A New Take on Stranger Danger

Hi Readers — This made my day!

Dear Free-Range Kids: Thought I would share a conversation I overheard today at my daughter’s school.  I went to pick up my 6 year old from her after school program and arrived just in time to hear her speaking to a friend and the friend’s mother.  I didn’t hear the beginning of the chat, but did hear her say (with emphasis!): “No, no, you’re SUPPOSED to TALK to strangers, you just don’t GO anywhere with them!  Like, I mean, until today I never met YOU (referring to the friend’s mother), but you would think I was rude if I didn’t talk to you, ’cause you’re Amy’s Mom.”  The mother in question was silent for several long seconds.  And then had the good sense and good grace to say, “Huh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  She and I then proceeded to have a lovely chat about Free-Range parenting.

My daughter learned that lesson from me, through you!  Her school also subscribes to the same view.  The principal once described having a police officer come in to the school on “community helper” day and being struck by the irony of having this person the kids had never met teach “stranger danger.”  She describes it as an “Aha!” moment.

Aha! — Toronto Mom

Aha on this end too! – L


Wrong. Just don't go OFF with them.

Wrong! Just don’t go OFF with them.


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23 Responses to A New Take on Stranger Danger

  1. Missy Homemaker December 13, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I absolutely LOVE this point of view. I guess I’ve told my kids the same thing although I never really came out and discussed it with them. I’ve always said it was okay to say hi to people. I’ll reinforce this philosophy a little more just so my little one will know not to go anywhere with anyone.

  2. Kay December 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    That’s great that she’s remembering the lesson and repeating it! When the Cub Scouts had a trip to the police station, I was glad to hear the officer state this very lesson, how it was wrong not to talk to strangers, and that kids would need a good stranger’s help if they were in trouble, and that more than likely, a stranger they call on for help would not be a bad guy. At least our local area’s PD is passing this view on.

    But isn’t it kind of disturbing that this mother had to sit there and think about the rationality of it for a minute before the light bulb went off? Everyone’s been programmed too well.

  3. Papilio December 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Hahaha, cute!

    @Kay: Maybe she was just surprised to hear this logic (AND a comment on what is polite and what isn’t) from a 6yo??

  4. CrazyCatLady December 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Smart kid! I have had this conversation with people too. Some still don’t believe me, unfortunately. They think at some magic age their kid will be able to talk to “adults” who were before “strangers.” They don’t understand how they send mixed messages to their children when they tell them they can only talk to “certain” strangers.

  5. Kay December 14, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    Papillo, you’re probably right and I glossed over the fact it is a 6 year old! Smart girl!

    Lenore was saying this a few years ago. It makes me wonder if anyone on our town’s police force has read or heard about her because they did say all those points she has said: don’t talk to strangers is wrong and changed to you can talk to strangers, just don’t go off with one, most people are good, you might need to talk to strangers to get help, etc., and I sure don’t remember hearing it from anyone else in the media before Lenore.

  6. Stephanie December 14, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    That’s what I tell my kids too. My son even had to use that one time when he got separated from his grandma in a science museum. Shy as he is, he accepted the help of a stranger to get to the front desk and have grandma paged. My kids know that leaving the building with a stranger isn’t okay, but having a stranger help them is just fine.

  7. Kim December 14, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    This is so great to hear, I don’t even have anything else to say about it except…YES!!! 🙂

  8. Molly December 14, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    This week, my 16 year old daughter had her first driving mishap – a flat tire. Fortunately, she was in a residential neighborhood at the time, so she wasn’t in any danger from surrounding traffic. Once she calmed herself down, she started looking for help – and found it in the form of the stranger doing yard work across the street. She asked the man if he could help her change a tire, which he gladly did (all the while explaining each step to her so she could do it herself next time). While they worked on the tire, his wife brought my daughter a coat to wear because in typical teenage fashion she was badly under dressed for the weather. In 15 minutes time, she was back on her way thanks to the help of these wonderful strangers.

  9. Shelly Stow December 14, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Someone once wrote that the best way to get rid of an enemy is to make him a friend. The same concept applies here also. That could be our slogan–Get rid of all strangers; talk to them and turn them into people you know.

  10. Emily Guy Birken December 14, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    When I was a child, my (single) father taught me and my sister to look for a mom with kids to ask for help from if we were ever separated from him in public or otherwise lost. He figured that out because he often needed to rely on the help of moms to keep an eye on me and my sister in restrooms when we were very little, as this was in the time before family restrooms and my dad was not about to take us into the men’s room. (I suspect he also enjoyed having the opportunity to chat with attractive single moms, too.)

    I plan on teaching my sons the same lesson.

  11. fred schueler December 14, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Fifty-odd years later, I still wonder about declining a ride offered by a friendly woman to my brother and me, walking home a couple of miles from the library when we’d have been 11 and 9, on the basis of the “don’t take rides from strangers” mantra.

  12. Christina December 14, 2013 at 11:31 am #


  13. Buffy December 14, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    @Emily Guy Birken, wouldn’t a dad with kids be just as good a person to ask for help?

  14. Lynnie December 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    How are we going to expect our children to be productive members of society and get a job if we make them afraid of everybody we don’t know?

  15. SKL December 15, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Yes, I tell my kids the same thing, and I’m sure it’s hard for them to sort out all the inconsistent points of view on this. Though I guess the fact that they often ask to go places / do things independently indicates that the message is getting through.

    I love to see my girls speaking / advocating for themselves with “strange” adults. It gives me hope for their future.

  16. EricS December 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Gotta love those “a-ha!” moments. Children can often teach us, or rather remind us, of the most common sense and basic things we learned at a very young age. Which still holds the same truth, meaning, and purpose to this day. As we grow up, we come across many things that make us bitter, jaded, fearful, resentful, and distrusting. Which often changes our perception of things as they actually are, to how we see them through our own damaged psyche. Listen to your kids, you will be surprised at the things they perceive. And you may re-learn a thing or two from them.

  17. Papilio December 15, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    @Kay: But Lenore got it from somewhere/one else herself, if I’m correct.

  18. Connie Kline December 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    When my older children were younger I always had them ask for assistance. For instance if we were in a new place and we didn’t know where the restroom was I had them find and ask someone who worked there. I was there to observe but always told them that if they were lost they were to do the same thing. If you have a child who is afraid and has only been taught it is only safe to talk to people they don’t know then WHO do they ask for help?

  19. Kay December 15, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    @Papilio, She probably did, it’s not like it would be an unheard of type of logic. But she was the only one I knew of who was saying it when everyone else was still “stranger danger”.

  20. Casey December 15, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

    This is brilliant! I had to rethink the whole “don’t interact with strangers” mantra after my then 3-year old son freaked out when the greeter at Wal-Mart helped me with my bags–after all, she was a stranger to us. I could see that “don’t talk to strangers” was confusing and frightening to my son.

    So we changed it to “don’t leave with a stranger” and “you don’t have to talk to people who make you uncomfortable.” I want my kids to be able to fine-tune their intuition about people they meet, and the only way to do that, of course, is to actually meet people.

    My son who was confused by the “stranger” in Wal-Mart is now, after years of practice meeting strangers, a teenager who strikes up conversations with fellow passengers on planes, politely but firmly sets boundaries with strangers who get in his personal space on the train, and moves through his surroundings with confidence for the most part.

  21. Hellen December 16, 2013 at 10:56 am #

    Love it. This kid deserves a cookie. And another to the friend’s mom too.

  22. Papilio December 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    @Kay: Okay, yeah, I don’t know first hand in what context Lenore says what she says, so thanks for the background info and yay for her smart stubbornness 😀

    To the dame herself: at the risk of sounding like a stalker: you’ve been a bit quiet these days, so succes with whatever you’re doing, or get well soon!, in case you’re ill.

  23. S December 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    This reminds me of when another girl and I were in 2nd grade and forgot that we didn’t have church choir practice that day. My mom remembered at the last minute and drove down to the church, but the girl wouldn’t get in the car because my mom was a “stranger.” We had to drive very slowly following her to the nearest pay phone so she could call her mom to come and get her.