Teaching Kids Not to Help 84-Year-Old Ladies

Hi Folks! Here’s a bit of advice actual “safety experts” are giving kids — and parents. But first, the backstory. This New York Times guest parenting blogger wrote that her 7th grader came home one day and announced he “didn’t do it.” Didn’t do what? He and his friend were walking home from school (points for that!) when —

Their commute home this February day was interrupted when a short, white-haired woman standing in her doorway called out to the boys and asked them to move a medium-size package from her front step into her house. On the sidewalk, the boys wondered what to do.

At first, they did nothing, knowing that they “shouldn’t.” Then, after the woman said, “I’m 84 years old and I can’t move it myself,” the other boy did the deed: He helped an old lady.

The blogger, torn between gratitude that her son understands the world is full of danger and doubts as to whether this actually constituted good judgment, called — who else? — the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The folks who put the missing kids’ pictures on the milk cartons and neglected to mention that the vast majority were NOT taken by a stranger. Nancy McBride, the safety director there, told the blogger:

 Even though the woman appeared harmless, she said, children need to be taught to follow the rules consistently, because looks can be deceiving.

“Adults should not be asking kids for help,” she said, adding that women have been used to entice children and that one of the top “tricks” used to lure children is to ask them any question at all. “I don’t want the little boy to feel bad who helped her, but he made a judgment call that turned out O.K. this time, but it might not be O.K. next time. You don’t know who’s in the house with her.”

Jeez le-friggin’ Wheez: “It turned out okay”??? As if this was just sheer luck that the woman wasn’t shilling for a psychopath?

If the woman had fallen or had another immediate need, the boys, armed with their cellphones, could have called 911, Ms. McBride said. In the absence of an emergency, she said, they should have shifted the burden to a parent or school official….

So 7th grade boys — in tandem — are being instructed to “shift the burden.” Always ask an official! Do not — repeat — do not attempt to do anything on your own.

The mom ends up worrying some more whether her son did the right thing. Then she invokes the Cleveland kidnappings, and finally concludes that maybe some day in the future her son will be old enough to help.

What I try to explain in my lectures is that I don’t blame the mom for her fears. I blame a whole society and its “experts,” bent on convincing us that our kids are in constant danger, and that the only way to keep them safe is to imagine the worst-case scenarios (like a pimp hiring an 84-year-old accomplice) and proceed as if those are likely to happen TODAY to OUR KIDS. – L

P.S. They’re not.

Come help me with my package, you pretty boys!

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84 Responses to Teaching Kids Not to Help 84-Year-Old Ladies

  1. RJ May 28, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Meh. I think the kid made a decent call on this one. Even way back in the 70’s I was taught not to step into houses of people I didn’t know when I was collecting $ for newspaper delivery. Keeping out of situations where you may be trapped seems like good free-range sense.

  2. Emily May 28, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    The boy in the article did the right thing. Also, does anyone else find the contrast on the PDF poster of “the rules,” between the cartoon images of the school bus, and the little blonde girl on the scooter, to be rather jarring?

  3. Emily May 28, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    Also, when the poster says it’s “not safe for young children to walk to school,” what’s the cut-off for “young?” Kindergarten? Grade three? Grade five? High school? Everyone’s going to interpret that “rule” differently, and that just adds fuel to the bubble wrap versus free-range parenting debate.

  4. lollipoplover May 28, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    The paranoid advise that this *expert* Nancy McBride is spewing is so dead wrong. I cannot believe she is telling teens to be disrespectful and apathetic in the name of safety.

    When we turn our elders into automatic suspects and train our youth not to help it’s weakest members out of fear, you are not protecting children. You are creating a generation of monsters. These are teenagers that this woman likely watches walk daily outside her window, she is their NEIGHBOR, not some white van driver trolling the streets.

    I would have marched my kid immediately over there to introduce himself and see if this eldery woman needed help with any of her chores and given her our phone number so that in the future she had someone to call with heavy lifting, shoveling, etc. If this was such a judgement call, why didn’t these teens call/text mom to see if helping was OK?

    What is happening to basic civility in our society when this crazy fear takes over good manners?

  5. Beth May 28, 2013 at 9:15 am #

    And what’s with calling a 7th grader a “little boy”? I just can’t with the continued infantilization of children.

  6. Lola May 28, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Well, there ARE some things you have to check before stepping into an old lady’s house: Is said house made of chocolate and candy, or just conventional construction materials? Does she have unnaturally large ears, eyes, or a suspicious snout? Is she offering you a big red apple for no apparent reason?
    Even if you’re quite confident going in, remember not to eat anything, check where the oven is and keep the lady between it and you, and whatever you do, don’t take any chicken or geese with you on your way out.

  7. Beth May 28, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    I would also like to see actual links to reputable sources describing the apparently many, many times an elderly woman has been used to lure children into the clutches of a maniac.

  8. Linda Wightman May 28, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    I understand the dilemma, but want to consider it from another safety angle. She was an 84-year-old woman; they were adolescent males. In America today, it’s even more understandable that she should be afraid of them than the other way around. It is precisely the lack of friendly, positive, helpful encounters that makes one segment of society afraid of another. And when people are suspicious and afraid, other people get hurt. Ask Travon Martin. The helpful 7th grader did more than one person a favor that day.

  9. Silver Fang May 28, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I think it’s fine for the boys to help the lady with her package. Back in the day, kids their age and younger did all kinds of work alongside adults and no one suffered for it.

  10. Selby May 28, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    Not to mention it was a group of boys, not one sole, solitary boy. If one of them had been accosted by this elderly lady, would the others have just stood there and (to reference a recent article) debated who was qualified/certified to respond?

  11. Becky May 28, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    @lola: best. reply. ever! <3

  12. Peter May 28, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    I remember back in the 70s Sesame Street had a melodrama called “The Boy, The Girl and the Bag of Jellybeans”. I think the heightened melodrama of that little segment is possibly exceeded by the silliness in the “dilemma”. Should the boys be afraid of the 84 yo woman? She the woman be afraid of the boys? This is the stuff of comedy. America need a chill pill.

  13. Mike May 28, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    The only thing these kids had to fear from an 84 y/o woman was spending some time listening to what rationing was like. The number of strangers who abduct 12 y/o’s is tiny. The number who could use an 84 y/o woman as a duck blind has got to be zero. Yeah, I know. We should teach our kids to never go into a stranger’s house even if they are on life support in a burning building screaming for help. ‘Cuz Cleveland! But one thing we should be teaching our kids is *judgement* such as recognizing the difference between going into a house with a stranger who is a grown man and going into a house with a frail 84 y/o lady.

  14. Mike May 28, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    (Also would add that, back in the old days, an 84 y/o lady wouldn’t be a stranger in the first place because all the kids would have gotten to know her.)

  15. Bose in St. Peter MN May 28, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    I gotta admit, I had a terrifying experience at about age 13 that started with being called out to by an elderly person.

    Delivering morning newspapers in my town of about 700 people, in the dark, I opened a front porch door to drop the paper inside. Not realizing that an 80-ish man was hovering in the dark a few feet away, when hearing an odd-sounding voice suddenly fill the silence as it approached me, I panicked (and I have always had a weird, gasping, shouting panic response when severely startled).

    The terrifying part? There was none. He was saying “Good morning… Thank you!” From then on, we laughed about it, and he made sure the porch light was on before wishing me good morning.

    From age 12 to 14, I was up by 5 or 5:30, 7 days a week delivering papers. No parental wake-ups (they were still asleep). And in the afternoons I was getting out to collect bi-weekly subscription fees, often invited into customers’ homes, no cell phone, and no checking in except for showing up at the supper table. Even though the town was small, we were the newcomers, within a couple years, my parents knew a handful of people there and I knew 100+ by name.

    Great skills for adulthood when my wife and I had elderly neighbors.

  16. pentamom May 28, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    ” Keeping out of situations where you may be trapped seems like good free-range sense.’

    Yep. And a situation where one boy helps the lady and the other waits for him outside seems hard to fathom as one where the helping boy could be “trapped.”

  17. Laura May 28, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Last year during the annual Stranger Danger Celebration at my daughter’s school, she walked up to a police officer and asked, “If I can’t talk to strangers how can I make new friends?” She was six. The officer laughed and said that was a good question and I’m sure your mommy can answer it.
    I teach my children that we shouldn’t fear strangers we should be aware and know what dangerous behavior is, and what do to in a bad situation.
    Had this boy been younger and by himself I could understand the caution, but I think it’s a shame that a young boy is afraid of an old lady.

  18. Amanda Matthews May 28, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    You don’t have to step inside someone’s house to put a box inside. Just put it right inside the door, enough for the lady to shut the door, without stepping in.

    People are just people, no matter their age. A 30 year old can be harmed/grabbed by someone jumping out after they go up to a door to help an 84 year old, just the same as a 12 year old can.

    “Adults should not be asking kids for help” … I hate that phrase and it is bs, especially when you consider that “kids” means anyone under 18 nowadays. People SHOULD ask other people for help. They shouldn’t have to check ID or be ageist about it. “Kids” SHOULD be helping others. They shouldn’t be sitting there using adults as their slaves, to be called on when there is anything to be done. 12, 30, or 84, they are all part of the team of society and should act – and be treated – as such.

    Have these “kids” been made so afraid of “strangers” that they walk with their blinders on, don’t even look at the people around them, and have never seen this woman before? This is a neighbor of theirs, on their route to/from school – they had to have seen each other before? And in that case, the odds that this woman has been recruited to help kidnap 12 year olds – already miniscule – has been reduced even further.

    @Mike
    Teaching judgement is good, but making kids afraid of men is not teaching judgement, imo. Even if the person asking for help is a man, judgement should still be used. There’s plenty of middle aged men – and people of all ages and gender – that don’t appear to be “frail” but are.

  19. pentamom May 28, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    “Stranger Danger Celebration”

    They have a celebration for danger? Fun school! Do they have suffering parties, too?

    No, I know what it means but it just sounds funny.

  20. Maggie May 28, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    I have a 7th grader. He is 13, and I hope to God he helps elderly people when he gets the chance. It’s something I’ve strongly encouraged him to do.

    If there was more than one boy, the danger is non-existent. One moves the box inside, the others stay outside. To my knowledge, most kidnappers don’t want a group of witnesses armed with cell phones watching while they kidnap someone.

  21. Warren May 28, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    LOL, there is even an episode of Criminal Minds, where one of the profilers admits that STRANGER DANGER did more harm than good.

    Lenore, you should see if you can organize a debate with this so called safety expert. Would be great to watch.

    My kids from the time they could, always gave a helping hand. I don’t know how many times they would help seniors get groceries to their car, at the store. I can remember watching my daughter drag a 50lb bag of potatoes across the floor for a lady. My daughter weighed less than 50lbs. The old lady thought it was sweet, but wanted me to stop her, because she might pull a muscle. I let her get it to the door, and then I took it from their to the ladies car.
    Helping others is not only for those in need, the person lending aid gets alot in return.

    @lollipop, you nailed it on he head.

  22. anonymous this time May 28, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    “Oh my, Grandma, what a huge IMAGINATION you have.”

  23. Lee Baldwin May 28, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    if my 12 year old refused to help an 84 year old woman, i would be appalled & livid! how freaking ridiculous to make every harmless, day-to-day decision a matter of life and death.

  24. DH May 28, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    “Adults should not be asking kids for help”

    What the hell? I ask the neighborhood kids for help all the time; it’s part of being a member of the neighborhood. It’s part of creating kids who grow into adults who know how to be members of a community.

  25. Vanessa May 28, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    Well, while middle-school boys are chronologically not “little boys,” a lot of them are still pretty tiny (just ask my eighth-grade daughter, who is fed up with being a head taller than most of her male classmates), so they are more physically vulnerable than 15- or 16-year-old boys would be. However, with two of them and an elderly woman, I can’t see that they were in any danger – in the vanishingly unlikely case that the lady was Norman Bates’s mother and her psychotic son was waiting inside to chain the first boy up in a closet, the other kid could have called for help.

  26. EricS May 28, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Well, for one, there were 2 of them. And second, she is 84 years old. Me and my friends did our share of helping the elderly, even the ones we didn’t know. We were taught to be considerate, respectful and helpful to the needy. BUT, we were also taught to be mindful of things that didn’t seem right. I’ve stepped into strangers apartments or houses, while my friend(s) stayed outside. We knew to get help if something were to happen to the other. And guess what? Nothing ever did. We made a few bucks in the process too. It’s called common sense, and street smarts. No one teaches their children these things anymore. I keep hearing about parents going to “experts”. As a parent, having grown up as children too, they should already be experts themselves. You have a brain, use it.

  27. Yan Seiner May 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    @Lee: I’m with you. If my 12 year old 7th grader left an old lady on the doorstep, I’d kick his @ss.

    The problem is that it’s exactly this surplus of “everything is dangerous” that makes our streets dangerous. If people actually responded to real emergencies instead of averting their eyes, the streets would be a lot safer.

    I am glad to say that the few times I’ve been involved in a real emergency, the people around were more than willing to help.

  28. Andy May 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    These same “safety experts” are the first to bemoan the lack of civility when passersby ignore seriously injured person on the street.

    @Lola,
    I object to your singling out those of us who choose to live in confectionery based housing. We’re no different from any one else, we just have to rebuild our houses every time it rains. I do agree about leaving the chickens and geese alone. I had a golden egg laying goose that was for my retirement, until some hoodlum named Jack stole him.

  29. Jennifer May 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

    Wow, how sad. I hate to think that someone might refuse to help my 93 year old grandmother someday because she could be trying to lure them into danger. She might block the door with her walker and force them to look at pictures of her great grandkids or something!

  30. Yan Seiner May 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    OK, someone enlighten me:

    What’s “Stranger Danger Celebration”?

  31. Cin May 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    All I can think of is Harry Potter stuck with the batty elderly neighbour who makes him look at pictures of cats — who later helps save HIS life.

  32. DH May 28, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    > What’s “Stranger Danger Celebration”?

    Something that sounds completely idiotic. And of course, they don’t think that parents could possibly object to something like this, so you probably won’t hear about it until your kid comes home and tells you about it.

  33. Warren May 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    “In an analysis of attempted nonfamily abductions the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found
    approximately 32 percent of attempted abductions happened when a child was going to or from school or a
    school related activity.2 The tips noted below will help prepare for a safer journey.”

    Just what is an attempted nonfamily abduction?
    Is it purely attempts, but failed, does this include successful nonfamily abductions? And what constitutes an attempt? We have seen stories of people just talking to kids from their car being called an abduction attempt.

    Now the real question. 32% of what? Of a million, a thousand or ten? A percentage is useless information without knowing the whole.

  34. Donna May 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    Now this is just sad. I would be pissed as heck if my teen didn’t help an elderly neighbor.

    And WTF on calling a 7th grader a “little boy?” He is 12-13 years old. That is not a “little boy.” That is a teenager. I think that is the problem. If you think of anyone under 18 as a “little boy,” of course they will be too young to do much of anything. But this “little boy” will be driving a car in 3 years. He will be going to college in 5. He sure as hell better be able to make some judgment calls before either of those things happen. When exactly is this judgment-call ability supposed to kick in? If he can’t even understand at 13 that his elderly NEIGHBOR is unlikely to be a homicidal maniac and probably just needs a box moved, I have little hope for his ability to make rational decisions in strange situations – situations some adult hasn’t already prepped him on how to handle – when behind the wheel of a car in 3 years. Keep off the roads near me please.

  35. Emily May 28, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    @Donna–I don’t think it’s quite fair to make assumptions about this young man’s ability to make rational decisions now, or his ability to drive three or four years from now. He did make the right decision to help the woman by moving the box, so that’s a sign that he’s on the right track. It’s not his fault that some journalist who he doesn’t even know, and who doesn’t know him, referred to him as a “little boy,” and it shouldn’t be interpreted as a reflection on him as a person.

  36. Havva May 28, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

    This example really does show how ‘stranger danger’ can break a community, as well as robbing a kid of their sense of agency in the world. No kid, don’t do some modestly heavy lifting for a frail old woman. Go get an adult, you and your friend couldn’t look out for each other.

    I remember being told “Adults don’t ask kids for help.” Mom spent a few months teaching stranger danger and several years unraveling it. One of the stickers I earned in my quest to be allowed out on my own, had a picture of an unsavory looking fellow driving a car and warned that adults don’t need help from kids.

    Of course people do get lost when visiting unfamiliar neighborhoods. And my neighborhood was one of the few local areas not on the grid system. I still remember the nervousness I felt breaking that rule the first time. A friend and I were out roller skating when a car pulled over to the curb, rolled down it’s window, and the driver started calling to us that he was lost and needed help. We debated, not unlike the kids in this story. We instantly questioned why he would even ask two children for help. But we quickly realized there was no one else out and about to readily provide assistance. We also realized that we, out skating alone, were obviously likely to know the area. We quickly decided the fear behind the warning, was of a person being forced into a vehicle. So we determined we would be safe if we stayed out of arm’s reach. So we both went over and gave directions, from a slight distance.

    But hey, why complicate fear with judgement. Everyone can join in the fear that it all could be a trap. There are plenty of old (and not so old) ladies taught to fear. No more mutually useful communities, nope we can all be isolated and afraid, and higher lots of expensive help instead. Two times I’ve needed help I’ve run into women who wouldn’t even peek out to see what was going one. So I guess they didn’t see the crashed bike and bleeding friend, or the car stuck to it’s axles in mud. But regardless, they just knew I was a decoy to help someone else get in… because of course windows can’t be broken if you don’t look out of them.

  37. Donna May 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Emily – No, he didn’t move the box. His FRIEND moved the box. He stood outside and then made a point of telling his mother that he didn’t move the box, as if moving the box was something that was bad.

  38. SKL May 28, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Seventh graders? I initially thought I was reading about 7-year-olds. My goodness. A lot of 7th graders are taller than their moms. Many can father a child. I’m surprised the old lady wasn’t more afraid than the boys.

    The more I think about this, the more icky I feel about a 7th grade boy’s mom blogging about what her little darling told her about stranger danger today. “Oh mommy, do you think that lady was a witch trying to eat me up??”

    It is true that women sometimes help men hurt children. But this is so ridiculously rare that it’s hardly worth mentioning. However, how about this idea. One Boy A agrees to stand watch outside while Boy B goes in and helps the old lady. If Boy B doesn’t come out within a reasonable time and doesn’t answer when Boy A calls through the door, Boy A can alert the authorities. You know, the whole point of hanging with a buddy.

  39. Michelle May 28, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    As an adult, I have stopped and asked kids for directions before, but after a lot of hesitation, and a lot of looking for kids who looked more to be teenagers. I was visiting my mom with my then 2 year old son, and I wanted to take him to the park. My mom gave me very vague directions, and I still couldn’t find it and was in a different state so unfamiliar with the area. I found a group of roughly 12 year old girls outside. Rolled down the window, and immediately asked where the park was, so they wouldn’t think I was trying something else. Fortunately they helped us.

  40. JJ May 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Hmmmm. The message I got from the article is that parents have to realize that many situations involving their kids out in the world are nuanced rather than black and white. She still wasn’t sure what the right thing was. Yeah, we can jump all over her but I think the basic point is a god one–we need to help our kids, as they get older, to use critical thinking to assess situations. I think it’s good her family had this conversation even if we don’t agree with her final, albeit wishy washy verdict.

    Has anyone seen the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when a blind man calls put to Larry and Richard (strangers) to help him carry something into his apartment and next thing you know he’s ordering them to move him into his new home, completely as if they were his movers. I am not making a point here just enjoying the memory of a funny scene.

  41. pentamom May 28, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    “It is true that women sometimes help men hurt children. But this is so ridiculously rare that it’s hardly worth mentioning.”

    That in itself is not as ridiculously rare as you might think, as a percentage of situations where children are harmed.

    But yes, little old ladies luring boys into houses so someone else could harm them is a pretty bizarre scenario. When “women help men hurt children” it’s generally someone the woman already has access to, just like with most child abuse.

  42. Amanda Matthews May 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    @EricS
    “As a parent, having grown up as children too, they should already be experts themselves.”

    It seems to me that most people have their memory removed when they become parents.

    That’s the only explanation I can think of as to why so many adults can’t remember what it was like to be under 18; that they were people then, that they could think and reason and feel, and that they often were more mentally equipped to deal with the current world than the adults around them… and the feeling when adults treated them as something that could not think and reason and feel!

  43. Warren May 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    The boy that didn’t help the lady, he was only doing what he thought was right. Doing as he had been told. Evidenced by him bragging to his mom, about it.

    Best solution, explain how it would have been okay to help the lady. And send him back to explain, or go with him while he explained that he was only following the rules. Then he could offer to help in the future.

    The older lady feels good, the boy learns a valuable lesson in a positive way. win win

  44. Emily May 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    @Donna–I guess I got it mixed up, because I didn’t read the original article. I didn’t realize that the article was about the boy who obeyed his mother’s “stranger danger” lesson, and didn’t help the woman; I thought it was about his friend who did help her. In any case, now that I have that piece of information, I agree with Warren. It’s not fair to jump all over a twelve-year-old boy for doing what his mother told him to do, because he thought it was “right.” I also agree that, upon being told of the incident after the fact, a good parent would teach the young man that the “stranger danger” lesson isn’t black and white, and that it’s okay (and encouraged) to help people who are obviously in need.

  45. carriem May 28, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    My kids are allowed to speak to strangers, however, they are not allowed to enter anyone’s home (even their friends) without permission. This boundary allows me to let my grade school age kids roam the neighborhood. That being said, obviously the kid did not feel good about upholding the rules in this situation. We can also teach our kids to go with their ‘guts’. Sometimes ‘safe’ situations should be avoided, and ‘stranger danger’ ones are fine.

  46. Crystal May 28, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    This reminds me of “advice” I’ve been given as a petite female who frequently runs alone to never smile at, talk to or otherwise engage the homeless people I run by. (The boys in this story are probably bigger than me. So am I never supposed to help my elderly neighbor, either?)

    Besides the fact that I have a large dog accompanying me who would kill anyone who looked at me cross-eyed, that advice strikes me as totally backward. These homeless people are constantly patrolling the neighborhood and see everything. I WANT them to know me, I WANT them to recognize me….so if they ever see anyone giving me a hard time, if I had an accident or need help, they would most likely come to my aid.

    If we constantly view others with suspicion, we’re only hurting ourselves.

  47. hineata May 28, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Does Nancy MacBride forget that we, too, will grow old? Likely without our own children and grandchildren around us, given the mobility of the workforce for the last few generations, which isn’t showing any signs of abating. So we need to do all we can right now to foster the kind of neighbourliness that will see us all through. The same kind that seemed to nurture every generation prior to this one.

    Who was this woman supposed to ask? Some huge bloke walking past? (Who likely would have been equally as harmless as she was, and the two boys were, but who would have been harder to take down in the unlikely event that he wasn’t). Some woman trying to handle kids and pushchairs – if there were even any on the street?

    My kids being the skinny types, they have been called on at odd times to shinny through people’s windows and open their locked front doors. Usually this has been for people in the neighbourhood, and we’ve had to go along with them to hiff them up to the small top windows (difficult for the elderly to do that!) but on the few occasions when it’s been on the way home, never have they been trapped – they’ve just been proud of themselves for helping out.

  48. Papilio May 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    A twelve-year-old isn’t a ‘little boy’ to me, but he’s certainly not an ‘adolescent’ or ‘almost a man’ either (he probably just hit puberty!). There must be some years a boy is just a boy…

    @Warren: I remember that remark in Criminal Minds, or there are more than one episode they say that. I often think people who are scared by those series just don’t pay attention when the detectives suspect the victim’s husband or when the adult male victim was killed by his business partner for financial reasons…

    I don’t remember at all being told about stranger danger. I do remember a classmate telling about how the day before some guy started to follow her as she walked home. She told him she was on her way to an aunt/grandmother/other family member, went to a random house and pretended to ring the door bell (‘this is my aunt’s house’). The man went away, she went home, end of story. I think we were 10 or so.

  49. Warren May 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    Read the rules, as set out by Nancy’s group. Especially love how it says to teach your kids that they do not have to be polite.

  50. Jenna K. May 28, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Since when is a 12-year-old a “little boy”? I don’t consider them “little” once they are older than about six or seven.

    Stories like this just irk me. I wouldn’t have thought that a 12-year-old boy helping an 84-year-old woman would stir up so much controversy.

  51. Laura May 28, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    Yan Seiner, on May 28th, 2013 at 12:43 pm Said:
    OK, someone enlighten me:
    What’s “Stranger Danger Celebration”?

    It’s sarcasm, that’s all. They have their safety day where they talk about ‘stranger danger’ as though being paranoid of everyone and everything is something to be proud of. They also have ice cream so I sarcastically call it a celebration.

  52. Donna May 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    @Warren – I didn’t get the impression that the boy was bragging to his mother. I got the impression that the boy wanted to make it clear that he had not gone in the house lest someone have reported him for speaking to the neighbor.

    @Emily – I’m not jumping on the boy. I do question the boy’s ability to make judgment calls. I also question the fear being instilled in him since he is lecturing his friend not to go help because “anything can happen.” None of that is his fault. It is his parents’ fault for instilling the fear and refusing to allow him the freedom to make judgment calls. Since this writer indicated that she would still rather be safe than sorry and have her child not help old ladies, I don’t see the situation changing anytime soon for him and I do fear his ability to function as an adult as I do all helicoptered children.

  53. Tsu Dho Nimh May 28, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    ““Adults should not be asking kids for help,””

    Total hogwash! Sometimes children are more useful, and sometimes they are the only people in sight.

    This sounds like a classic predator tactic, but if you have a missing pet, make a handout with pictures and a description of the pet and give one to every child in the neighborhood – they notice things their parents don’t. I’ve done this – not asking the child to come with me to look, but asking them to look aorund theuir house and call the number if they see the critter.

  54. Kim May 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Unless the little old lady was living in one of those confectionery houses mentioned by a couple of previous commenters, flossing her teeth with Hansel-sized lederhosen, and wearing Gretel’s head as a hat, I don’t see a problem with at least shifting the package inside her door. Depending on the size of it and how her house was set up, there might not have been any need for the kids to go all the way in anyway. (Not that I think it would have been a big deal in this case had they gone in to deposit the package…)

  55. bmj2k May 28, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    The problem with these “what if” scenarios is that all it takes is one case, or a similar case, or someone who heard of a similar case, somewhere else or anywhere in the world for it to become a possibility. No matter if the odds are astronomical, or if the scenario is ridiculous, the fact that might have happened once is good enough. And if it never happened, then there is always a first time, right? By that reasoning we should all be living in underground bunkers in case the moon crashes into the Earth. Hey, it happened in some sci-fi film, right?

  56. Jenn May 28, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    This reminds me of when I sent my (then) 6 year old son to use the washroom at a restaurant alone. He returned in adequate time but shortly after, an elderly gentleman stopped at our table, asking if this was our son. I panicked thinking he had misbehaved on his short trip to the washroom. Turns out my son had helped this man in the washroom with the faucets. He said, “An old guy like me can’t seem to figure out those fancy automated taps so your son helped me turn them on so I could wash up. Thanks! You don’t know how many times adults just ignore me.” Children (and adults) need to have the skills to recognize when to help a person in need, when to get more help for that person in need, or when it is a truly potential dangerous situation. Perhaps starting with a little kindness will help!

  57. pentamom May 28, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    “Adults should not be asking kids for help,””

    Yes, frail little old ladies not strong enough to shift a package should definitely be asking favors of strange adults instead of kids, because little old ladies are MUCH more of a threat, statistically speaking, to pre-teen boys, than unscrupulous adults are to little old ladies, who never EVER get preyed upon.

    But hey, if it saves one child who wasn’t going to get hurt anyway from being hurt, who cares what risks granny has to take?

    In a world where there’s one, and only one, thing to be afraid of and it’s OH NOES CHILD PREDATORS, everyone else must assume all possible risks, regardless of their own potential vulnerability.

  58. Yan Seiner May 28, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    CNN is running an ad right now that says:

    “There are man eating sharks in every ocean, but we still swim.”

    Somehow that seems very apropos to this discussion.

  59. Dee May 28, 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    This story really amazed me. That someone would retell this story proudly. The comments on the NYT article are fascinating – thankfully many do not live in a fear-filled world.

    It also makes me think I need to talk with my son about situations like this. To be honest, I’m way more free range than he is. He is naturally VERY shy and I have to practically push him to do things on his own. (He’s 11.) I’d hope he would help the lady, but I fear his shyness would kick in and he’d run the other way!

  60. Donald May 28, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    The word ‘boys’ stood out to me. This is plural, meaning more than one.

    OK. We could debate whether or not a single person of a young age should be allowed to carry a heavy box inside. I don’t want to get into that argument. However we are talking about more than one. One boy can easily stay outside while the other helps her out. This would mean that something sinister couldn’t happen.

    I.E. a kidnapper partnered up with his grandmother to help him lure a child into the house. (sounds like a CSI episode) THERE IS A BOY OUTSIDE! THEY COULD NOT GET AWAY WITH THE KIDNAPPING!

    My complaint is not about this incident but the fact that we don’t teach children how to do things in a safe manner. We automatically say no if no even if the odds are 0.000000001%. People must interact with people. THIS CANNOT BE AVOIDED. Learning these skills are as important as math, history, or spelling. When we teach children to never interact with people we cause them great harm. When will they learn how to interact with people? When will children be allowed to develop common sense? This isn’t a simple case of being rude or not. It’s about neglecting children from being educated. Not having these skills is itself very dangerous. Instead we spread the ‘cancer’ of mistrust, suspicion, and paranoia.

    We focus so much on kidnappers and pedophiles that we pretend that no other dangers exist. We forget that our job as a parent is to teach children to to interact with the adult world.

  61. Earth.W May 29, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    It’s rather pathetic. The State has effectively turned the people against each other. We are encouraged to ‘dob in’ something, anything. In Australia the local councils no longer as you to report a pothole in a road but to dob in a pothole. All this dobbing has created an untrusting society.

  62. John May 29, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    Quote: “Adults should not be asking kids for help”

    Goodness, gracious sakes. She’s an 84-year-old lady who needed a hand. Apparently when God gave out common sense, Ms. McBride was a no-show. Does she really think that an 84-year-old lady would be capable of over powering a 13-year-old boy? Did Ms. McBride think this little old lady might have been the wicked witch of the west in disguise who was gonna tie this kid up and throw him into a hot boiling pot of stew?

    It just peeves me off that these so-called child advocates always assume the worst and that kids as old as 12 or 13 are as weak and as helpless as toddlers. I certainly hope that Ms. McBride was inundated with letters telling her how crappy her advice was.

    Well with that said, I need to start building my underground shelter now in the event that a large asteroid will someday head straight toward my house.

  63. Donald May 29, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Sorry. I said boy. (Indicating a child) That’s also part of the problem.
    7th graders are young adults not little boys or girls

  64. Freedomforkids May 29, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    A few years ago I ( a woman in my forties) was in a city I wasn’t very familiar with, and I was standing on the sidewalk in the middle of a beautiful day trying to figure out which direction to go to find the store I was looking for. Then, a group of school kids of varying ages walked by me, and I asked if they could direct me to such-and-such street. All of them ignored me, and none even looked at me. I was confused and asked again. I could have sworn that some of them adopted a cockiness in their walk as they passed me by, ignoring me. I was SO bewildered and stood there looking after them as they walked down the street. Then it dawned on me that they had been taught not to talk to strangers. I had been so friendly and they had been so rude that I was shocked after I finished being bewildered. Shocked. And then I got a little depressed, and the feeling stayed with me for a day or two or three.

  65. Suzanne May 29, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    @ Lola, awesome response!! There were several others that were nearly as good. I was sad that I couldn’t find the clip mentioned from Sesame Street on youtube.

    I noticed a lot of reference to Cleveland and of course it’s big news right now. One aspect from that story seems to be overlooked. The night she disappeared Amanda called her mom to say she was getting a ride home from work – it seems likely that the person she took a ride from was Castro. Which brings us back to teaching our kids to use good judgment. Yes, 2 -14 year old boys should be “safe” to help an 84 year old woman with something heavy – kudos to the boy who did. Some customer (or coworker?? I don’t think) offers you a ride home say no, do not accept rides from people you don’t know very well.

  66. Lillian May 29, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    I just watched the movie, “The Impossible,” and (hopefully not a spoiler) one of the most moving parts was when the mother and what seemed to be her 12 year old son were in the hospital. She saw the suffering and confusion around her, and even though they were in a foreign country with chaos everywhere, and she was fighting for her life, she told her son to find a way to help. Not knowing if she was going to survive, she was still concerned about building his character.

  67. John May 29, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    The old cliche “Adults should never ask kids for help” is true to a certain extent except for the word “never”. There are many common sense exceptions. As a 57-year-old man, I would NEVER ask a bunch of 12-year-old kids I don’t know to come into my house to help me move some furniture nor would I recommend my kid to honor a request like that from an adult he doesn’t know (perhaps a frail looking elderly lady or man being the exception particularly if there were other kids with him). I also would not pull my car alongside an 8-year-old and ask him directions to the local country club. BUT if I slow my car down and shout ACROSS the street, “Hey kids, could you tell me where the country club is?” I wouldn’t see a problem with that as I would not be asking them to walk up to my car. So it depends upon who the adult is, the type of help the adult is asking for, the age and size of the child and the distance between the adult and child. Children can and should be taught common sense and the cliche, “Adults should NEVER ask a kid for help” is not entirely true. With that said, Ms. McBride gave very poor advice.

  68. Papilio May 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    @EarthW: I’d think the problem lies within the culture, not the State.

    @Donald: A 12/13yo IS a child. Just not a little child.

    Lenore, instead of a picture under this post all I see is an empty rectangle! Ain’t that ironic? 😀

  69. pentamom May 29, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Donald, how is one supposed to refer to a 12 year old male in normal conversation without using the word “boy?” No one says “the young adult males were walking down the street.” Not in normal conversation.

    “Boy” is a perfectly appropriate word for a not yet fully mature human male from 0 to 17 or so. “Little boy” is what is not appropriate.

  70. pentamom May 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Earth.W, what’s the meaning of “to dob in?”

  71. LisaS May 29, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    More than one 13 y.o. boy = very little danger. They should have pushed the package inside the door as others have described, said “You’re welcome.” when thanked, and marked it as paying it forward.

    What kind of society are we developing where everyone is so concerned about the completely unlikely events that we fail to take care of the everyday for the most vulnerable among us?

  72. Lisa May 29, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    I think the kid did the right thing. I’m a pretty free-range mom, but I have told my kid not to go inside the house or car of anyone we don’t know. *I* wouldn’t likely go inside the house if someone I didn’t know asked me to carry something inside. I think it would have been ok to carry the package to her front door (sounds like it was in the driveway?), but not inside.
    I don’t like referring to teens (or elementary school age kids) as “little boys”, but I don’t think saying they should not go inside hoses of people they don’t know is unreasonable.

  73. Jana May 29, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    I’m sorry… Did they really just call 7th grade boys “little kids”? The summer after 8th grade I got my first full time job at a daycare center (14 year olds in my state can work 18 hours during school, 40 during summer) and they’re calling capable teenagers little kids. That’s pretty offensive.

  74. Warren May 29, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Asked my two youngest what they would have done, and both would not have hesitated. They would have helped, and then added they would have told her if she needed any help anytime just shout.

    You know what, it would make the seniors day, and the kids would make a new friend.

    Years ago, okay decades ago……..there was an elderly couple on our way to school, that had a Basset Hound we used to play with. When we were in high school we thought they had moved, but it was the husband had passed. All of us in the area made a point to stop in and see her, and it made her day, each and everytime. They didn’t have kids, and Mrs. Clarke said she always thought of us as family.

    That is the kind of realtionship the one boy could have, but the other one missed out on.

  75. Warren May 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Just for the record, we played with the dog on our walk to school starting in grade one.

  76. ASlater May 29, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    This recently happened to my daughter, who at the time, was only 4-years-old.
    We were in the locker room at the gym getting ready to leave and this 50-year-old woman turned to my daughter and said, “Would you mind doing me a favor?” My daughter silently stared blankly at her. The woman turned around and handed her a key card and said, “would you mind taking this to the front desk for me?” My daughter looked at her then looked at me and said nothing. The lady took her silence as a ‘no’ and very rudely insulted my daughter and said, “oh, I thought you wanted to be helpful today.”

    I left there shocked. This woman who was on her way out of the building asked my child to leave the presence of her mother to do her a favor. And the fact that she had the nerve to put her down was just sad! For no reason should an adult ever look to a child for assistance. I was very proud of my daughter that day for how she reacted to that stranger. A stranger who I haven’t seen at our gym since..I’m thankful my girl has a good radar for the people around her.

  77. Amanda Matthews May 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    A 12 year old is not a child. The definition of child is a person that has not yet started puberty. In first world countries nowadays, a 12 year old that has not yet begun puberty is rare. 12 year olds are adolescents.

    @ASlater Well your daughter was rude for not replying. The natural reaction to rudeness is rudeness. I don’t see how that was the right reaction; would your daughter have spontaneously combusted if she talked to a stranger? Was this stranger going to follow her out and molest her in the distance between you and the desk?

  78. John May 29, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Well Amanda, I disagree with ASlater where she writes, “For no reason should an adult ever look to a child for assistance”. As I wrote in an earlier post, there are many exceptions to that notion. But I thought you were a little hard on her daughter for not replying to the lady’s request. Remember, the little girl was only 4-years-old. Now if her daughter was 10 or older, I could see your point. At that age, the child should have made some acknowledgement to the lady’s unusual request. But for a 4-year-old, a request like that from a strange adult would be pretty difficult to process.

  79. hineata May 30, 2013 at 12:56 am #

    @Pentamom – idioms are funny, aren’t they? Thought you guys would have that one too.

    ‘Dob in’ means to report someone to the ‘authorities’.

  80. Papilio May 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    I only just discovered English has no separate word for a person during puberty, and uses ‘adolescent’ (which I took to be a person who is physically already grown up (but mentally/socially not quite), say 17 years old or so) for both age groups. Okay.

  81. renee June 1, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Don’t these people realize that boys this age in only 1 more year (give or take) could be the father of a baby?! Yes, they could be PARENTS! But they are not old enough to practice being adults. I used to work in crisis preg. Let me tell you – the look on a mother’s face when I told her that her 13y was legally responsible for her own baby was very emotional. This 13y was not allowed to use the oven if no one was home.

  82. Papilio June 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    @renee: That sounds like a very good reason to be free range (and to give kids good sex ed, of course). Birth control and preventing STD’s is a big responsibility that teens need to be ready for once they also feel ready for the activities that could get them pregnant or ill in the first place…

  83. steverino June 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Aslater, it sounded to me from the way you told the story that the woman was trying to be nice: I am not a parent but take my grand-nieces for long periods. They fight to go get the mail. I am always giving them little things to do, both to get them involved in life and to make them feel good for helping.

    I was at Disney, waiting outside a restroom when Tigger walked by. I told a joke to the two boys waiting with their father (“Why did Tigger lift the lid on all the toilets? He was looking for Pooh”). Blank stares. The father had to coax them to respond to the joke. I thought they just didn’t get it, but now I’m thinking they were startled that a 50-yo man (a stranger!) would just speak to them out of the blue.

  84. Pamela Martin June 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Really, the boy had to do something that kids and adults are called upon to do all the time: size up a situation.

    I don’t know what it is about me (my now ‘silvering’ strawberry blonde hair, my freckles, my what?), but I am asked OFTEN to help people, people who are complete strangers to me. Their need directions, they want me to approach their car to give them, they want help with a door, a package, whatever…

    Each time this happens, I go lickety-split through a mental scan of the situation. Who’s in the car? Am I alone? Is it a man? Can I stay on the sidewalk and holler the directions to him (her)?

    And that’s, of course, just one type of situation that kids and adults have to learn to size up; all kinds of situations present themselves, all the time, all through life, that we have to assess, and much of the time we don’t have a lot of time to make the decision (at six, do I walk around or through that group of ‘big kids’, at twenty-five, do I walk around or through that group of guys on the sidewalk?) .

    One thing that stands out: there are no rules (notwithstanding the finger-shaking of the National Center Missing & Exploited Children). NONE that are hard and fast. Which means of course that one has to develop judgment and instinct about when and how to act.

    And this is how its done–a kid being asked to help an old person carry a package. He sized the situation up, acted, and it turns out he made the right decision. Which is usually the case for most of us most of the time.

    Kudos for him!