or family would be strangers to him. There’s nothing worse than having your baby screaming at their grandparents because he’s afraid of them. It worked we would travel home and he would smile and coo and they thought it was the best. Common sense has to play into all decisions we make with our kids. He’s 10 now and no one ever tried to take him so I believe we did the right thing with him. He can carry on conversations with adults and it a very well rounded kid.

  10. Texas Dad December 6, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    I had a similar experience at a community swing pool this summer. I was swimming with my 4 year old daughter and her female cousin of the same age. We would go almost every day in the summer to cool off. One day a group of 4 to 5 moms came and sat on the steps of the pool while theirs 4 or 5 kids were swimming. One of the little girls who was kindergarten or 1st grade age swims by, my daughter says “Hi I am Amelia want to swim and play with us.” The girl jumps to the steps and runs to her mom and shouts “A stranger talked to me.” This was in a community pool with kids and adults all around.
    The mom said everything was alright and to go and play but she did the right thing by telling that a stranger had talked to her. In the end I just feel sorry for the girl because of the lack of social skill and loss of friends that she will have.

  11. gap.runner December 6, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Whatever happened to teaching kids the difference between good and bad strangers? I have always taught my son that he can talk to strangers but just not go off with them. He knows that strangers can help him with things like finding something in a store or making sure he gets off the bus at the right stop when going to an unfamiliar place. We would all be lost, literally and figuratively, if we never ever talked to strangers.

  12. Michelle December 6, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I’m sure the mom would’ve been just as happy if the kid had run into that parking lot and gotten hit. Oh but wait, then she would’n’t have been touched by a stranger.

    And gap.runner, a lot of parents don’t do that which is sad because it leads to problems, especially when the kid actually really needs help.

  13. Denny December 6, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    I am a nanny, and both of the girls I’ve worked with recently have been very friendly and chatty. They’ll start telling strangers about anything. Yesterday, M (almost 4) and her baby sis and I were at a casual restaurant. A dad with a little girl slightly older than her sat down near us. We asked the girl her name and made casual conversation with them… before long, both girls had declared they were friends, even though they may never see each other again. It’s so important for kids to be friendly and nice to each other and to know the difference between having a conversation with a new friend/unknown person and meeting a stranger who could be dangerous.

  14. Debbie December 6, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    When my youngest was 4 weeks old and my oldest was 4 years old, I had to get us on a flight without my husband. As I was standing by our seats trying to get the 4 year-old situated (with the infant in my arms), an older business-attired man asked if he could help. I said “yes” and literally tossed the infant into his arms. He obviously was not expecting to be holding the baby- the look of terror on his face was priceless.

    When I mentioned what happened to a neighbor-friend she was horrified. “You just handed your baby over??!!” Seriously? We were on crowded airplane- what the heck was he going to do with her?

  15. tovah December 6, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I’m generally with you all on the “most people aren’t predators” concept, but I just wanted to point out that it’s possible there was something else going on here, and onlookers don’t always know the whole story.

    My child is 3 and we adopted her at 2. She has absolutely no understanding that she needs to go/stay with her parents. When about to cross a street with us, she would just as soon grab onto a stranger’s hand as to one of ours. When in public places or at an event, she might ask a stranger or someone she just met to take her to the bathroom, pick her up, sit on their lap and kiss them, etc. For these reasons, she is not allowed to touch or talk to anyone without asking us first, and we are teaching her that it is her responsibility to say something to any adult or older child who starts touching her. We aren’t differentiating between good and bad touch at this point — we are teaching her to ignore people or tell them no, rather than responding to all attention by climbing into the person’s lap or trying to leave with them.

    I’ve also known children with autism spectrum disorders who were working on similar things with boundaries.

    If this were my child who had said this (rather than starting to make puppy eyes at the stranger and trying to go home with her) I would have been overjoyed. I’d probably have thanked the stranger, but beyond that, I don’t owe her any explanation of my kid’s issues.

  16. Mike in Virginia December 6, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Another example of where trying to overcompensate for unlikely dangers puts kids at risk for likely dangers. I’ve had my own experience where, while I was trying to deal with my two-year old, my four-year decided to make a run for the exit of a retail store (with automatic doors) and ran straight out into the parking lot where cars were zipping by. Several men watched him run by and alerted me to what was happening, but didn’t try to stop him. Finally a store employee ran out and grabbed him and brought him back. Why no one stopped him, I don’t know, but fear of touching someone else’s child may have been a factor in at least one person’s mind.

    Thankfully, he is five now and much more responsible about not running into the street, but not all kids are equally responsible and some need more help than others – help from real and likely dangers.

  17. Heather December 6, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    My son tried to get playing with some kids in a park once, and was told that they couldn’t talk to him because he was a stranger. I mentioned it to the mothers (big crowd, obviously knew each other, mums were all chatting and ignoring the kids flying around on scooters). I was flabbergasted to be told “oh, yes, that’s what we tell them” and then they ignored me too. I had rather expected them to introduce my son to their kids. They just let him be excluded.

    I told off the other kids, and they did sort of let him in, but not really. He was allowed to stand among them, in a mill stone, but still not allowed to play. The whole thing was weird. If you are that protective that you won’t let your 5 year old play with a 3 year old, why allow that three-year-old’s mum to tell off the kids? Not that I’m complaining; those kids needed to think a different way.

    Contrast our local playground, where all the kids are encouraged to play with other kid’s toys, newcomers are always welcome, and the older ones are there without parents. There, the older ones look out for the younger ones, including taking them home when they fall, and helping them on and off equipment, and checking in when they saw E with someone they didn’t know (his childminder, not his parents). It’s the only playground I’ve ever been that feels like that, and it makes a huge difference to the feel of the neighbourhood.


  18. valleycat1 December 6, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    tovah makes a good point. I would also add that none of us know what conversation that mom had with the daughter once they got home. A 5 year old may have limited ability to understand the nuances of bad versus good touches, and she & mom could, for whatever reason, be in the first stages of lessons on that – & on running away from mom instead of sticking to her side. It very well could be that mom talked with her more at length once they got home & mom wasn’t juggling everything else. Mom may have neglected to thank the kind stranger who instinctively stopped the child from running into the street, but that could be that she was caught up in the hassles & was also just as caught off guard as the helper.

  19. Janet December 6, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    I think I would have screamed “you idiot, I was trying to stop you from getting killed.” No, actually I would have said that to the Mother if she didn’t at least Thank me.

  20. Janet December 6, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    The Mother had time to praise her daughter’s quick response but not Thank the stranger. No, I think the mother was aware of what was going on. We have all been overwhelmed and I know I would have thanked the stranger immensely.

  21. Ali December 6, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    I’m going to approach this from the other angle….my children will sometimes do something that may “appear” dangerous, but in reality they have a pretty good instinct to keep from getting smooshed by a car. Let’s just say the little girl was “racing” to get to the curb to say “she won the race”. Happens with my kids all the time. I’m their mom, and I know this. That’s why I don’t stop them from doing what may appear dangerous to an onlooker, because I trust my kids. So, in this particular situation, I wouldn’t have been too happy if you put a hand on my child and stopped them from doing something I let them do all the time.

    Isn’t this a part of free range, that we don’t parent other people’s children and trust that the mom/dad is letting their child do something they believe is OK? After all, the mom of the girl had a voice and could have yelled NO! really loudly and stopped the little girl in her tracks. The other part of free range is someone will ask for help when they need it, not when I think they might need my help…

    The girls’s stranger danger reaction is reprehensible, I’m not excusing that piece of the discussion. Just asking to think about this from the other side….e.g. don’t parent my kid for me.

  22. Brenna December 6, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    I get a “Daily Stat” from Harvard Business Review. I thought today’s was quite relevant to this discussion:

    Mom and Dad’s Attitude About Risk Affects Kids’ Achievement

    Children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are 1.34 percentage points less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk, says a team led by Sarah Brown of the University of Sheffield in the UK. Aversion to risk may prevent parents from making inherently uncertain investments in their children’s human capital; it’s also possible that risk attitudes reflect cognitive ability, the researchers say.

    Source: Parental Risk Attitudes and Children’s Academic Test Scores: Evidence from the US Panel Study of Income Dynamics

    I believe exposing our children to risk is good, and necessary. Allowing them to test their boundaries lets to see what they are actually capable of, rather than always limiting their abilities and options.

  23. TaraK December 6, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Something similar actually happened to my husband. I was backing out of a residential area and a little girl was running towards my van. He put his hand out to stop the little girl and said something like, “watch out”. The little girl’s dad yelled at him, “you get your hands off my daughter, you don’t touch my daughter”. Nevermind that his daughter was about to get hit by a car.

  24. DirtyHooker December 6, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    Isn’t this a part of free range, that we don’t parent other people’s children and trust that the mom/dad is letting their child do something they believe is OK?

    I think it’s important to look at people’s behavior through the lens of goodwill. If people are honestly just trying to help, I don’t see any value in being angry with them for it, even if it is misguided. If we start trying to process every possible scenario before we act, then we’ll never do anything. Like, maybe that old man on the subway would really like my seat. Or maybe I’ve overestimated his age. Or maybe his doctor told him he needs to stand more. Or maybe he would be offended by a woman offering him his seat. Maybe I should just let him stand there. Or I could offer him the seat and hope it is interpreted as a gesture of kindness.

    Parents can’t be everywhere all the time, and sometimes they don’t react quickly enough. I think a big part of free range is trusting the community to be a second (and third) pair of eyes, not a bunch of kiddie diddlers.

  25. Dawn December 6, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Regina, let me just say that if you did that to my son I’d be thanking you over and over and be embarrassed he was screaming. My son has impulsive type ADHD and sometimes it’s difficult to corral him. Just a couple of weeks ago he ran out into a parking lot of a grocery store we were about to go into because he saw his friend walking with his mom. He almost got hit by an SUV. Had there been someone near by that stopped him, I would’ve been grateful someone was looking out to save his life (as long as they didn’t admonish me for being a bad parent instead of recognizing that sometimes 6yo’s are impulsive and fast). Fortunately, the driver saw my son so nothing happened. Sorry you were treated so rudely. It’s ridiculous.

  26. Yikes! December 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    I really feel for Regina Long. The mother missed an opportunity to thank R.L. for holding doors open, to teach her child to thank R.L. for holding doors, to teach her child that you don’t treat other people like dirt, to apologize and to teach her child to apologize, to teach that most people in the world are kind and deserve to be treated with kindness.
    Tovah, though you “don’t owe her any explanation of my kid’s issues”, you do owe an apology if your offspring has screamed at someone, offended them, caused them public embarrassment. While you are trying to teach your child boundaries, please also teach them that they are not the only person in the world that matters.

  27. Dawn December 6, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Tovah & Alleycat, most of us special needs parents are versed with explaining our child’s actions and our responses to strangers. If the mom didn’t do that, more than likely the child was neuro typical and mom’s over protective.

    In an old apartment complex I lived in, I got yelled at for yelling at a 3yo who was literally putting her entire arm up my husband’s car’s tailpipe. Apparently I shouldn’t have talked to her like that. OK fine, next time you can deal with the outcome of diseases the child can get from that dirty thing and better hope no one’s about to start the car up and doesn’t see her. Of course this was from someone who thought it was abusive to try to get their grand kid to eat broccoli while on vacation. Oh the horror of broccoli!

  28. JP December 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    What gets lost in the picture (for the kid) is the actual reason for the restraining hand…very real potential danger. The kid can be excused for not knowing any better – but certainly not the mom.
    When I was a kid I got saved from drowning once – by a kindly guardian angel who just happened to notice me going down for the third time. Imagine had I deferred….sorry, have to wait for a politically correct adult of the right relation. I’ll happily drown instead, meanwhile “saving” myself from whatever threat your “strangeness” poses. Hoo!

    We need a public realm full of sensible responsible and caring adults who wouldn’t think twice about reacting to potentially dangerous situations, and responding appropriately by helping kids. Otherwise, what social resources do the kids lose? They’re humans too, last time I checked. “Sorry kid. You’re outa luck. Mom’s too far away? Tough nibs.”
    I don’t know how many times I’ve helped a mother haul a stroller up or down stairs (when escalators so conveniently stop working.) Never been scowled at.
    Wonderful opportunity to get silly with a baby for a minute or two. All to the good.

    Otherwise, every parent of every child is totally, completely on their own. Knowing how to ask for help when needed should be basic training. The kindness of strangers is just one small (but important) part of the human condition.
    This sort of reminds me of adolescent relationships in people who are far older than that: You can’t have any friends or rely on anyone else for anything. I have to be the only other person in the world, for you.
    Most would scoff at such a terrible display of insecurity. For good reason.

    @Ali – damn good argument. But I’ll toss this on the pile. “Worst-first” thinking can go both ways. To any good and decent adult, the perceived existence of potential danger can cause an automatic (and completely innocent) reaction on their part.
    Especially with small (and potentially vulnerable) children – my reflexes are akin to a professional goaltender. That’s how I’m built. I can often react to a thing physically before anyone else has even thought the thing through. Those reflexes have performed enough good deeds in my life, that I would never want to diminish their usefulness by having to worry about the need for stopping and thinking it through – by then, it could be too late.
    Just for example…children now navigate through a world chock full of parking and unparking cars. Every day of school attendence and shopping trips creates this kind of risk. That risk is enormously diminished when all adults involved are prepared to act responsibly. When a busy parent takes their eyes of their child for a second, another pair of eyes can be watching, available to step in and help – if needed.
    Why worry so much that we can’t do it all? We’re only human, after all.
    As to the “don’t parent my kid for me…” Ha! Don’t I know it!!
    When my son was small…I used to allow him to stretch the leash a little bit longer at a time – and many a time some anxious (and I’m sure well-meaning) adult leaned in for restraint, looking around – until they caught my eye, and my smile let them know I had my eye on him and everything was fine.
    How smoothly we can move through the public realm is the issue. We can dance divine, or stagger like drunks. It’s entirely up to us.

  29. ifsogirl December 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    @ Ali – Most parents I know won’t allow their kids to run towards a curb to beat the group. It is dangerous, even for kids that know to stop. A simple trip over a rock or a shoelace can send that child flying into traffic. Also other parents may not know how much your child understands. If I see a child that looks to be 6 or under I’m going to try and stop them from running into traffic. Perhaps the other mother didn’t use her MOM voice because she didn’t realize her daughter was going to bolt, or perhaps she was distracted with getting herself and her infant through the door.

    From a drivers point of view it’s terrifying. All you see is a child that appears to be too young running towards traffic. I have to start thinking quick, is she going to run into traffic, is her parent near enough to stop her if she does, if I slam on my breaks am I going to be hit by another car?

    My interpretation of Free Range isn’t “don’t tell me how to raise my kids” it’s letting kids do kid things. And please if you see my child doing something truly potentially dangerous please do feel free to help or even yell at my kid. I shudder to think of a world where no one helps a child for fear of insulting parents.

  30. Donna December 6, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    “I wouldn’t have been too happy if you put a hand on my child and stopped them from doing something I let them do all the time.
    Isn’t this a part of free range, that we don’t parent other people’s children and trust that the mom/dad is letting their child do something they believe is OK?”

    Then you are being way too sensitive in this situation.

    People claim that they want a community that looks out for kids but really appear to want a community that is omniscient. My guess is that, if your child did dash out into the parking lot for whatever reason and was hit by a car, you’d be upset that none of the bystanders did anything to help. “Help my child who needs help; don’t interfere when he doesn’t, and somehow magically always know the difference” seems to be the motto.

    Odds are your community, wherever it is, is not omniscient. If you get your back up every time someone interferes in a very minor way like this, parenting is going to be very unhappy and stressful for you.

    Lenore’s message is not never help a stranger. Her message is to stop viewing what used to be normal acts of childhood as dangerous activities. A young child bolting out a door towards a busy parking lot has ALWAYS been seen as dangerous. This is not some 21st century worst case scenario. It was considered dangerous in the 1970s when I grew up and continues to be dangerous today. Even as done by you it is very dangerous. Not only are 5 year olds unpredictable, but the DRIVER is going to believe that the kid is coming out into the road and may get into an accident to avoid your kid, even if she does stop at the curb.

  31. Donna December 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Tovah – You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your child’s behavior. You absolutely do owe someone to whom your child was extremely rude an apology. And yelling at someone is extremely rude. Especially what this child yelled. It is embarrassing and likely to be very wrongly construed by bystanders in our highly pedophile-obsessed culture.

  32. squishymama December 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    We live near a particularly busy street and have to cross it at least twice a day to get to our parked car. When coming home, my girls often start running down the sidewalk towards this very busy street and I’m sure to an observer, it looks like they’re going to run right into it, but we taught them when we first moved in to stop in the “proper square” i.e. the square of sidewalk where the two directions of sidewalks cross. This leaves at least two squares between them and the street.

    Sometimes in warm weather, they will sit down in the proper square in lotus position and meditate, waiting for their slow-poke mom to catch up to them.

  33. Christi December 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Ha! I was walking down the sidewalk in a not-so-good part of town today, dragging my 2 year old by the arm saying, “You DO like bakeries. Do you even know what bakeries make?” (we were on our way to get cupcakes) when a slightly raggedy older gentleman whowas passing us turned suddenly, knelt down, put a hand on my daughter’s shoulders and said, “Listen, Kid. You gotta like bakeries. That’s where they make the cookies and cakes!” My daughter simply jumped up and down yelling, “Cookies” and I smiled at him as he went on his way. Yup. No fear of random strangers here! LOL

  34. mollie December 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    Haven’t read all the comments but feel compelled to say this:

    The word “stranger” is a toxic one. All labels are, but this one is especially so, as it implies that we are, in certain arbitrary circumstances, separate from other human beings. I can’t say enough about this message being one that hinders peace on Earth.

    How about “person” instead? I mean, there are people you get a good vibe from, and people you get a creepy vibe from, but what I’ve noticed in my life is that it’s not always the “strangers” I’ve felt creepy about. How about we condition our children to listen to their own “creepiness radar,” and that it applies to EVERY person they might encounter, whether they’ve met them before or not, or whether they are in the same family or not.

    Conditioning children to have a hysterical fear reaction to anyone they haven’t met before, regardless of sensing that person’s intentions, seems a strange way to nurture and socialize a kid.

  35. Neil M December 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    It strikes me that a child is going to have a difficult time distinguishing good strangers from bad; sometimes even we adults have this problem! However, perhaps it would be better to teach them to distinguish good and bad *behavior*. I’ll bet even a small child can understand the difference between a stranger saying hello and a stranger inviting him/her into a car or house. Therefore, we focus not on status, which can be confusing (after all, a police officer is a stranger, but not one to be distrusted), but on behavior, which is often clearer.

  36. Ali December 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Thank you for taking my comments in the spirit they were intended…….I’m reading this form the same angle that we usually read the: “Someone else parented my child for me!!” In this case, RL saw a potentially dangerous situation, did something about it and was chastised (by the child). There are a lot of people jumping to RLs defense, I’m finding it odd, that’s all.

    We, on the board, weigh in on these types of decisions on a daily basis. Just yesterday we all weighed in on the decision to stop a 12 year old from walking home in the cold. The librarian and police agreed the act of walking home was potentially deadly and stepped in to “parent” the child by stopping them physically. They saw themselves as being helpful. FRK disagreed.

    To me, I don’t see much of a distinction between today’s scenario and yesterday’s scenario. Both times a “responsible third party” stepped in to prevent a possible injury to a child. Today’s case though, the mom was *right there*.

    Personally, I don’t find parenting stressful or worry about other people stepping in, I just assume they are well meaning and don’t intend to be judgmental. I’m really just curious what differentiates today’s situation from yesterday’s.

  37. Sarah O December 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    I remember listening to another mother at the playground drone on about how she doesn’t want anyone to ‘correct’ her children or touch them – even to help. A little while later my daughter was leading a group of two year olds away from the playground and toward the (fenced off) lake like a little pied piper. I picked up a couple of the kids and herded the rest back, and casually called out to the aforementioned mother, “You’re daughter’s running off that way. …I would have brought her back, but I didn’t want to touch her.”

  38. Yan Seiner December 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    The big difference is that in the library case, the librarian chose to detain the children against the mother’s will, and then brought the authorities in, potentially ruining a family and costing major $.

    In this case, RL intervened for a few seconds to prevent an immediate danger, and stopped as soon as the danger was past. If she had gone on to contact the police or CPS because the child was “running wild” then I am sure she would be condemned.

    Regardless, I think this misses the point. teaching your kids to scream “HELP, A STRANGER IS TOUCHING ME!” regardless of the situation does not prepare the child for life at all, but rather tells the child that no stranger is to be trusted.

    I wonder what will happen when this child grows up and is faced with a room full of strangers, or has to travel on a crowded subway.

  39. Lollipoplover December 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    I would have corrected the child, “No I am not TOUCHING you inappropriately, I am blocking you from doing something stupid. You shouldn’t run into the street. Please lower your voice.” Cue the dirty look from the mom but I wouldn’t care. I couldn’t watch a child dart out in traffic and not do anything about it.

    People need to be corrected when they act like this.
    NO society should be so fearful of helping children.
    Good luck to this mom on rearing her child to be so fearful of everyone around her. Enjoy a lifetime of anxiety drugs.

  40. Chihiro December 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    What concerns me is the girl’s thought process. Someone I don’t know=bad. If this girl is ever separated from her parents for whatever reason and needs help, who can she turn to? No one. Which makes her a perfect target.
    I wish parents would think it through.

  41. Mary December 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    At 5 she probably doesn’t completely understand good touching versus bad touching. She has probably had her parent/doctor tell her there are certain places on her body that nobody except mommy/daddy/doctor should be touching. For a little girl, these areas are under her panties and on her chest. If R.L. put her hand out in front of the child to stop her, then there’s a good chance her hand landed directly on her chest – which she has been told no one should touch. So I think at her age, we really can’t say she was completely wrong to yell if she has been taught to yell if someone touches her on those parts. She’s not quite old enough to use common sense and reason all of the time. The mother however, should have apologized and thanked R.L. for stopping her daughter, even if she knew her daughter well enough to know she wasn’t going to dart into traffic.

  42. Gina December 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    I teach my children:
    A. Everyone is a stranger until you talk to them. If we never talked to someone we don’t know, we’d never meet anyone new.
    B. If I am with you, you can talk to anyone about anything.
    It’s so freakin’ simple!!!

  43. Donna December 6, 2012 at 5:00 pm #


    There is HUGE difference between the library and this scenario. The librarian ignored the mother’s SPOKEN wishes for her children to walk home, detained the children and called the police. Regina stopped a child from bolting out a door. Nothing more. This scenario is akin to the librarian saying to the kids at the library “hey, it’s cold out and you don’t have coats would you like to call your parents to come get you?” and no where near police involvement. Possibly a little overbearing but certainly not something to get your knickers in a twist over unless you just like to get your knickers in a twist over things.

    Further, walking home from a library that you just walked to at 12 and 15 should not be considered a dangerous activity, and isn’t by most reasonable individuals as is reflected in the comments in the local paper that were mostly in support of the mom. A young child bolting out a door bordered by a busy parking lot is generally considered dangerous by most people. It isn’t even much of a judgment call at all for me to stop the child.

    Further, while the mother was nearby, the mother wasn’t “right there.” The child had run ahead of the mother and Regina was “right there.” In the seconds that it would have taken Regina to turn around, saw if mom saw the child head out the door and questioned her if it was okay, little girl could easily have been roadkill. Regina reacted instinctively and not with the extensive deliberation that it takes to pick up a phone and call the police.

  44. catspaw73 December 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    I have stopped kids like this before, normally get a smile or quick thank you, have been berated a couple of times, funny thing is with one of them the elderly lady next to me berated the mother back for her and her childs lack of manners :-)

    A little off topic, but something my hubby and I have have noticed (and a couple of friends since he mentioned it), is how on many shows on Nick/Cartoon network/Disney channel the words thank you or you’re welcome are never heard and how rarely please is said.

  45. Donna December 6, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    “I just assume they are well meaning and don’t intend to be judgmental. I’m really just curious what differentiates today’s situation from yesterday’s.”

    I guess this is the key difference between the two. Regina’s action was not remotely judgmental. It was an instinctive reaction to seeing a small child dart out the door bordered by a busy parking lot. I would venture to guess that, if the mother had yelled “it’s fine,” Regina would have removed her hand and let the child run out, regardless of whether she thought it a good idea or not. She wasn’t trying to override the mother’s judgment; she was reacting to what she saw as an immediate threat of harm that she was in a position to stop but the mother, outside of arm’s reach, was not.

    Contrast that to the librarian who even after having the mother tell her it was okay for the children to walk home, still decided that her opinion was better, refused to let them leave and called the police. Clearly, she was being judgmental.

  46. cover72 December 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    Deja vu? This is the way they destroyed galantness.
    You might remember — from books, nowadays — that in 1930’s, it was normal for men in public transportation to offer *any* woman a seat; to hold a door for her; to help with heavy objects etc.

    Then, the radical feminists came and declared all that “evil”. Shouted at anyone who tried to act gallantly. So men stopped being gallant…

    Would this happen to protecting stranger’s children? Society of isolation, where everybody is minding *only their own* bussines, since any interaction with strangers would result in wild accusations, shouting etc.?

  47. Katrina December 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    And this is exactly why my husband drove past 2 young kids walking home in a heavy thunder and rain storm….he did not know either of them and didn’t feel that he needed to deal with either screaming children, police turning up at our doorstep, being dragged through newspapers and courts just for offering children a lift to safety…as happened to someone in our town nearby us…it wasn’t until after this mans name had been in the papers etc that it came out what had happened…this was after the children involved finally had the courage to speak up against the huge hysteria that had gathered around them after saying that someone had offered them a a lift…the parents swung into action not only contacting the police but also the media and posting warnings on facebook about someone looking for kids…they mentioned the type of car and colour (which in that case helped to quickly identify the person) what they didn’t stop and check with the kids is if they knew the person…which they did….and the circumstances….there was a lightning storm overhead…..

  48. Stephanie December 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    The notion that kids should treat each other as strangers in a “stranger danger” way amazes me. My kids always find new friends when we go to the playground, to the point that I joke about them being “best friends forever or at least the next five minutes.”

  49. Donald December 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    I was walking with my wife on the sidewalk of a busy road. In front of us was a little girl that was also walking in the same direction. She screamed and ran because she thought we were following/stalking her.

    If I wanted to molest a little girl, I wouldn’t have brought my wife nor would I have chosen a busy road with lots of witnesses.

    She was taught stranger danger but not how to use common sense to determine a stranger danger situation.

    She was taught how to fear.

  50. linvo December 6, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    There are some messages in some of these comments that confuse me.

    How is touching a preschool kid on the chest a ‘bad touch’? That’s a pretty weird thing to try teach a child that age.

    Also, the person with the adopted child who will go with any stranger… I understand this is a problem but even a 3yo would understand the difference between touching someone and walking away with someone. At that age lots of parents have a problem with preventing their kids from running off anyway. You wouldn’t want to encourage a blanket fear of strangers because most parents will have to rely on strangers to find and return their cheeky toddler at some stage.

    And I agree that most 5yo should be able to be trusted to stop at the curb. When it comes to traffic I am all for a ‘better safe than sorry’ attitude though and I would’ve been grateful that someone was watching out for my child even if they overreacted. Also, I taught my child to consider how their actions affect other road users. So never, under no circumstance is she allowed to run towards a street or loiter near a pedestrian crossing when she is not crossing.

  51. Bob Davis December 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    And you might expect me to notice the photo with an old-time streetcar in it. I suspect the picture was posed, because the boy is looking right at the camera. It could even be an instructional photo for street railway conductors, cautioning them to watch out for children on the back platform.

  52. Nebuchadnezzar December 6, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    I thought some of the comments people leave here were nuts, but now I’ve seen everything. Someone seriously posted here thinking “free range” means letting your kids play in traffic?

    Maybe Lenore needs to post a manifesto or something quick for people to read who haven’t read the book.

  53. Jiltaroo December 6, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Ugh..that mother was an idiot. I would have taken that opportunity to explain the difference between stranger danger and a circumstance such as that. She should have taken the moment to thank you and have a quick chat so that her daughter could see that you were just a normal person doing what normal people do. Don’t think twice…just keep doing what you’re doing!

  54. nobody December 6, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Cover72 – I used to offer my seat to women on public transportation until one of them screamed at me that having a vagina is not a disability.

  55. mobk December 7, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    Our 3 year old is very sociable and he can talk to absolutely anyone he wants when I am around. He occasionally uses that freedom to strike up conversations with some pretty “rough looking” characters. The reaction is interesting, these guys (and it is GUYS) are often very into kids, but I ususally get a questioning look, saying ” Is it really OK for me to talk to your kid?” (i.e. you aren’t going to call the police).

    On a related stranger non-danger note my wife just had a bit of a tough flight with our 3 year old son and our one year old daughter (missed flights, heavy luggage). When I picked her up at the airport she was raving about all the helpful people that had rescued the experience for her. One fellow had helped her with luggage, another had held our daughter while my wife packed up stuff and a third guy has entertained our son for nearly half an hour looking at stuff on his I-Pad. All stuff that would have been missed if you surround yourself with a wall of stranger paranoia.

    And I would never disrespect a well meaning instinctive gesture from a stranger to protect my child from a clear and present danger like running onto a road. That’s not someone telling you how to raise your kid, that’s just basic humanity

  56. bmommyx2 December 7, 2012 at 3:48 am #

    I think the worst part of the whole story is how smug & proud the mom was & didn’t understand the error. I wish I could find this story online but a few years ago a couple of kids got a flat tire on their bikes. A “stranger” pulled over & offered to help. The kids screamed, dropped the bikes & ran home. The kids were almost at the school, but instead ran all the way home. The ironic thing about this whole story is that the man that stopped was not only a fellow parent, but an FBI Agent. My son is only six, but we frequently say hi or chat with strangers. I think it’s more important to teach them to follow their gut instinct & also to be careful how much personal information they disclose. I also teach him that if he needs help to ask an employee or look for a parent (someone with kids) & ask.

  57. Puzzled December 7, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Well, the story from bmommyx2 does point to some dangers of interacting with strangers – they probably aren’t child predators, but they could be FBI agents, who I also wouldn’t want my kids associating with.

  58. Amanda December 7, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    You touched this child, from her perspective, in a sudden, jarring, unfamiliar way. I think the child did fine. And had I been the other mother, I would want someone to stop my running child too.

    And I’m willing to give the mom the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know if there was any exchange between you & the mom. Maybe if you’d said, “Just trying to help,” pointing at the car coming up the drive, some appreciation would have come your way. Maybe they’d had the stranger talk just recently. Maybe they’ll talk about it more in the car on the way home. Maybe the mom was distracted and didn’t even notice that the child was running.

    Then again, this is the internet. Maybe you’re a skeevy-looking character with a too-big grin who waits at doors for running children to come along so you can feel them up. How’m I supposed to know? (Joking!!!!)

  59. Lollipoplover December 7, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    @bmommyx2- That’s crazy that the kids ran home. Kids today don’t have any instincts left. They are programmed so early with paranoia.
    My kids frequently get flats on their bikes. They know of two houses on their route (families with kids that also bike to school) where they can stop to pump air in their tires. My oldest daughter had a slow leak on her back tire for weeks but never told me. She’s been stopping to have “Mr. Dave” pump up her tire all of this time. We fixed it over the weekend, but I had no idea she was hitting up our neighbors so frequently.

  60. Sarah December 7, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    Something similar to us happened last summer. My husband, then 4yo son, and I were out for a walk in our neighborhood. We were waiting for traffic to clear at a fairly busy street when a small boy (about 2?) ran up to the curb. I grabbed his arm as he was about to run into the street and told him that he couldn’t run into the street because he could be hit by a car. At THAT point the mother, who was about half a block away talking on her cell phone, ran up to us and yelled at me for daring to touch her child. Never mind that he was about to dash out into moving traffic, and she hadn’t even tried to verbally stop him. I was about to tell her off when my husband (always the peacemaker) stopped me. I kind of wish he hadn’t!
    On another note, my now 5yo is constantly starting conversations with “strangers”, particularly men. At this point, he understands that he can _talk_ to anyone, but he can’t _go_ with anyone. As he gets older, we’ll add more nuance. But it is kind of sad how many people look at me first for permission to answer him!

  61. Warren December 7, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    This incident is the direct result of STRANGER DANGER. The generation that grew up with it are now parents. These parents have taken their media heightened fears, added it to the twisted messages taught in STRANGER DANGER and we now see the results.

    When that child grows up, and has children watch the results then. She will be takings the crap from STRANGER DANGER, adding in her mom’s paranoid fear based rules and advice and then adding in more of her own. Don’t be surprised if her kids will raise the alarm if a stranger just enters her 10′ comfort radius.

    And the slope gets more slippery and steeper with every generation. GOD HELP US ALL.

  62. Neener December 7, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Janet, I am with you 1000%. I know without a doubt that, after stopping the child from running into the busy parking lot and being “thanked” in this manner, my NEXT instict would have been to say to mom, “oh, hey, and YOU ARE CERTAINLY WELCOME for keeping your child out of harm’s way! would you have preferred I just stand here while she ran in front of a car???” Then again, I tend to bristle and react when confronted by such smug idiocy. My hat’s off to RL for keeping a much cooler head than I could have.

    (Sarah, I have the same problem. My husband’s the peacemaker; I’m the speaker-upper! LOL)

  63. Sam December 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    ” Kids today don’t have any instincts left. They are programmed so early with paranoia.”

    I wonder if part of the reason for this is because of the results of several well known “experiments” on shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil several years ago. I remember they had adults go to a park where the kids thought they were playing unsupervised and the adult would approach a child and try to convince them to come with them. I believe in every single study the child always went, even though they all had been taught not to. The results I think encouraged more drilling into kids about stranger danger nationwide because parents and experts saw that kids who are not drilled over and over and who are trusting of others will go even if they’ve been taught better. I would imagine since we teach our kids to be friendly and overall trusting of others that most of our young kids on here would also go off with a stranger, even if we’ve told them not to. Unfortunately, it seems they have to be fearful before they won’t. So we can choose to instill fear into into our kids to keep them safe from something that will probably never happen or we can choose to teach them to be friendly and trusting and trust that they will probably be safe.

  64. Yan Seiner December 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    @Sam: The problem is that we are much, much, much more likely, millions to 1 likely, to meet good strangers than bad.

    There are what, 115 stranger danger abductions each year? Think about how many times each and every one of us meets a stranger over the course of a year. There’s probably hundreds of millions of “stranger interactions” every year in the US between children and adults, people who have never met who interact in some small way with children. Only 115 of these end badly.

    Yet we form an educational, parenting, and societal policy around that miniscule danger.

    Teens are 10x more likely to get HIV than to get abducted, yet many parents fight sex education and access to condoms while drumming in the “stranger danger” nonsense.

  65. Havva December 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    My daughter was nearly stopped by a pair of strangers (grocery store employees) earlier this week.

    My 22 month old girl walked for the door while I was managing my bags at check out. A male staff member making a shocked noise, and restraining himself from grabbing her, got my attention. Another man moved into blocking position as I called out to my daughter to stop. I was a split second from asking them to grab her. And I’m glad they were ready to do so right until I took command of the situation.

    I thanked them both, on my way out. After reading the stories here, I took the extra step of conveying my appreciation to their manager. I wouldn’t want to live in a society where no one would stop a small child from running or walking obliviously into a street or parking lot.

  66. Librarymomma December 7, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    We were members of the YMCA when my son was about two to age six. He was a runner and nothing thrilled him more than running out the front door and practically into the parking lot all by himself. And people would not only not stop him but sometimes hold the door open for him and let him go, and I’d have to shout to them to let me through or just push my way by them to catch him before he ran into the lot. Ugh. It would really make me angry (it still does, now that I think of it).
    This is a good reminder to thank people who do offer to help and encourage them to help in the future rather than just stepping aside and watching the horror unfold (like what happened in New York on the subway recently).

  67. Warren December 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm #


    I do teach my kids that they are safe, that the world is not full of perverts waiting to pounce. That they can trust in people. Yes they were taught not to go with someone they don’t know and trust.

    I will not fear monger them for the sake of safety. That is just wrong, and will never be a part of my parenting.

  68. Merrick December 7, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Here’s the deal from my perspective…

    Likelihood of your child being struck by lighting? Higher than the likelihood of your child being abducted/harmed by a stranger.

    Likelihood of your teenager being harmed walking home in 30 degree weather without a coat? VERY SLIM…

    Likelihood of your child being struck by a car running into a parking lot? A LOT higher than these other scenarios.

    Risk assessment is a key part of free range parenting.

  69. AztecQueen2000 December 9, 2012 at 2:17 am #

    I’ve taught my kids that they can engage in friendly chats with strangers (and they do it all the time), but they cannot give out personal information such as phone number, address, or Mommy’s age. They also have to stay close and not go off with anyone. When we go to the park, I just make sure they stay in the play area.

  70. Kristin S. December 11, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    Dear Lenore, while I am not a free-range parent by your description, I respect what you are doing and why for your children. That doesn’t mean that the parent of this particular child should be called an “imbecile” or “idiot” because she is trying to prepare her children for the world the best she can. You might not agree, and I might not agree with you, but as parents, we all deserve a little respect. Thank you.

  71. oncefallendotcom December 11, 2012 at 9:52 pm #

    I say let the little monster risk being roadkill. Not my problem. But that’s just how stranger danger has me trained.

  72. Warren December 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    @Kristin S,
    What you are missing, is the smug look of pride the child’s mother had, as described in the story.

    So no this mother is not doing her best. A mother with common sense, would have told her child right there, “It’s okay, this lady was just trying to help.”

    Instead she is proud her daughter is growing up paranoid. How is that doing her best?

  73. Jahn Ghalt December 12, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Commenting on the trolley picture:

    I love the smirk/smile on the kid’s face.

    First reaction – “boy, this is fun!”

    Second reaction – “hah! I’m getting a free ride!”

  74. Jahn Ghalt December 12, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    And now on topic:

    I’d would have first thanked the lady for her quick thinking and action.

    Then, I would have apologized for my little brat’s rude behavior.

    Then, I would have had a quiet chat off to the side with my little brat.

    I’ll say, this reminds me of the time when my children were that young and clueless. My wife and I both speculated whether a vocal warning would work for control-at-a-distance (“STOP”). I’ll say in my case that in a handful of instances “the voice” worked well – causing my youngsters to freeze in their tracks.

  75. Jennifer Hendricks December 14, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    A similar story, with a better reaction by the parent:

    A little boy makes scores a run in a T-ball game. The coach (who must have just teleported in from another decade) slaps him on the butt as he crosses home plate. The boy yells, “Mom, he touched my bottom!” She responds, embarrassed, “It’s okay honey, it’s a … sports pat.”