“Flummoxed 67 Year Old” Can’t Understand if She Can Talk to Strangers’ Kids


Let’s rfkryksshn
help this lady! What CAN and CAN’T strangers do when they see a kid anymore?

Dear Free-Range Kids:

I am a flummoxed grandmother, age 67, from a rural community in the Midwest.  What I see with kids today shocks and startles me.  I don’t know when to say hi to a child for fear of getting a lecture from a parent about their child not knowing me (I’m a stranger), to even looking at a child when I walk in the park.  When I travel by air and a child is being unruly by my side, I don’t know whether to say something or not.  I’m exhausted when I hear a parent explaining in immaculate detail something relatively simple in the everyday world, so that the child won’t have their self esteem hurt.  I feel like I need to go live in a different world.

I love children and respect parents, but what’s happening? Can you please address what to do and not to do with children under the age of 22 anymore?  I truly have all good intentions, but it seems others are looking for something “wrong” in whatever I do.  Any advice would be appreciated.  Help.  And thank you for what you do.


I don’t believe that all parents are high-strung like this, but I do understand the real confusion now on whether kids are part of the world or private property. And are we just kidding ourselves when we think back and believe it was easier to interact in “the olden days”? – L


What's pushy when you're a grandma talking to strangers' kids?

What’s pushy and wha’s allowed  when you’re a grandma talking to strangers’ kids?


68 Responses to “Flummoxed 67 Year Old” Can’t Understand if She Can Talk to Strangers’ Kids

  1. mer July 22, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    No advice, but be glad you’re a Grandma, not a Grandpa. You at least have a chance at being able to interact with someone elses kids without the cops being called.

  2. Warren July 22, 2015 at 7:57 am #


    I feel for you, as I am one that loves to engage kids in conversation whenever and wherever I can. I truly like how they see the world as compared to those that have been jaded by decades of living and responsibility.

    Can you do me a favour? You said kids under 22. If you can, stop seeing them as kids once they hit their teen years. I have always seen hitting teen years as the apprenticeship years to being an adult.

    But really, just be yourself. Most of the people out there will be able to pick up on your vibe, and will have no problem with you engaging their kids. If a parent says anything negative to you, just tell them “Sorry, my kids were always allowed to talk to anyone, just not ever to go off with them. Specially when mom or dad is there.”.
    If they insist on being paranoid, don’t take it personally, as the problem is not yours. The problem is all their’s.

  3. Jill July 22, 2015 at 8:09 am #

    It depends on how “unruly” the child seated beside you on the airplane is being. A little squirming and loud chatter is something that has to be endured in stoic silence. Flailing, punching, kicking and screaming would call for a firm request to settle down. If it doesn’t stop, I’d quietly complain to a flight attendant and let them deal with it.
    It’s probably best not to try and school a strange child on manners if one happens to accidentally step on your foot or neglects to say thank you when you pass him or her something. It usually causes them to get a deer in the headlights look of panic and confusion.

  4. Carolyn July 22, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    I think it is fine to interact with children, just don’t touch them unless really necessary. Also, if you can try to make a habit of interacting with the parent first, it seems to go a long way. Even a simple, “What a darling little one you’ve got” or an “I remember when mine were that age”, can go a long way in breaking the ice. We really shouldn’t have to think about these things, but these things may help her get a better response.

  5. Doug July 22, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    Engage children as necessary.

    For some reason, children always look at me. I always look back, smile, and wave, maybe with a little “hi” thrown in.

    I’ve never had anyone complain. If they did, I’d have to look at the child and say “don’t grow up to be psychotic.”

    As for unruly children on an airplane, I’d suggest lowering your head to their level, whispering to them to please quiet down, or giving the “shhh” sound (the hand signal alone won’t usually work). Children are self-conscious, and (in my experience) will settle down a bit if you engage them first. Going to the parents doesn’t seem to work as well.

    And if the child can shave, they can be talked to as an adult. They are old enough that they should have learned about proper behavior in public places, so don’t be afraid to address them. If (and that’s a big if) a parent chooses to reprimand you, you’ll have the chance to explain that you can understand where the child learned their manners.

    Seriously, it’s time to stop being afraid of other people. Our society wants to coddle everyone and make sure no one get’s their precious feelings hurt. Stop it.

  6. Missus H July 22, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    This is so sad. I wish MORE strangers would talk to my 7-year-old, and when they do I try to stay out of it so she can practice her social skills. I’m trying to help her learn to judge good vs. bad intentions in case she ever needs to choose someone to ask for help, but it would be hard to do if she never had a chance to talk to anyone.

    What drives me crazy is the strangers who encourage “stranger danger” even while they are a stranger talking to my child. Like a while ago a woman at the next table at brunch wanted to ask my daughter for a gift recommendation for another girl her age, but she prefaced it with “now I know I’m a stranger and you shouldn’t talk to me, but…” That sort of thing gives me so much “undoing” I have to work on, and explaining why people erroneously think that way, etc. I have to constantly reiterate the fact that kids are not being snatched by strangers by explaining that people who think that watch too many police shows on tv and that a show about a typical day for a police officer would be too boring to watch. Very frustrating. Learn some statistics, people!

  7. caiti July 22, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    As far as the airplane situation, if the child is acting out, I bet the parent is worn down, otherwise engaged, or simply exhausted. Especially if the child is too young to read- when my son was under 5 an airplane trip meant I had to verbally entertain him the entire flight to prevent him from annoying other passengers. On the few occasions that my toddler son made friends with the passengers around us, I was extremely grateful for the break. So I would advise, if you are good at talking to kids without being condescending, by all means engage them. Kids love stories about the “old days” and the parent will welcome the chance to rest his or her voice.

    If you are reprimanded by an over protective parent about stranger danger, say I’m sorry and maybe remark that you thought society had realized that was an outdated idea by now, and go back to whatever you were doing.

  8. Anna July 22, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    I think you should go right ahead and talk to kids as seems normal to you. They’re people, you’re a person, you’re all in the same public space. I think the more each of us can do to fight the increasing atomization of society the better. Even if other people think you’re being weird at first, if you act confident enough most people will get swept along by your confidence, I find.

    That said, you will get some funny responses. Yesterday I warned a 9-year-old who was diving to catch a frisbee right in front of my son’s swing “Look out!” in a friendly voice, and he was quite taken aback. He assumed I must be scolding him and started apologizing. He looked very surprised when I said it was him, not my son, that would have gotten hurt. I guess normally nobody addresses anybody else’s kids except to protect their own.

    Then again, last week I had a nice conversation about the social structure of ant colonies with two kids who were ant-watching at the playground, and nobody seemed to mind.

  9. Dhewco July 22, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    I back up mer in saying be glad you’re a woman in this situation. If you were a guy, the parents paranoia would be even stronger. There are rules where airlines won’t allow men to sit with kids (usually Unaccompanied Minors, but still) not their own. “Just in case”. If the parents are on board, they’re required to switch seats.

    There are two reasons why I object to moving. One, the presumption that as a man alone I’d hurt a child in the few hours on a plan ticks me off. Two, if the child is between 9-15, the kid can be more engaging than an adult. Older teens can be surly and rude…and suspicious of an adult who actually wants to talk to them. Younger kids are usually happy for the distraction and can bounce from subject to subject. A lot of adults find that annoying, but it amuses the heck out of me and can make a long trip less long. Adults run the gamut between annoying habits and surly silence. (I’m sure kids do, too, but I’ve been lucky in the few that I’m met are usually entertaining on long trips. BTW, I’ve only flown with a kid once, but this was 20 years ago when things were a little different. I’ve ridden the bus with several and that was fun.)

    One more point. I don’t object to moving if they ask before I board or I’m settled. But if I’m in the seat and overhead loaded, I don’t want to move. Again, most of this is hypothetical with me as I don’t travel much, but this is how I feel if it happens.)

    Anyway, back to more exactly on topic, I agree with those who say just be yourself. Most will see you’re a gm who enjoys interacting with kids. Those who don’t, well…will just get over it.

  10. Chet D July 22, 2015 at 10:31 am #

    I thought childhood stopped at 26, given the whole health insurance thing. (joke) In my experience, talking to children who don’t know me is kind of like playing Russian roulette – most of the time no consequence but once in a while . . . . Granted, I am a middle aged male in the Midwest as opposed to a 67 year old grandmother, so your mileage may vary.

    There are only two bits of insight I can offer here. First off, as I pointed out to some friends of mine who had issues with their kids being too dependent (for lack of a better term) – your not raising kids, but creating adults. They had an ah-ha moment and it shifted their mindset. I find a lot of parents who want there kids to remain fragile toddlers forever – even if they aren’t. I suspect that is part of it.

    The other bit is a growing number of people seem to increase their own self worth by finding fault in others. This results in a lot of people looking for faults in others, no matter how slight, that may or may not be there. Throw in a bit of stranger danger paranoia and it isn’t hard to find a zealot or two.

  11. Rina Lederman July 22, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    I WIN I WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I FOUND THE TYPO IN THE CAPTION!!!!!! YAY ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Cynthia812 July 22, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    I appreciate anyone who helps make everyday interaction more common and pleasant. My older kids (7 & 9) tend to go deer-in-the-headlights when people talk to them, so they need lots of experiences to get over it. One thing I love is when I’m shopping and can see that the baby/toddler in my basket is looking at something behind me. Usually there is an adult making faces at him.

  13. Anna July 22, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    This reminds me of my latest peeve. My son has gotten into listening to those book-with-CD kits from the public library, and he’s on a non-fiction kick right now, so I often look through that shelf to see if there’s anything new for him to listen to. We’ve now done all the ones about animals, space, etc., and guess what’s next on the shelf: “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” Because we need a whole book to teach kids to be fearful enough. I’m kind of tempted to surreptitiously scratch the CD or something. (On the plus side, it always seems to be sitting on the shelf, which presumably means it never gets checked out.)

  14. Jim Collins July 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Cynthia, I used to be the “adult” making faces at the baby in the shopping cart. A few years ago I was in a grocery store and a little guy in a cart asked what my name was? I told him “Jim”. A while later in the checkout line the same little guy is front of me just jabbering away to me when his mother says “What have I told you about talking to strangers?” He says “That’s no stranger, that’s Jim!”

    These days the media has people so paranoid, that I have stopped making the faces. It isn’t worth the risk. I used to eat my lunch in a park near where I work and had to stop doing that after having the Police come to see why I was there and what was I doing. I used to be an officer at a fraternal organization where we would have children come in with their grandparents. I got to know the children, but, not their parents, so technically I wasn’t a stranger to the children, I was a stranger to their parents. I almost had the police called on me because I was talking to a child at the mall and the parents saw me. Thankfully the child was smart enough to tell them where she knew me from.

    These days unless I know the parents real well I try to interact with children as little as possible.

  15. Katie G July 22, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    Grandma Kay,

    Please talk to my child! Your experiences and knowledge will make my child’s life that much richer (and most likely mine when she tells me about you).

    I was reading her a book a few nights ago (B. Bears collection) and in the book were rules for interacting strangers and the #1 rules was: Don’t talk to strangers. I stopped right there and told her that I disagree with that point and she can talk to strangers. We have a u-pick farm and she took my advice to heart and was to talking every customer (i.e. stranger) that came to the farm. She even asked if she could take the customers out the picking area on her own. During the day, she learned two new words and the customers were all very friendly and welcomed the opportunity to talk to her.

  16. John July 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    Although the stranger danger phenomenon is worse nowadays than it was 30 years ago, I think this grandmother is getting a tad bit paranoid. I’ve said hi to kids I didn’t know within ear shot of their parents and didn’t get lectured. If I see a cute little toddler in Wal*Mart walking alongside his or her mom, I’ll usually wink at them or make a quick little funny face as I’m walking by and I’ve never had the mother or father get upset at me for it. I distinctly remember strange adults doing that to me some 54 years ago and never felt threatened by it in my tender little childhood.

    Of course there are parents who would over react to these things, perhaps more now than 30 years ago, but people like that are still very rare.

    But I did have a disagreement with a divorced mother of two boys ages 13 and 8 whom I work with who was telling me how uncomfortable she feels when strangers in the grocery store will talk to her younger son and say things like, “So are you shopping with mommy today?” or “So how old are you young man?” You know, very innocent things. She feels that some of those people might have nefarious intentions. Of course I told her that she was getting a bit paranoid and comments like that are absolutely no indication the person has bad intentions toward your child.

    The problem is, my argument has no credibility with parents like this as I don’t have any children myself. So I get the usual, “You’d understand if you had kids yourself” argument which I believe has NOTHING to do with the fact that these parents, as few as they are, ARE indeed paranoid!

  17. John July 22, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    Just to clarify, when I say the stranger danger phenomenon is worse nowadays, I mean the FEAR of strangers around our kids is worse nowadays than it was 30 years ago.

  18. Myriam July 22, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

    Introduce yourself, say hi, but don’t ask personal questions or where she lives. Don’t say anything if my kid is doing something you don’t agree with, but please intervene if she is rude to others or doing something truly dangerous. Do not yell or touch her, but address her directly and say something. That would me my answer to this woman. I” teaching my children to talk to people, be polite, seek help if they need it, but that “adults” should ask other adults if they need help, not children.

  19. Adrienne July 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    I have two little boys ages 5 and 4. They smile and wave at strangers and get so happy when the strangers smile and wave back. Then they say to me, “Mommy, I said hi!” With huge smiles on their faces. I tell them good job and that it’s nice to be polite. The thing I can’t stand is when they try to interact with an adult and they won’t offer a smile or wave in return. The boys just become more enthusiastic, hoping to get a response, but sometimes they’ll ask me why the person didn’t respond. I’m never sure what to tell them, other than that person may not have been brought up with manners like my boys are.

  20. Dave Colter July 22, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    My strategy has been to speak to the parent first (if they’re present) so they know you’re aware of them, and then to the child. It seems to work like a charm.

  21. GC Wayte July 22, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    My 5 year old daughter talks to strangers all the time and I encourage it. It takes courage and it’s a good skill to develop early on. Sometimes in life you need to rely on the kindness of strangers, or ask directions, or offer help to someone who looks like they’re in trouble, etc. It’s a separate issue from “This person is giving me candy and inviting me into their car.” We talk about that too. But strangers?That’s 99.99999999…% of the human race.

  22. Lindsay July 22, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    Please talk to my son! He is a very social and engaging four year old who loves people. If you are in a wheelchair, he’s going to want to see your booboo so he can kiss it better. He will ask to hold your hand so he can see the wrinkles- he thinks they are beautiful. He will try to give you his treasures- sticks, rocks, pieces of paper, you name it. He will tell you his name, proudly, and try to show you how old he is on his fingers. If he gets into your personal space, don’t be surprised if I make him apologize for popping your “bubble”.

    He’s autistic, and there are too few people in the world who give him the time of day. A simple smile from a stranger is something he talks about for days. Oh, and if he’s being obnoxious, you can tell him. He is tough- you won’t break his feelings. Sometimes I need the break your conversation gives me, and I can always use more help parenting!

  23. Eric S July 22, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    I don’t worry about this “stranger danger” mentality. If I see a cute kid, I’ll smile and wave “hi”. It’s been a while since a parent looked in shock and pulled their child away. Most times, the parent(s), smile, and encourage their child to say “hello”.

    There is no law or even policy that forbids anyone from talking to other people’s kids. If you want to say “hello”, say hello. If the parent(s) don’t want their kids talking to “strangers”, THEY can walk away. If they are being unruly around me, I’ll do what I would do with my own kid. Tell them to behave. “Shhh…settle down please”. lol If the parent(s) have an issue with that, then I’ll have an issue with them for letting their child be unruly around me. Don’t dish what you can’t take I always say.

    Do what you’ve always done with kids. And take everything in stride. Don’t change who you are for the few people, who chose to become paranoid, in a not so scary world. 😉 It’s people who change to conform to this hysteria, that perpetuate this issue. When you change, you automatically join the ranks of the fearful and ignorant. And one less person on our side of the spectrum.

  24. mer July 22, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    Lindsay, good on you with your son. Growing up I wound up helping my dad a lot at a local Cerebal Palsy center. Taught me early on that special people like them and your son are too often looked past. How many times do you see someone pushing someone in a wheelchair and passersby will make contact with the pusher of the chair, not the occupant? I get the best smiles when I say Hi to the occupant.

    Jim: I do the same thing to kids in the grocery store. Never touch them, but make faces and such. Mom usually catches them, turns around, I give the “what, me?” look the kid gets in trouble (not usually). Christmas time, with a big white beard, wear a bright red sweatshirt, kids think your Santa.

  25. Kristan July 22, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Best flight ever- my son was not quite 2 and sitting on my lap. The woman sitting next to me was maybe 65. She chatted with him, read him a story, entertained him for a bit with the.chain of her glasses and even held him for a few moments so I could eat my peanuts in peace! Now, I would never expect this level of interaction but I am still grateful to a woman whose name I never knew.

    Talk to kids, if they are fidgety on a plane, sometimes talking to someone new is all it takes. If you carry anything in your purse for your grandchildren, pull it out. Most parents will be grateful. I agree with others that anyone over 13 can be respectfully treated as an adult!

  26. Nicole July 22, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    I’d say talk to the kid as a person, take the cues from the kid and if the parent gets annoyed or mad or is oddly unreasonable just ignore them. I mean, you would stop talking but don’t let them ruin your day or prevent you from ever talking to kids. And if the kid seems uncomfortable just back off a little. My kids are pretty shy, and I had a guy at a pool start asking my son about music, and girls (he’s 11 and has ZERO interest in girls) and did not get the social cues to back off after getting very little response. On the other hand I think it was a good lesson for my son to handle friendly but socially awkward situations. They guy ended up asking the other woman in the pool out after a 4 minute conversation, it was a bit strange. My older son also hated being touched, and kindly older women would rustle his hair if he seemed agitated, and when that riled him up more they’d do it again, and again till I told them to stop.

    And be social, don’t just talk to a kid to tell them they are being unsafe, rude, unruly. My kids got glares on planes before they did anything, and later on the same woman gave them nice looks, surprised they were quiet and mellow. They were constantly told to get down from things so they would not hurt themselves.

  27. Suzanne July 22, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule for this, it’s going to depend totally on the parent and what the child has been taught. You can talk to my kids all you want and I’m fine with it. If a child is being unruly on a plane and the parent won’t correct it I would call the flight attendant and ask them to say something to the parent but I don’t fly so I don’t know how realistic that is. Actually, I would tell the kid to knock it off and if the parent got mad I’d tell them they should have corrected it themselves.

    I used to work as a cashier at Walmart, one day a child spoke to me (not a small kid either she was probably 8) and her mother scolded her about talking to a “stranger.” I couldn’t stop myself from telling mom it’s good to at least have your child able to identify “safe people” like store employees in uniform wearing a name tag. A woman working the cash register is a pretty safe bet they legitimately work there! People are nuts.

  28. Michelle July 22, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    I don’t understand giving other people rules for talking to my kids. Rather, I teach my kids how to handle anything.

    If you’re friendly and polite, my kids will be friendly (and hopefully polite) right back.

    If they misbehave and you tell them so, they’ll apologize.

    If you ask questions, they’ll answer, or they’ll tell you to ask me.

    If you want them to go with you, or come in your house, they’ll either decline or ask my permission.

    If you are crabby and mean, they’ll avoid you.

    If you overstep your bounds, trying to stop them from doing things they have a right to do, they’ll be polite, move away from you, and get me or another adult if they need to.

  29. Dean Whinery July 22, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    This appears to be partly cultural.
    While sitting on my porch in Southern California, I’ll wave and sometimes verbally greet children passing on the sidewalk.
    Ours is a mixed community, about half Hispanic and half everyone else.
    Parents of Hispanic children smile and tell their children to wave back at the nice man. Other parents take the child’s hand if they don’t have it already and say, “Come, Junior. That man spoke to us,” and rush away.
    I hope this American senior citizen isn’t to fearsome.

  30. James Pollock July 22, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    If you’re looking for a rule on when it’s OK to interact with children that aren’t yours, you won’t find one. Pretty much anything will have some parents over-react and complain, and you can’t tell in advance which ones they are..

  31. Michelle July 22, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    Oh, and touching. If they don’t want to be touched, they’ll tell you so! And if you don’t respect it, they’ll get help.

    We live in an area with a large Hispanic population, and they don’t seem to have these “no touching children” rules. I’ve had total strangers come pick up my baby. And while I can understand that it’s best to ask first, if your kid is not unusually fragile, lighten up! Babies and kids love to be held, hugged, patted on the back, etc., and it seems so awful to me that we adults take that away from them out of fear.

    (Obviously, if your kid is medically fragile or doesn’t WANT to be touched, that’s understandable.)

  32. SOA July 22, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    This lady comes across a little nuts to me. No, my kids are not public property. They are mine. I have no problem with someone saying “Hi” to them but if my kids look not into you, back off. Don’t start lecturing them on being polite. Not your place.

    If my kid is about to run into the street and I am not paying attention, by all means stop them. But you don’t need to be getting onto them for eating messily.

    Some things are common sense none of your business. Some things are. Its going to be hard to spell every little situation out for you.

    If it is such a big deal for you then just err on the side of minding your own business.

  33. Warren July 22, 2015 at 2:37 pm #


    Just so you know, my girls were always friendly and chatters. I can’t count the number of times they came home and told me about the “old man” or “old lady” they had met, and got to know. Most of the time the story was the same, that the lady or man’s kids and grandkids lived elsewhere, and they missed them.

    It was great having my kids introduce me to their new friends when we came upon them as a family days or sometimes weeks later.

  34. Warren July 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    Forgot to renew your prescriptions again did you? Wow, that is what you took from Kay’s letter?

    Mostly though, you have no right to make those allegations on anyone, as from so many previous posts you are guilty of doing exactly what you don’t want her to do.

    Really sucks when people have a good memory about your stupidity, isn’t it?

  35. Ravana July 22, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    I’m the creepy adult who talks to kids AND usually has a dog to help with the luring. ( LOL ) Not only that, I talk to them like they are adults. I’ve had some parents complain or demand who know who I am, but not many and you’d be amazed how many kids defend me. I have on occasion told a child that he is giving too much information or that, no , he can’t follow me any farther on my walk, which disturbs me a bit because I see it as meaning that the parents have totally failed at the stranger danger training. I was taught that It is okay to talk to strangers within limits and I was a safe, bold child and am now a safe, bold adult. I’ll talk to anyone homeless men in the park or women in fur coats at the opera house. One of my best days while traveling overseas (alone–no fear) was stopping at a random nursing home and asking the residents to tell me about their childhoods.

  36. Anna July 22, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

    “No, my kids are not public property. They are mine. I have no problem with someone saying “Hi” to them but if my kids look not into you, back off. Don’t start lecturing them on being polite. Not your place.”

    No they’re not public property, but neither are they private property. They belong to you in the sense that they’re members of your family, and they belong to the wider human community in that they’re members of it too. Yes, you’re the one primarily responsible for them, but every adult near a child in a public place is also a little bit responsible for them – and as a parent, I’d certainly prefer to live in a community where the other adults feel that way rather than in one where my children are seen as a private hobby or indulgence. I didn’t see anything in this lady’s letter that suggested she was inclined to be invasive or overly bossy.

  37. kate July 22, 2015 at 5:02 pm #

    A lady and her two teenage boys just shocked the shit out of me the other day. Had my one year old sitting in the cart grocery shopping and she just walked by and says “high five” and high-fived him! I was like, ok…. Then both her teenagers did too. High five! High five!

    I was like, “ha ha!” ( on the outside) and ok with it. But on the inside I was like, “omg. That was pretty ballsy of her to touch my kid” I know they’re harmless. I know its in good nature. It was just that I was shocked BC people don’t talk to kids usually. Other than smile at babies. Much less touch them it was unusual. But OK.

  38. kate July 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    I talk to kids and they seem surprised by it. But I always have. And I always feel like someone is going to think I’m a creep. Even with my kid with me. Just talk to the kids! The parents will yell at you if they don’t like it but oh well.

  39. bucks county mom July 22, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    You raise an interesting topic. I, too, have noticed parents who over-parent if that’s the right wording. I think, a little friendly banter with ‘strangers’ should be deemed acceptable, especially if mom and dad are there. Unfortunately, this answer won’t please everyone and that’s a part of the ‘offended-by-everything’ culture in which we live.

  40. Ed vazquez July 22, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

    I feel sort of the same way, the other day, my wife and I were at the register behind a mom with her kids, one who happened to be sitting in her cart. This kid started talking to us, and so we began talking with her, the mother not showing annoyance but, standoffishness started to call her daughter a chatterbox, then whispered something in her ear, after we had spoken with this child for a few minutes. I mean really is the mother so paranoid that we were going to make off with her child, at the grocery store( happened to be an Aldi, in which everyone is visible-they are small)? I wanted so honestly, to let the mother know its not her behavior was obvious and rude, but being the person I relinquished so as not to make a scene. I let it be, but am so disturbed by what parents are teaching their kids. Felt sick to my stomach because my wife nor I just were acknowledging that kids existence.

  41. Steve July 22, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

    The way a person responds to you often says more about the other person’s emotional state than about what you have said or done.

  42. Nicole R. July 22, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    It’s really a shame that people Kay’s age are afraid to talk to children nowadays! Some of my best friends as a kid were elderly neighbors, and I’d hate to think what I would have lost without their influence.

    I always told my son he could TALK to strangers (especially if I was right there with him) – he just could not GO OFF with anyone without my permission. After all, talking to “strangers” is something we do every day – in line at the store, in a restaurant, when calling a business. It’s a necessary skill and, I think, part of good manners.

  43. Rebecca July 22, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    As long as you don’t touch the child, get to close or offer candy or anything without asking the parents first. I believe it’s okay to say little things like “Hi, what’s your name or how old are you etc”

  44. Sydney July 22, 2015 at 7:02 pm #

    Please converse with my children, but please don’t tell them what they should/shouldn’t be doing if I’m standing right there. Unless they’re about to juggle knives and my head is turned. I encourage talking to ‘strangers’, but do my best to impart the importance of NEVER leaving with them.

  45. Diana Green July 22, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    I stopped talking to kids for about 15 years while this country went through a serious and lingering case of anxiety and depression post-9/11. But we seem to have recovered sufficiently that parents are pulling their heads out of the sand and letting the kids have a little freedom. Don’t you notice? People you meet on crowded super market aisles no longer ignore you. They actually look up. Make eye contact. Even Smile!!! “Let a smile be your umbrella…!”

    So I have resumed my ancient habit of engaging children in conversation, waving, smiling. And many actually do engage. I do not ask their parent’s permission. To do so would, I think, dishonor the child, relegate him or her to second class social status, ostracize him in some way, cheat him out of full humanness. I would ask if I could pet a puppy though. But puppies are not socialized toward full human adulthood as people, kids are. Or ideally should be. Because, as was pointed out, we are not raising kids, we are educating emerging adults.

  46. Lihtox July 22, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    Remember that the fear of accusation can be just as overblown as the fear of strangers. Most parents will be just fine with you talking to their children, and if you are willing to risk the few who aren’t, then you will help normalize child-adult interactions again.

  47. Joanne July 22, 2015 at 11:13 pm #

    Some parks have benches near the play areas but if you sit there without a kid, people think you are creepy. I bring a book and pretend not to notice the kids.

    In stores, I often tell kids to behave. Sometimes I encounter them playing on escalators UNSUPERVISED (where’s the police then?) It’s not a jungle gym and they can get hurt and I tell them that and tell them to stop playing on it and in a very firm and angry voice. It scares the kids. If a kid’s jumping up and down on something where they don’t belong, I tell them to stop in a firm and stern voice. Most parents don’t mind and I seem to flummox those who might.

    It used to be fun talking to kids when I encountered them, those who were doing something funny or trying to figure out something in the store to buy or who were watching fish at the pet store, etc. But kids now don’t know how to talk to strangers, to have conversations. They never say a word and walk back to their parents who always answer of them “We like to watch the fish, don’t we”, “We are trying to choose a toy…” etc. Sad.

    And I hate the long explanations given to kids as to why they should or shouldn’t behave in a certain way. Only once did I ever hear a mom at Target say to her kid, when the child, about five years old, pointed at a teenager walking past who had green hair, said about the hair “Look, he has green hair!” She didn’t say “Yes, some people like green hair” or “I wonder how he got it that way”. No, she grabbed the child’s hand and said “Don’t point at people and it’s none of your business why he has green hair.”

  48. Liz July 23, 2015 at 12:43 am #

    I talk to stranger’s kids all the time. The best for me was this winter after my son was born. There was a snow storm coming and the only gallons of water left in Target were on the back of the highest shelf. My driver’s licence says I’m 5′ tall and I’m sticking to that. There was a very tall teenager with his brother a few feet away from me. I asked him if he could reach the water, and he did, even asking “is this the right one?” When he handed it to me, I noticed his t-shirt was from the same high school I went to, so I pointed that out to him and thanked him. His mother walked back over as I was walking away, and I kinda inwardly cringed because I expected some kind of lecture about strangers. Instead, the mom said “I’m really proud of you for helping that lady. Well done.”
    All the encouragement I need! Unless they make it illegal, I’m going to keep talking to stranger’s kids!

  49. sexhysteria July 23, 2015 at 1:35 am #

    I stand up to the hysteria and try to embarrass hysterics. The fear is more in the initial approach rather than any supposed aftermath.

  50. Cassie July 23, 2015 at 7:03 am #

    If you are sitting beside my child on an airplane.. and my child behaves badly, annoys you, etc… Please very politely tell her (and then smile nicely at me so I know that you are judging me).

    We are both probably exhausted, I have probably spent the last few hours getting my child ready, and trying to keep her in line through queues and waiting areas. She has probably had enough of it all (probably wishes she was at home rather than doing all of this).

    Sometimes a stranger can pull a child into line in ways that an exhausted mum can’t after many hours of doing it. That is to say, my daughter is great, but after a long day, or if she is particularly hyped up then she tunes out the familiar voices (mum, dad), but an unfamiliar voice will stop her in her tracks.

    Heck, I would taking crying quietly in my lap because a stranger told her to “stop it” over a long argument about why she should not be doing “it” (whatever it is).

  51. Laura July 23, 2015 at 9:03 am #

    I am a mother of a toddler, and have been following Free Range Kids since long before I became a parent (I’ve worked with kids for years – residential camps, after school programs, preschool, teen programs, etc). My toddler is very social and loves to say hi to almost everyone we pass. I may be in the minority, but it breaks my heart when people ignore him. I understand the fear people have of being attacked by crazy parents, but please – keep saying hi and read the parents response to see if you should continue the interaction! Conversations in the grocery store checkout line, passing people in the park, or sitting next to someone in a restaurant – these things make my toddlers day, and therefore mine! I want him to learn that the world is a (mostly) friendly place and to learn to read situations, to develop good instincts and to have positive interactions with adults!

  52. Joanne July 23, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Also, I do find children from the south to be more social and more polite-yes/no sir, m’am-than children from elsewhere.

  53. Tamara July 23, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    I agree with Warren’s uncharacteristically gentle response too. (And with the not so gentle response to SOA)

    Don’t let the way some parents act affect you if you can. It does seem like everyone is on the lookout for something bad to happen when their kids are out in public with or without parents, it never ends.

    I would be very happy to have you say hello and start up a conversation with my kids! Just be prepared to hear more than you ever wanted to learn about cats and minecraft and pokemon!

    Society certainly wants to keep kids, seniors, and adults separated as much as possible. I think we all need more interaction because then everyone learns from each other.

  54. Jill July 23, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Thinking about airplane etiquette with children reminded me of the 1980 movie Airplane. Back then, kids were allowed in the cockpit, and a little boy named Joey was invited to come up and watch the captain fly the plane.
    The following dialogue ensued:

    Captain: You ever been in a cockpit before?
    Joey: No sir, I’ve never been up in a plane before.

    Captain: You ever seen a grown man naked?

    The naughty captain went on to ask little Joey whether he liked gladiator movies and if he’d ever been in a Turkish prison.

    Those were different times.

  55. Megan July 23, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    Well this is about the saddest thing I’ve read all week. As a mom to two little ones, I like it when strangers engage my kids. My son, who’s 4, is very shy around strangers, probably because he hardly ever gets spoken to by unknown adults. Because of this he’s not very polite and he answers questions so quietly no one can hear him. I like when people talk to him because I feel like that’s good practice for him. I’m pretty socially awkward, myself, so I would like him to feel confidant talking to strangers because I know how it can be to be shy and uncomfortable and I want better for my kids.

    As for misbehaving kids, I would say it’s ok to distract, maybe not so much to scold, unless it’s clear that the parent can’t do it themselves (like if they’re preoccupied with another child or something like that). Every parent has a limit for their kids about which behaviors are ok and which aren’t, and I don’t think strangers should step in if a parent doesn’t think their child is stepping over the line. I say this assuming that a parent would address any really egregious behavior (kicking, hitting, something like that). But tantrumming, for example, is handled differently by different parents. I am in the “ignore it” camp, which may be annoying and uncomfortable for strangers, but for my child it worked the best for calming him as he’s the type to be defiant and fight back when pushed. Again, distraction by a stranger here would be fine, but if someone had told my son to be quiet or stop in the middle of a tantrum I would have been pissed.

    But don’t assume to know about a strange child, either. One time a woman at a children’s museum handed my son something and he was not verbal yet at the time (he was a late talker and didn’t say his first word until he was almost 3), but he did sign “thank you,” and the woman very tersely said “we say ‘thank you’ when someone gives us something.” He looked absolutely crushed and I wanted to punch her in the face (I just let it go). Even if he hadn’t said thank you it was not her job to teach my kid manners, so I found that very annoying.

  56. FRM July 23, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    I’m only 38 and I feel EXACTLY the same way! I find it disrespectful that children refuse to talk to me, but I know that they are just doing what they’ve been taught. I worry all the time that all the things I teach my children to be outgoing and independent may actually backfire somehow and because they don’t conform to this zombie society we’re creating, they will be thrown out of the country or something!

  57. Nicole July 23, 2015 at 2:53 pm #

    “I find it disrespectful that children refuse to talk to me, but I know that they are just doing what they’ve been taught. I worry all the time that all the things I teach my children to be outgoing and independent may actually backfire somehow and because they don’t conform to this zombie society we’re creating, they will be thrown out of the country or something!”

    FRM – my kids may not talk back because they are on the shy side, and take a few minutes to warm up. Please don’t lump us all into the same category. I am trying hard to instill independence, but you can’t really teach “outgoing” – my kids might be tired, or feeling anti-social that day. I have no issue with adults talking to my kids, even touching them or making them uncomfortable when they continue to talk when they get no response, but don’t assume all kids are being rude or have been taught not to talk to strangers.

  58. MichelleB July 23, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    I’ve got two favorite “strangers talking to my kids” stories.

    My daughter, who was probably fifteen at the time, ran into the grocery store after her karate class to pick up a few things for our dinner. An old guy who was working in the produce department noticed her uniform and asked what school she was studying at, then took his box cutter and hacked a piece of cardboard off of the box he was unpacking, dug out a Sharpie, and wrote down the titles of two movies he thought she should watch…and told her they were both streaming on Netflix. It was the first and only time a random old guy has recommended classic Kung Fu movies to her.

    Another time, one of my toddlers was throwing a tantrum and we were beating a hasty retreat from a fast food place. An old guy held the door for us, then got down on his level and told him, in a friendly tone of voice, that he needed to remember which side his bread was buttered on. I’m sure that was more for my benefit than my son’s and it didn’t make any difference to my melting-down toddler, but it made me smile.

    I don’t appreciate it when strangers correct my children. My fourteen-year-old knows that his shoes are untied. My two year old doesn’t need you to count at him in that magical preschool teacher tone of voice when he’s standing quietly in a corner and not facing the birthday boys as they open their presents, especially not when it’s his older sister who was the invited guest. My preschooler can sit quietly holding a pair of safety scissors while she waits for the craft project at this children’s museum to begin.

    I suppose if one of my kids was about to dash into traffic or drink bleach, I’d want someone to step in, but that hasn’t happened yet. Thinking back to the times when it has been appropriate for someone else to correct my kids (because in that instance they were closer and saw something before I did) it hasn’t been total strangers. It’s been someone they at least vaguely knew.

    As for “explaining in immaculate detail” — it’s NONE of your business. I don’t understand why that lady we saw at the library last week was giving her toddler a mini-lecture about stepping back from the elevator doors when they opened because there might be someone inside. She’s teaching her kid manners in a different way than I handled my own. I held my babies and stepped back with them in my arms and by the time they were walking on their own, they knew how getting on and off of elevators worked.

  59. AB July 23, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    I think the burden is largely on parents to address this sort of situation. Children should be taught how and when to appropriately address a (stranger) adult. By teaching our kids to interact with adults as if they (both child and adult) are human, we could go a long way to alleviate this strain on everyday cordiality.

  60. Anna July 23, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

    Michelle and Megan: You give good examples of when strangers are out-of-line intervening, and I agree (particularly as I also have a tantrum-prone son and I haven’t figured out any better strategy in public than ignoring it and trying to remove him as swiftly as I can), but I still think there can be situations where a stranger can be helpful in conveying to our kids that they are expected to behave. I think it has to be done with a very light touch, and it’s probably best coming from a senior – you know, something like “You can’t treat your mother like that, son.” Coming from an old geezer when my son is having a public tantrum, I would find that helpful rather than offensive. I think it needs to be done with just the right combination of detachment and benevolence, and without communicating judgment on the parent – the line between nosy and supportive is a fine line.

  61. Jason July 23, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    Unfortunately, “talk to my kids, but follow my specific rules” translates into “don’t bother talking to my kids, because you’ll probably do it wrong.”

    And, if I assume that a 14 y.o. knows that his shoelaces are untied, should I also assume that a 16 y.o. knows that she has a flat tire?

  62. SOA July 23, 2015 at 10:43 pm #

    Another reason kids may not be so keen to talk to you that has nothing to with stranger danger-autism or other special needs. My son did not talk till he was three and a half. So yeah you may think a three year old is being rude to not talk to you, but he does not talk at all.
    That is why I say speak to kids but if they don’t speak back, move on. You don’t know the situation.

  63. SanityAnyone? July 24, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

    I’d say the same to adults as to children. Talk to children but don’t lead them off anywhere (and probably don’t offer unknown kids food) . Some people will be suspicious but tough cookies. Let’s not feed this monster by giving it official status.

  64. Cassandra July 24, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

    I have 2 kids ages 5 and 6. I think an older person should be nice, preferably friendly like they would be with their own grandchildren. With one exception, you may not yell at or hit a child, leave discipline to parents. Beyond that I think it’s good for kids to learn to interact with other adults of all ages. My kids treat all of our older neighbors as grandparents and I think that’s great.

  65. Retail Guy July 25, 2015 at 12:45 am #

    “Also, I do find children from the south to be more social and more polite-yes/no sir, m’am-than children from elsewhere.”
    @Joanne, I live in Alabama, and I can confirm your belief. It would be pretty rare, where I live, for a parent to say anything negative, ESPECIALLY to a grandmother (or just older person), if the elder was talking to their kids. Respect and gentility is still pretty important here (contrary to what popular culture and the media may have you believe), so you would generally be looked down upon as “trashy” or a non-Southerner (which, in Alabama, has a negative connotation. haha!) if you scolded someone publicly for such a minor “offense”. I’m a 40 year-old, white male, with two kids, and I talk to kids (especially at work) all the time. Maybe it’s my confident, jovial manner, but no one has ever said anything to ME about not talking to their kids. But I definitely also come across a lot of kids who seem confused when I’m talking directly to them, and not through their parents. But I also get a lot of kids, even as young as 4-ish, who come to ask me questions, mostly at the behest of their parents. On the original subject, though, I agree with the general consensus, which is to just interact with kids however you want. If you get one or two rude people who say something, who cares? If that’s the worst thing that happens to you that day, you still live a pretty charmed life.

  66. Alex July 25, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

    About a year ago I bought a new phone and was walking home when a couple 13-year-olds saw the AT&T bag and phone case at an intersection and one of them asked me “Can I sell your phone?”. It’s a ridiculous question both because of course I’m not going to give him my new phone and also why did he say the word “sell” instead of “have”, “steal”, or “buy”? We conversed for a minute and I joked that he could have my phone IF he pays me $100 more than I just paid for it. Of course he couldn’t do that, but I figured I’d counter his ridiculousness with my own.

    It hit me when I got home that even though there’s no way I was giving my new phone, I didn’t have any clue what to do with my old phone. And had he asked me for that old one, there’s a 10% chance I would’ve let him have it (at least after I transferred all my data to the new phone).

    Roughly a week later I was walking through the mall and the kids saw me and started talking again. I told him about how he should’ve asked for my old phone but by this time I’d already shipped my old phone to a friend (an adult, fwiw) who I learned had never had a smartphone before. As one would expect, the kid was surprised and disappointed that he missed the chance to get a free smartphone.

    At the time I was heading to Starbucks to get a frappuccino, and I was in a giving mood, so I decided to be nice and offer to buy them both a frappuccino. Immediately I started thinking “oh, great, I wonder how many people around are going to think this looks creepy”, but I followed that up with the thought “I can’t let paranoid society stop me from doing nice things.” They accepted the offer, we walked over to Starbucks (just 20 meters away, still inside the mall, and lots of people were in the mall), I bought them the fraps, and then I parted ways. I was nervous the whole time that some person would sic the mall cops on me for having the gall to be nice to these unrelated kids, but luckily that did not happen. The closest thing was an older teen who I guess knew them and approached and asked “Do you even know this guy?”

    I hope I taught them that strangers can be nice without abducting them, but I’m not keen on doing nice things for other kids in the future. I’ve done my one nice thing to combat stranger danger paranoia. I don’t talk to kids unless they talk to me (actually, I don’t often talk to adults unless they talk to me either), and luckily most kids (and adults) simply ignore me. But when a kid (or adult) does talk to me, I’m going to reply; I’d be an *** if I ignored them.

  67. denise July 26, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    My position has always been that you can tell your kids not to talk to me if that’s what you want, but you can’t tell me who I can or can’t talk to.

    I was warned that I could be sued if I tried to verbally discipline someone’s child. I can’t imagine on what grounds, but I’m no lawyer. Can this be true?

  68. James Pollock July 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    “I was warned that I could be sued if I tried to verbally discipline someone’s child. I can’t imagine on what grounds, but I’m no lawyer. Can this be true?”

    Well, it’s true in the sense that anyone an file a lawsuit against anyone for anything.

    Actually winning a lawsuit requires stating a claim for which legal redress is available.
    So, no, it isn’t true.