Guest Post: Stranger Danger Stupidity

Hi Readers — I think a lot of us have been in “stranger danger” situations like the one described by Renee Jacobson, a teacher for 20 years, below. Her blog is called “Lessons assakrteyd
from Teachers and Twits,”
and it’s a twit that she learned this particular lesson from. — Lenore

HEY LADY: I AM NOT A CREEP! by Renée Schuls-Jacobson

I was in the epicenter of suburbia, standing in a Target store, holding up two bathing suits, and feeling a little indecisive. A little blond-haired girl who couldn’t have been more than three stood in her bright red cart while her mother, standing an arm’s length away, sifted furiously through a rack of summer shorts.

“I like the pink one with the flowers,” the girl offered, unsolicited. “It’s pretty.”

“I like that one, too . . .” I said. “But I think I’m going to get the black one.”

Suddenly, the little girl’s mother swooped in, a deranged lioness. “We don’t talk to strangers!” she shouted loud enough for not only her daughter to hear, but for everyone in the entire department. Clearly, the message was more for me than for anyone else. Then she pushed the cart (and her little girl) far, far away from (dangerous) me.

Heaven forbid, her daughter and I might have got to talking about shoes.

Okay, I get that there is this weird, American fear about strangers. I don’t seem to have that fear, but I know a lot of people do. That said, 99.99% of the world is composed of strangers, so I have always been of the mindset that one of my many jobs as a mother includes teaching my child about how to respond appropriately to strangers because – let’s face it – sometimes, a person needs to rely on other people.

At age 10, my son doesn’t have a cell phone. He can’t call me or text me for immediate rescue. So if, for example, we happen to get separated at the grocery store and he really can’t find me after searching the aisles for a few minutes, he has learned to go to Customer Service and calmly state that his mother has gotten lost (ha!) and ask for me to be paged. Or, if we are at an outdoor venue, I have taught him to find a mother and ask her – this stranger – to call me.

He knows not to get into a car with someone he doesn’t know. He knows not accept anything from anyone offering him candy or kittens or balloons or free iPods. He knows not to go anywhere with a stranger asking for help. He’s known these things since he was small, and he’s actually had to put some of them into practice. I guess I’d rather have my kid feel he can trust other human beings.

So, really, what did the mother in Target succeed in teaching her daughter by sweeping her away from me so violently? That people are terrifying. That no one can be trusted. That the world is a scary place, and that her daughter is utterly unequipped to function in it. She taught her daughter not to speak. That even casual conversation is dangerous.

In short: That mother didn’t teach her daughter a thing about safety. She taught her daughter about fear. And as far as I’m concerned, she also taught her daughter a big lesson in how to be downright rude. –Renee Jacobson

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83 Responses to Guest Post: Stranger Danger Stupidity

  1. Teresa July 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Our society is raising a generation of socially inept kids. They don’t understand how to speak to unknown adults properly because they have only been told “don’t talk to strangers.” My daughter has guidelines about what info we share with people we don’t know, with people we do know socially, and with family. Does she mix them up sometimes? Sure, and we laugh it off (or apologize) and go on.

  2. Brenda July 16, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    Oh for the love. . . that mother makes me want to rip hair out of my own head. It is continually infuriating when all people are considered dangerous until proven otherwise. What harm was there in your little exchange. You were not tempting or even starting this exchange. In fact, from what I can tell this was an entirely pleasant and appropriate experience. All I can figure is that mom felt guilty because she wasn’t paying attention and had no idea what was really going on. (hopefully, if not then wow, she is hardcore)

  3. Karen July 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Renee, I love what you said.
    I adopted my daughter in Kazakhstan. There, as in China, babies are considered to be wonderful. When you go in a store, everyone gushes. Old folks want to hold your kid. On the long flight back, we were treated as royalty. We boarded first, had the attendant come to us and offer to make up something for my baby. We had attendants helping me with the baby while I dismantled my many pockets in security. When we got to Chicago, it was completely different. No one would help me, I set the baby down on the end of the security belt while I disrobed. They screamed at me. The baby was screaming. I was crying.
    Then when we got home, same as Renee said. You notice someone’s baby and they give you a dirty look and move away. Hey, I got my own. I don’t want to steal yours.
    We are taught not to trust. But, the only way humans societies have evolved is because we worked together and trusted in each other. And, like Renee said, someday my child might have to rely on a stranger to get herself out of a situation – perhaps with a bad stranger. The answer is not to lock her in and watch her like a prisoner, but to arm her with the tools she needs and one of those tools should be communication. Ultimately, people who are successful are those who can communicate well with others, including strangers.

  4. Samantha July 16, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    So beautifully put, Renee.

  5. Jessi July 16, 2010 at 9:32 pm #

    Well if this isn’t the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. Not the article. The incident. As a new(ish) mom to the cutest-ever one-ear-old boy I get stopped in stores ALL THE TIME. Mostly by moms with kids or by older grandparent-aged couples. People love babies. They want to gush over them and pinch their cheeks and make them smile. I always encourage this. If someone wants to talk to my little guy I will stop and let them and make small talk myself. As he gets older I will still encourage this. 99.9% of the time the person who wants to talk to your kid is just a nice person. Not a creep or someone to worry about. And as he gets older I will teach him the things mentioned in this article. How to be safe with strangers. I want to instill confidence in my child. Not fear!

  6. Kelly July 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    Safety issues aside, how many wonderful experiences will this child miss out on? Talking to people we don’t really know and getting to hear their stories or their silly jokes is fun and educational and downright mannerly. I enjoy watching my daughter puzzle out the strange world of other adults. I am raising a child that I hope to hang out with when she is an adult. I don’t want her to be a rude, fearful, awkward shut-in.

  7. Farrar July 16, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    Well put. I often think that when we teach kids that ALL strangers are dangerous, it hurts their ability to distinguish between different sorts of people. Like, if my kids are lost, I would want them to be able to size up a the crowd and then go ask a parent or a person who works there or a police officer, etc. for help and not the drunk guys on our corner. Why must we try to teach everything so black and white?

  8. Peter Orvetti July 16, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    We were at a hotel swimming pool last summer, and the only other people there were a mom and her two sons, maybe six and four. The four-year-old asked me something, so I replied, and then he found a ball, so I tossed it to him a couple of times. The mom kept looking at me funny, took the ball from her son, and tried to distract him. My wife said something friendly about how I just like kids, and this woman said, “He’s got his own kids to look after.”

    Now, I know people are wary of guys in their 30s who talk to little kids — which is sad — but I was there with my wife and my own five-year-old sons! What possible risk was there? Would she rather me just ignore her son when he asked me a question? I still puzzle over that incident.

  9. dmd July 16, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    This article makes me SO glad I live in New Orleans. I’m not saying that people here haven’t gotten gripped by the irrational fear of kids being snatched around every corner. But, it’s almost clinically impossible for a New Orleanian to not talk to a stranger. Most of us anyhow. Chatting in line, talking in the aisles, even in the parking lot, it’s just the social nature of this wonderful city. When we were evacuated, I’d try to chat up people in lines in stores and many times people just turned away and ignored me. It was like they were thinking: Who is this strange person talking to me (and these were adults). Stranger Danger: It’s not just for kids anymore! Thankfully, my son sees that we talk to everyone – even (maybe even especially) the homeless.

  10. Aaron Helton July 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    I couldn’t stop my kids from talking to strangers if I tried. I actually encourage them to do so, because, as Renee stated, the vast majority of the world is populated by people we don’t know, and sometimes you need to rely on these people to accomplish even small things. Sometimes my kids spend more time talking to adults at the playground than actually playing. I actually feel like sometimes they might be annoying to other adults, so I try to get them to go play instead (without the stranger danger nonsense.) That said, my kids DO know not to go off with anyone.

  11. Carrie July 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Is this a Target thing? I was in our local Target last week and I was coming out there was a boy and his mom walking up the sidewalk and he was twirling while he walked. I smiled at him because it was cute and his mom glared at me and hustled into the store.

    On the other hand, I’m the mom that tries to convince my kids to not talk to (or as in the case above in the pool, play with strangers). But it isn’t about stranger danger. My daughter will talk to anyone about anything and getting her to stop talking takes a minor miracle. I don’t mind chatting with her but the waitress at the restaurant or the guy at the mall probably couldn’t care less about her flower hair clips or the entire contents of her fuzzy pink purse (dumped and itemized, including where she got each item). I love her and sometimes even I can’t bring myself to care about her topic of choice. I can only imagine how little strangers care about it.

    My son likes to join games (probably because his mom is “lazy” and doesn’t play with him all the time like other parents) between kids and their parents. I generally distract him because I figure these parents are playing with THEIR kids, not all the kids at the pool. Personally, if I’m playing a game and some other kid comes up and wants to play, I suggest he takes my place while I sit and read my book. Most parents don’t seem to feel that way about other kids playing and I end up getting dirty looks from the parents because I’m NOT playing with my kid while they are having to play with theirs.

    So mostly it boils down to my own guilt. I feel bad that my daughter might be annoying and that I don’t play with the kids so they play with other adults (seriously, why do kids want adult playmates so much? Isn’t it more fun to play with people closer to your age?)

  12. SKL July 16, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    I wonder if this woman realizes that to almost every child on earth, SHE is the horrific stranger. I hope she knows better than to EVER talk to a child other than her own.

    Yesterday a little boy saw me pushing my daughters on the swings, and he asked me to push him, too. After looking around to see if there was a disapproving parent standing nearby, I obliged. Finally his mom called him from halfway to the parking lot – I guess he was AWOL and she was not happy about it. Oh, well! I’ve had other kids ask me to lift them up to reach something, etc., and I generally oblige if it seems to be a safe choice. I don’t think it’s a crime to be nice to someone else’s child, yet.

    I would hope that if my daughters needed to contact a “stranger” for any reason, they would get the help they needed. So I don’t tell them “don’t talk to strangers.” (And even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t do it so rudely.)

  13. Gareth July 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Fear of Strangers isn’t particularly helpful for a child. I think the all-or-nothing approach might actually create _more_ danger for children. Most abuse is from someone you know, not a stranger. Instead of considering people to fall into just two groups – people you don’t know, whom you should never get near; and people who are not strangers and whom you should trust implicitly – kids should be able to interpret and respond to a whole range of behavior from people at many different levels of distance. Go ahead and talk to strangers. Just remember they are strangers. Don’t go anywhere with them, and be polite.

    Besides the Great Stranger Danger, part of it is cultural. I was struck, when I lived in Brazil, at how everybody talks to everybody all the time. Even in elevators. It’s just something you do. But talking to people you see at the bar or on the beach doesn’t mean they suddenly become your friends or you invite them over. There are limits. Each situation has its own limits.

    Strangers are, by and large, the people in your community. They will mostly be helpful to you. This is how you will find out where the good playgrounds are and who is an honest mechanic.

    Part of growing up should be learning how to recognize and set limits for yourself in different social situations. I want my son to be able to talk to anybody. And he frequently does.

  14. Tara July 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    I am reminded of an incident where stranger danger training paid off for me just this summer. A group of moms and their kids all met at a big outdoor park/reserve. The three oldest boys (two of them mine, one of them a friend’s son) decided to go off exploring. The other mom and I noticed that we hadn’t seen our sons for a while and started looking. When we couldn’t find them I grabbed a cell phone and headed off down a trail. The lone dad in the group started off down another area. He found the boys first. None of the boys knew that dad. My oldest son gave him the third degree before any of them went with them. I was so proud of him that he didn’t just walk off with a man who said, “you’re lost and your mom wanted me to find you”.

  15. pebblekeeper July 16, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    Well Put! I like your last part – It is not only teaching fear – but rudeness. I have been reading a few 1700/1800 set novels and even when running by someone on the street they have to have the common courtesy exchange of hellos and such. It makes me stop and think how rude we have become to pretend like we see no one when standing in the line at Target and such. Going to think about this a bit more. . . .

  16. KateNonymous July 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    I have a three-month-old baby, and EVERYONE comes up to talk to her and me. Who knew I could be this popular? And it’s kids as well as adults. I recently ran into a little girl in a checkout line who wanted to know all about the baby, and what her name was, and how old she is–and then invited the two of us to her birthday party several months from now.

    At that point her mother came up and corralled her, with an expression that said, “Oh, for heaven’s sakes, who is she inviting over now?” But she looked relieved when she saw me and my expression, and heard me say, “That’s a very nice invitation, and I hope you have a happy birthday when it gets here.” But I did not get the sense that her mother was afraid of me, or wanted her to be afraid of me. Instead, we could just look at each other and think, “Kids and their birthday parties!”

  17. Kim July 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    @Carrie – I totally can relate to your post. I’m shy by nature, but my 6-year-old daughter is very outgoing and would talk the ears off anyone who will listen. She also likes to “butt” into games being played with other kids and their parents. I find it difficult to balance allowing her to do this and distracting her so she isn’t bothering these people. When other people’s kids want me to push them on the swing or throw diving toys in the pool for them, I oblige, and a lot of times I see the same reaction by other parents trying to corral their kids back in. I wish we as parents were better at communicating with each other rather than trying to guess at each others’ intentions all the time. For example, when the mother in an above post by Peter, commented “he has his own kids to look after”, she may have meant that she didn’t want her kids to bother him while he was trying to play with his kids, not that she thought he was doing anything inappropriate. It’s especially hard for me when it seems like most of the other families around know each other and I’m the outsider. Like you, my problems revolve more around me and my personality than my daughter’s. I’m the one who needs to learn to not be afraid to talk to strangers!

  18. Eric July 16, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    Not only does that kind of behavior teach children rudeness, fear of people, fear of the world, it tells them that being anti-social is the norm. Making them more and more insecure as they grow older. This changes the child’s life and not for the better.

    At the same time, I bet you when THE MOTHER feels comfortable, she probably makes her child play with other kids. How confusing is this for the child? Does she talk to strangers or doesn’t she. Worse yet, only people her parents say is ok are the one’s she should trust. 1. She doesn’t learn to assess people on her own, constantly relying on the parents. 2. Most assaults on children are from people they already know, not strangers. So basically this mother is setting up her child to trust a person who can potentially cause her harm.

    A well educated and brought up child, will know something is wrong whether they know the person or not. It’s like I’ve always said, children are suffering from the selfishness and paranoias of their parents. Deep down it’s not really about the child, it’s about making the parents feel better about THEMESELVES. Probably because they grew up the same way. It’s a bad cycle. No different from physical, alcohol, drug, emotional and mental abuse.

  19. Nanci July 16, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    This is so true, and so sad. I want my kids to talk to people and learn how to interact with others of all different age ranges. Kids have the ability to know when someone is “off” just like we do. I will gladly talk to many people in lines, in waiting rooms etc. Sometimes you run across a person who just doesn’t seem exactly right to you, they make you a bit uncomfortable. I talk as little as possible with them and then find somewhere else to go. Kids can do the same thing. One day at the store there was a man in front of us in line. He kept talking to the kids in a kind of overly friendly yet strange way. I noticed that my normally talkative kids were giving him 1 word answers and not engaging in a typical conversation the way they normally do. After he left both my kids said that they thought he was odd and they both said that they were suspicious of him. They are only 8 and 6 and they can tell who is acting normal and who may be up to no good. I have no idea if the guy was really a creep or just drunk but my kids instinctively knew to keep their distance from him. That makes me confident that they can go places on their own, and be trusted to make good decisions.

  20. Teacher Tom July 16, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    Nicely written, and I agree with Gareth’s comment entirely.

    It’s time to put the fear-mongering slogan “stranger danger” into the ashcan of history, along with “The red menace,” and “reefer madness.”

    It means nothing to young children and leaves them confused and afraid toward no good end. They see their parents talking to strangers all day long (cashiers, neighbors, repairmen, letter carriers). Are they strangers? Are they dangerous?

    As Gareth said, the overwhelming number of predators are people you already know! The odds of a stranger hurting your child is so incredibly tiny it’s hardly worth noting.

  21. Lucy July 16, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    @Carrie @Kim – My daughters will also talk the ear off of strangers and they don’t always have the best sense of propriety, LOL So if I’m discouraging them from engaging strangers in conversation it’s usually because I don’t want them to bother other people who are just trying to go about their business. It depends on the circumstances too. It’s one thing to strike up a conversation with the people in the long line next to you at the theme park, or sitting on the same bench waiting at the restaurant, and another to try to monopolize the attention of a stranger shopping in a store who you don’t know might just be in a real hurry.

    Propriety is part of their social education.

  22. Lucy July 16, 2010 at 11:57 pm #

    I might add if the kids want something from a stranger, like the free samples or a sticker from the cashier at the grocery store, they have to ask for it themselves. (And they’d best remember to say ‘thank you’ if they want the privilege of asking next time).

  23. Becca July 17, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    this mom wouldn’t like me at all I often find my daughter sitting on the bench talking to some adult some times even an older gentleman rather than playing with friends at the playground. She is learning her lessons now with me close by but not intervening if she ever took something or started to leave I would step in but she hasn’t.

  24. Cynthia July 17, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    @SKL- I am always incredibly grateful for people who will push my kids in swings along with my own kids (it’s happened several times, so I guess it’s normal here). Aside from the fact that it’s one of my least favorite things to do, my three kids are close in age, so I’m usually either pregnant or hauling a non-walker around. Thanks for helping out, I hope those around you appreciate it, too.

  25. Cynthia July 17, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    The funniest (saddest) story that happened to me was when my son approached an older teenager on the playground and started talking to her. I was probably 50 feet away, and I heard her say “you shouldn’t talk to me, I’m a stranger”. Then she looked over to me and said “you’re son’s talking to me!”. I just said “he’s fine”, but she told him a couple more times that she was a stranger. Note, she was saying this in a fear mongering way, not a “get off my back, kid” kind of way. Just sad.

  26. Stephanie - Home with the Kids July 17, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    I would love to see “stranger danger” teachings make way for a more balanced “what to look out for” approach. It’s much more realistic to teach kids how to look out for and react to problems, especially that it’s always okay to tell your parents or another if anything does happen.

    My oldest daughter will talk talk to anyone most days. My son would pretty much rather not talk to anyone, but we’re working on getting him to talk to appropriate strangers, such as cashiers. It’s a challenge getting them to balance what I teach them with the stranger danger lessons they get from pretty much everywhere else.

    I’ve talked to them about who to talk to if they get lost, such as employees of wherever we are, police officers and other parents, and it seems to work, as even my quiet son managed to get help the time he got separated from my mother and his big sister at the museum.

  27. Anthony Hernandez July 17, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    Land of the free and the home of the brave, my tuchus!

  28. Tanya Sharkey July 17, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    I’m also in the mindset like some above that it’s better to have them talk to appropriate strangers now while they have me and my husband around to monitor and observe and educate so that they will hopefully make the right choices when we’re not around later. I think the above story is so sad, so many bad things happen when you’re always on guard like this mother and to know that her daughter is learning how not to trust as well. I hope we can begin to turn the around as a society.

  29. Dot Khan July 17, 2010 at 1:19 am #

    There is the all too common belief that if one doesn’t know someone, that the individual must be on a list of dangerous people. (Funny, we don’t have a list of safe people.) Often there is the mistaken belief that everyone on the offender registry is a PREDATOR and not merely an OFFENDER, so they assume strangers are to be feared. The offender registry got so massive by not making the distinction between teenager sex and someone that is dangerous. A fear based on some grossly inaccurate stereotype of the worst aspects of a segment of the population goes for other lists. Many people including 4 year olds and members of Congress have mistakenly been placed on the no-fly watch list.

    When stating that it is insulting to be viewed as a threat by parents just because one is a male, the remark given was that I now know what many minorities have gone though. (Does that justification ever make it right?) We’ve moved away from negative racial, ethnic and group stereotypes enough to judge others worthy of being our leaders but some have just replaced them with other sets of strangers.

  30. EdnaKay July 17, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    One of my favorite things about Edna Jr. is watching some stranger’s face light up when she smiles at them, or now that she’s two, waves and says “HIIIIIIIII!!!!!” (we’re working on a “quiet” voice).

  31. sue July 17, 2010 at 1:30 am #

    @ Stephanie-Home with the KIds…your post makes a lot of sense.

    Here in Germany kids learn to interact with strangers from an early age. From these interactions they learn that most people are good. For example, I think that every German woman over 60 carries a stash of candy in her purse to offer to preschoolers. At the bakery or butcher shop, the employees offer kids a little treat. People here would be considered rude if they didn’t accept candy from the grandmotherly lady or treats from the butcher or baker. We also teach kids the difference between good and bad strangers and what to do when they are in an uncomfortable situation (run, scream, make a scene, go into a nearby shop, find another adult to help them). Kids here also know only to accept rides from people they know.

    I’ve had to rely on strangers to watch my son in public bathrooms when I’ve been out alone with him and nature called. When he was around 5, he refused to go into women’s bathrooms anymore. I would either find a man with a child or a grandfatherly-looking man to keep an eye on my son to make sure that he could reach the soap or to help him with the sink faucets. Every man that I asked to watch my son in the bathroom was happy to help.

    Both at home and at school kids learn about finding an adult if they need help with something. This lesson came in handy a few days ago. My son (age 11) rode his bike to the grocery store alone to get an item that he really wanted. On the way to the store the chain slipped off of the bike’s gears due to an abrupt gear change. My son approached a man who was going in his direction and asked for help in fixing his bike. The man helped my son with the bike, and chatted with my son as he fixed the chain. Then they went their separate ways. It turned out that the man owns a bike shop in town and his granddaughter goes to my son’s school and is in his grade. If my son was brought up to fear other adults, then he would have had to walk his bike to the store and back in hot, humid weather.

  32. Nok July 17, 2010 at 2:05 am #

    To be honest I am guilty of using “Do not talk to strangers… EVER” line to my son on the Autistic Spectrum, but mostly because I do not want him bothering people while they shop. I never know what is going to come out of his mouth and since he looks “normal”, and is verbal they will not realize something is different and could take it the wrong way.

  33. dahlia July 17, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    i’m always kind of surprised at some of the experiences people here report. when my daughter was a baby, strangers flirted with her in stores and such all the time, and i always smile at babies. usually people like to see other people admiring their babies, i know i did.

    i do run interference when my daughter starts chatting up strangers, not because i worry about the person, but because like someone else said, i’m afraid that she’s annoying people with her chattiness.

    which, now that i think on it, is another symptom of the weird attitude we have towards our children … i suspect in other places, people don’t assume their children are annoying other adults, because adults do not find children annoying. in this culture, we do. we like our own kids if we have them, but we don’t particularly want to deal with other people’s kids, and if you don’t have kids, then the assumption is that you don’t like them either.

    i’ve noticed this in american culture these last couple decades … on one hand, we make a BIG deal out of family values, family friendly, familyfamilyfamily, but in real terms, our policies are not encouraging to families, our cultural attitudes are subtly anti-family, education and kids programs are always the first to get cuts, etc. it’s very schizophrenic and it makes parenting far more confusing and exhausting than it needs to be. or that it used to be, i suspect.

  34. Tracey P. July 17, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    This reminds me of a horrifying experience I had at the subway last year. There were only a handful of people on the platform, including a mom, dad, infant and a girl of about 5. The girl was running around and accidentally knocked over my bag. She apologized and I told her it was okay.

    The mother called her over and told hr not to talk to strangers. She told her the a stranger will take her back to their house, pull out her fingernails, make her eat kittens and then do dirty things to her. Then the mother told her that she and daddy wouldn’t care what if she was missing because she was being bad.

    I was horrified. I wanted to intervene but couldn’t think of anything to say. The woman then refused to let her daughter sit beside them on the subway since she liked strangers so much and kept telling her that mommy wasn’t speaking to her. The poor child was falling over herself trying to appease her mom.

    Who speaks to a child like that? It wasn’t even instilling fear, it was mental abuse.

  35. Elissa July 17, 2010 at 3:48 am #

    I used to work at a retail store and had a similar experience one day while on the job (I was in my work uniform and stocking the shelves – I obviously worked there). A young girl (around three or four) and her dad came down my aisle. The little girl struck up a conversation with me and before I could even respond, the father grabbed the girls arm and practically shouted at her not to talk to strangers because, and I quote, “they might kill you”. Wow. I was speechless. It’s bad enough to make your kids fear random strangers, but instilling that fear about store employees is a whole new level of crazy paranoia.

  36. Dot Khan July 17, 2010 at 3:52 am #

    @Nok I was undiagnosed with a mild form of the Autistic Spectrum for almost 50 years, so I experience the other side of it. Although I didn’t hang out around with a lot of friends, I’ve always struck up conversations with anyone, not being overly concerned about how one might be taken. Not being able to read a disapproving look on another person’s face is an advantage in that your own smile may start to win them over without their bad mood influencing you. A later in life health condition just exaggerated the Autism and resulted in facial palsy which has erased the smile so other’s think I’m also unhappy.
    What’s so maddening about stranger danger is the possibility that I may be the one at a greater risk when trying to interact with others.

  37. Big Mac July 17, 2010 at 4:47 am #

    Wanted to share this with y’all (I am not the asker, but I saw this question and thought it was relevent.;_ylt=Aokkw_7pOVCvMTo2ifrkTXC0DH1G;_ylv=3?qid=20100716125256AA1tEdH
    A stranger helped the girl in a situation that might have actually been dangerous (he said there had been recent rapes in that neighborhood) and yet was automatically assumed to have nefarious designs on the girl.

  38. Steve July 17, 2010 at 5:41 am #

    Isn’t it time for somebody to write a comedy movie script called “Stranger Danger?”

    It would be about the truth about stranger danger and involve several families, perhaps next door neighbors on the same cul-de-sac in suburbia, who have drastically different parenting beliefs. A couple families ( the best of friends) agree that helicopter parenting only makes Good Sense. Others are Free-Range, permitting their kids freedoms that drive the Helicopter’s batty.

    Think of all the scenarios for this movie already posted here on Lenore’s blog. ( Lenore, do you have one in the works, yet?)

    The script would have many suspense-filled moments, but also many hilarious antics, and twists and turns in the plot.

    Or… maybe it should just be “Free Range Kids, The Movie” and contain all sorts of lunacy we talk about here.

  39. Mika July 17, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    While we are on it -anyone know of a good book or video that can help teach smart saftey tips like not go off with strangers or to be wary of strangers asking for help!

    PS my kids are always striking up conversations with strangers – the love it and the folks that they talk to love it too!

  40. Nok July 17, 2010 at 6:30 am #

    @Dot Khan If only it were as easy as he is just interfering with shopping! The “experts” say that children on the spectrum are not prone to dishonesty, but for some reason it does not stop my child from trying.

    I’ve seen him ask complete strangers for money/toys/candy/ice cream, He has told people at school before that his Step-Father chokes him out and takes all of his stuff for no reason, and that he takes Steroids. *sigh* Some days I wish I could just have him hermetically sealed up for later when I have more energy.

  41. Uly July 17, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    Who speaks to a child like that? It wasn’t even instilling fear, it was mental abuse.

    Tracey, that is horrific. That is… wow. I’m not sure what you could’ve said or done that would not have escalated the situation, though. That poor girl!

    The funniest (saddest) story that happened to me was when my son approached an older teenager on the playground and started talking to her. I was probably 50 feet away, and I heard her say “you shouldn’t talk to me, I’m a stranger”.

    Teenagers can be like that, moreso than adults (who are more likely to make nasty comments behind your back and hope you overhear them). I once had a kid come up and try to tell me *shock* that my nieces were sitting on the FLOOR. After a few minutes of this I gave up and told her flat out that in another 7 years, when she was a grown-up, she’d see it wasn’t such a big deal after all, but at this moment I’m not in the business of taking advice from kids.

  42. Margo N July 17, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    I work in child protection, have dealt a lot with the consequences of child abuse, including sexual abuse, and with almost all of my families I do a session for parents on how to teach their kids TO talk to strangers. As others have written, if my kid gets lost or is in danger when I am not around, she may need the assistance of a stranger to get out of trouble. So, I teach her how to pick a stranger to ask for help. Also, we can tell our kids never to talk to a stranger, but then we do it all the time – so they learn never to talk to a stranger unless they work at a store, or look like they are nice or whatever. Kids end up thinking that only scary looking people are strangers – and we know that most adults who pose an actual risk to children aren’t scary looking at all…

    What children need to be wary of is strange BEHAVIOR, not strangers – so an unfamiliar adult asking a kid for assistance = strange behavior, an unfamiliar adult offering a kid a ride = strange behavior, an adult telling a kid to keep a secret from their parents = strange behavior, etc – strange whether it is a family friend, or somebody unknown, strange whether the person looks scary or friendly, etc.

  43. This girl loves to Talk July 17, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    myabe it is an embarrassment thing. We get embarrassed when our kids talk full tilt at other adults. We assume it is ANNOYING to the other adult. Yet as we see from the comments these people feel badly that we think they are predators or dangerous.

    I think we can all learn to let kids chat, if the adult is annoyed they will say ‘ive got to go, see you etc”
    I know my kids embarrass me alot!

    Also I have seen from so many comments on this blog the amount of people who had the police called on them (or their kid) which I think is unheard of where I live. Maybe people are worried if they ‘dont seem attentive’ to their children people will think THEY are a bad parent.

  44. SKL July 17, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    Regarding kid’s ability to tell who’s normal and who’s not. My daughter is 3 and we went to an outdoor concert. A cluster of adults whom I recognized as mentally challenged was there, enjoying the music. One in particular kept walking around and around, waving his hands and not making eye contact or otherwise interacting. My daughter was nearby in the “dancing area” and she kept watching him suspiciously. She made it a point to keep some distance as she went about her own business. Had I been there, she probably would have asked me what was up with him. (Others were also dancing, but she picked out this guy, I think because he acted unaware of the people around him and his movements were repetitive.)

    So it seems clear to me that even at age 3, kids can tell someone’s behavior is a little off, and be wary. So we can teach even young kids not only to respect everyone regardless of differences, but also to check in with a trusted adult if they get an uncomfortable feeling about someone (stranger or otherwise).

  45. SKL July 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Oh and Cynthia, I hate pushing my kids on the swings, too! It is so boring. I limit it to 3 pushes per kid per day. (Or nowadays, underducks.) Not only does that save me from wanting to die from boredom and inactivity, but it gives my kids an incentive to do something less passive.

  46. nicky July 17, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Like another poster, I often encourage my very outgoing and sociable 6 year old son NOT to talk strangers because he will talk and talk to anyone who will pay him the slightest attention and I don’t want him to bore them. I’ve never told him strangers were dangerous, just that it’s not really polite to talk at people you don’t know. But it seems he has learned stranger danger elsewhere – either at school or from other children.

    His school is 2.5km from our home. It’s too far to walk each day so I drive him and, until recently, would walk him to the door of his class room, like most of the other mums. In the interests of fostering some independence and increasing his confidence I’ve started leaving him at the gate and asking him to take himself to class. The other day I was fortunate enough to park about 20 metres from the front gate, so I asked him to walk himself in from the car. I was gobsmacked when he said he was frightened!

    There was absolutely nil stranger danger likely. The street was filled with other parents and children going into the school and he had very little distance to go before he would be well within the school grounds.

    I eventually convinced him that I would stand and watch him until he went in the door and so he took off running as if the devil were after him, all the way down the street and until he got to his classroom. At the end of the day when we were talking about it he said, “I was very lucky there were no strangers!”

    Needless to say, I will be working on encouraging him to be less fearful and insisting he walk himself into school as often as possible.

  47. MaeMae July 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    @Carrie: Hahaha, I feel you. My daughter is a chatterbox. She had this one hockey coach for years. I came in the locker room and said, “Gabriella Elizabeth, you better get dressed and be in my car in 2 minutes!” He looked at me and said, “Oh, so that’s why you call her Gabby. We thought it was just because she never stops talking. Boy, was that name pre-ordained.” I am also more concerned (usually) that strangers are wondering why she is telling them all this stuff. Love it!

  48. Bernard Poulin July 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    Children are not the obsessives, nor the fearful ones – until they are taught to be. I am a father of 2 daughters (now grown) who was often in a position of having to buy their clothes. (Mom traveled a lot on business and I wasn’t very good at darning old socks or turning pink dresses back to white after an “oops, not again” laundry.) But, then that was 30 years ago, when strangers were “less strange”. But let’s be serious. . . If Renee had been Rene. . . I am sure this concerned mother would have called the police, store security and pulled the fire alarm for good measure. There is nothing more disgustingly dangerous than a stranger “recognizing” and treating another’s child with dignity and respect.

  49. SKL July 17, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    I have had a couple of little girls (3-4yo) latch onto me (when I was a total stranger), follow me around, and tell me their entire life story. I could have easily gotten information a stranger shouldn’t have if I’d wanted it.

    So taking a step back, I can kinda see why people wouldn’t want their very open kids chatting up strangers when the parents are not nearby.

    But it seems to me that it makes more sense to teach the child what sorts of things she shouldn’t say to strangers, versus that she shouldn’t talk to them at all. I guess there is a short time period where the child is verbal enough to blab all of her family’s business, but not yet old enough to understand that’s not a good idea. But I don’t think that’s enough reason to ban all talking with strangers.

  50. pentamom July 18, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    I, too, understand not letting your children talk to people they don’t know because you don’t want them to be pests. But there’s a different vibe between “don’t bother the man, he looks busy” and “Didn’t I tell you NEVER EVER EVER to talk to STRANGERS?????” I think people can tell the difference — and so can the kids. In the one case, they’re learning limits about social behavior; in the other, they’re learning that all people are to be treated as pariahs unless they’re somehow certified safe. And if Renee’s description is accurate, her situation was surely the latter, which is sad. And as SKL says, there’s a difference between “banning all talking” and gently redirecting them if they’re being inappropriate either in content or timing, or the other person seems uncomfortable. I think kids will pick up on the different vibes between “this isn’t a good time and place or choice of person or subject” and “fear people, the only appropriate behavior for you in any situation is social avoidance.”

  51. Icalasari July 18, 2010 at 3:45 am #

    I remember being in elementary school and told by my mother to not talk to strangers. I have Aspergers though, so it was probably more to keep me from annoying them XD

  52. Party Piper July 18, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    Dahlia, I don’t necessarily think that we have a kid-negative society, but I do think you need to keep in mind that there exists this contradiction amongst many helicopter parents. Of course, strangers are dangerous/don’t take your eye off your precious wonderful child for one moment, but this does not preclude the parental gestapo from taking their spawn to a public place that is “safe” (coffee shop/library/store) so that they can do just that; take their eyes off their child for a moment and enjoy their coffee and scone, or read a book, or do the any number of things that their parental guilt would never allow them to do at home, but they can do in designated “safe” places. Meanwhile, their darlings, because they are not taught to behave in public run around shrieking like banshees or otherwise being disruptive. It tends to jade us kidless folks, and makes us question our biological urges.

    I’ve noticed that a lot of the “not one second” moms have absolutely no compunction about letting their child be disruptive and inappropriate for a public setting. I know kids are kids, and honestly, when I see a kid throwing a fit in a store, I really feel for the parent, because it happens, but there is something to be said for teaching your child some social graces and manners. I don’t expect perfection in public, but I do expect the parents to demonstrate that they are in fact trying to teach their child how to behave in public. A side effect of helicopter parenting is that many parents allow their children to essentially act like brats in public. Many of us have flat had our fill of these types of kids, and they are truly plentiful, so forgive us childless folks-it’s not easy to tell which child is which.

    I’m sure this isn’t you, but like I said, it’s hard to tell the difference, and you and your child are probably in the minority. I think most of us are willing to be gracious towards children, but frankly, we’ve been used a little by the supposedly most vigilant parents.

  53. Annanina July 18, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    @Party Piper, I’m not sure where all your venom is coming from exactly, but it doesn’t seem like it even relates to the topic in this thread. This isn’t about kids misbehaving in public. And I’m sorry but I don’t see many children running around like banshees in stores or the coffee shop or library. Children do occasionally make noise. I’m sorry you are so intolerant of little people – you were one yourself at one time.

  54. Dana July 18, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    I don’t see a lot of “venom” in Party Piper’s remarks.

    However, I observe many of the probably-helicopter types stopping their kids from interacting too quickly and in general, I think the bratty peak years were several years back. It feels a bit insulting to me when someone apologizes for their kid for saying something to me in some place like a coffee shop. I don’t act or look scary, so why don’t wait for my reaction first before jumping in? It is strangely like how dog owners act, although I think that is probably how they should react , especially in a place that serves food, because some people have valid problems with dog’s being close to them or surprising them. But a kid? Kids are supposed to be outgoing, blunt, and verbal.

  55. SKL July 18, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    “Kids are supposed to be outgoing, blunt, and verbal.”

    I just have to play with that one. Lately, as my 3-year-olds get more and more willing to spout off on topics that are not fit for public consumption, I am thinking: can we go back to the days when “children should be seen and not heard”? I totally get why that rule existed and wonder why it no longer does. Here’s hoping this stage of development is short.

  56. neddo July 18, 2010 at 10:02 pm #

    I can see from some of these posts here that others have experienced how “stranger danger” can cut both ways. As adults, it makes us a bit fearful of helping out a child in need because we don’t know how other adults are going to react.

    Back when I was still in college (early 90s), I was bike riding through a park on a nice day and stopped for a drink at a water fountain. When I finished, I heard a little voice behind me asking, “Can you lift me up to get a drink?” When I turned around there was a topless little girl around 4 or 5 years old. If it weren’t for all the paranoia that was starting to set in back then I probably would have just lifted her up to get a drink, but I was a bit scared that a parent might think that I was some kind of weirdo for touching his or her daughter. I managed to find a log for her to stand on, though. I don’t know what I would have done had I not seen that log. The whole situation was unnecessarily uncomfortable for me because of all this nonsense.

  57. philosodad July 18, 2010 at 11:57 pm #

    “Stranger Danger” does cut both ways. Over the fall and winter I used to take my son to a playground closer to my daughters daycare. The kids there would ask me to play quarterback in the pickup football game (and let my three-year-old play, which was awesome). This was a lot of fun for everybody and gave the kids an unbiased referee (me), a quarterback who could throw deep passes (me), and a kid with a *brand new football* (my son), which is more or less pickup football nirvana.

    One of the kids, who didn’t have a dad at home, got very attached to me… told me all his stories, wanted to stand close to me, wanted approval, Dad stuff, I guess. And because of this whole ‘stranger danger’ mentality, I could just sense this sort of wary disapproval from the few other parents at the playground (none of whom were playing with any kids, not even their own) who just sort of watched. Watchfully.

    I felt weird about the situation, so I just stopped going to that playground. Which was probably the wrong thing to do. It’s sad that even though I knew that I wasn’t a creepy stranger, I was so worried about being seen as a creepy stranger that I gave up a perfectly good opportunity to mentor a troubled kid for a few hours a week.

  58. Jan July 19, 2010 at 3:22 am #

    I tutor kids. Or I used to. Increasingly, parents get my phone number, call ME up, and interrogate me. If I want to tutor in my home, I’m sinister. If I tutor in their home, I must be scoping out the place to rob them later. If I refuse to tutor in the library or the coffee shop, I’m up to something.

    You tried tutoring a shy nervous child in the library with the yakking and people eavesdropping and the child’s friends seeing him with a tutor and making fun of him?

    Everybody suffers for the sake of mass hysteria. If the Jihadists are behind this Terrorization and Incarceration Of Our Children, I gotta hand it to ’em for simplicity and brilliance.

  59. pentamom July 19, 2010 at 4:02 am #

    “And I’m sorry but I don’t see many children running around like banshees in stores or the coffee shop or library.”

    Glad your experiences have been so positive. For sure, it’s a small minority, but it’s enough that some of us take warning that we don’t want our kids acting like this. True, as you say, we shouldn’t overreact and assume that all interactions our kids might have with people are bothersome. But as parents, we have to use our judgment, and what might look like over-hastily shutting down interaction to you, might be the reaction of a parent who knows what will happen if the child is allowed to pursue the interaction unchecked, because she knows her child.

  60. bequirox July 19, 2010 at 5:40 am #

    I understand what the other moms are saying when they talk about worrying their kids will be too annoying, but the sad part is adults are too scared to just tell the kid, “It’s been nice talking to you, but I need to keep shopping now.” Or something along those lines.

    I can’t remember a time I’ve been bugged by a kid talking to me at the store. I think it’s just plain adorable. And when I need to move on, I tell them. It stinks, though, because it can be hard to tell if, “Don’t bother the lady,” Is aimed at corralling their kid, or at the stranger. You want to say, “Oh, they’re fine,” but I don’t want to send mixed messages to the kid (i.e. you don’t need to listen to mom.) So I try to phase it as, “They’re not bothering me.”

    Anyway, my daughter LOVES talking to strangers. Right now it’s just, “Hi!” with a big smile and the second they talk back to her, she gets shy. Except for sometimes in line at the store, so I wonder if that’s because she sees me talking to them, too.

  61. Michelle The Uber Haus Frau July 19, 2010 at 5:51 am #

    That woman would hate me, I took my son to an anime/manga convention where people were *Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun* in full cosplay(dressing like characters), some faces completely concealed by masks. I let my son run up to people and check out the custumes and high five guys dressed as soldiers, robots and monsters. Can’t get more stranger than that(pun intended).
    Before we arrived we had a positive stranger moment, stopped by a Robins donuts, I got a bowl of soup for my son to eat, when we sat down he grabbed the bowl and, spilled soup, burned his hand a little bit, he started cry and as I was wiping his hand one of the girls working there came over to helped us out and gave him a free treat to cheer him up. It doesn’t happen often that someone will help cheer up a small child. Personally I blame the paranoients.

  62. bequirox July 19, 2010 at 5:54 am #

    I just thought of something. For the parents who are worried their kids are bugging the other people, why don’t you read the body language of the person, and if they start acting antsy you can get your kid to stop talking and then explain, “When they start looking away, or shuffling their feet, etc, that means they needs to stop talking to you.” Parenting moment actualized!

  63. nicky July 19, 2010 at 6:26 am #

    Icalasari, my son has just been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and the reason we discourage him from talking to strangers is totally so that he doesn’t annoy them and cop a bad reaction. He doesn’t read body language well and, while most people are very nice and patient and quite charmed by him, there’s always going to be someone who isn’t and won’t deal with him nicely. I would rather teach him that it’s a matter of good manners not to bowl up to strangers and talk at them about his latest obsession, than have him afraid to approach people for fear of being mean to him. He’s still quite OK with approaching people when he gets lost, which has happened a couple of times.

    bequirox, reading body language is a hard thing to teach a kid who doesn’t make a lot of eye contact and becomes so lost in his world that he really doesn’t notice things like that. It’s something we’re working on, but in the meantime, “don’t bother strangers” works.

  64. Dot Khan July 19, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    @bequirox I’m an adult with Asperger’s, which several people have mentioned as to why they discourage their kids from talking to others. Reading faces and body language is one of the traits of the condition. On the flip side, they can be quite bright. Many believe that if Albert Einstein was alive today that he would be diagnosed with it … as well as being very old. (Sorry, I’m prone to telling bad jokes.)

  65. rhodykat July 19, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    I encourage my kids (7,almost 5, almost 2) to talk, respectfully, to strangers so long as they are comfortable, and we talk to LOTS and LOTS of strangers everywhere we go. By talking to strangers, we know all the workers at the local grocery store, so my 7 year old can go get my deli, fish, etc. while I go up and down the aisles, saving me lots of time. We know the farmstand workers, and they see that if Mama forgot her wallet, we can pay the next time we go. We talk to everybody at the library, and the kids can feed their own interests while I collect books and materials for me and my husband. We meet lots of people at the playground, so when we go back, we have friends to play with. When we went camping, we talked to the strangers across the way who had two children the same age as mine who spent two lovely days playing around – they spent nights at the stranger’s campsite on the other side entertaining the 11 and 13 year old boys there. Overall, I tell them that almost everybody you ever meet is friendly, and if you meet someone who is “bad” you will know it right away. You will NOT want to talk to them. You will NOT like how they make you feel….and, if that ever happens, get away as quickly as you can and don’t talk to them. On the rare occasion I don’t talk to someone who approaches us, I re-iterate the lesson.
    Safety is in knowing how to assess a situation and react accordingly. Part of a safe reaction is knowing how to go to a stranger to help you if another stranger is doing something you don’t like.
    How boring is life if you’re never allowed to meet somebody new?

  66. Nico July 19, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    I live in a complex chock full o kids. and most of them are hilariously sweet. ( it’s mostly newcomers to the country, they don’t seem to have the same level of stranger fear yet?)

    But one woman constantly browbeats her daughter into being quiet and still and the girl is naturally gregarious and energetic, but not hyperactively so. She’s just outgoing, and it frosts me that mom is always sharply snarking at her to be quiet. I would rather hear the girl than her mom.

    It’s worse for my husband, for whatever reason, kids find him hopelessly endearing and he’s gotten grief for doing what’s natural, smiling back at a giggling baby. Oh No!

    I have known people who grew up with this stranger danger thing to the extent they’re fearful of ever being around any one, in a bus, or a train, or in a strange city.

    How does hiding ourselves away from everyone else benefit us, or society? I think it only contributes to that Us VS them thinking that seems to invade every aspect of life now.

    I was just at a social conference, and the aussies and brits would chat your ear off, my fellow canadians and the americans? it was like pulling teeth. No one knows how to carry on their side of a conversation anymore. It was quite depressing and as a result I think I gave up and went back to the hotel room to watch TV. I am pretty good at getting the chatter going, but man, have our social skills degraded so far? apparently. I fear for the next generation, i really do.

  67. Uly July 19, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Just to join in on the Aspie side discussion…

    1. Explicitly teaching body language to aspies is a VERY GOOD THING. However, reading body language that’s not natural to you (NTs reportedly have equally big problems when trapped in groups of autistics) requires a lot of effort and energy. I don’t think NTs always realize this, but it’s… it’s like thinking in German and speaking in Spanish when you really want to do both things in English instead. Can it be done? Sure! But it’s exhausting.

    Furthermore, even if you understand “this cue means somebody is upset/angry/bored” AND you remember to look for it, you might not be able to figure out WHY they’re feeling that way. AND, NTs have rules of manners… just asking “Am I boring you?” may get you a lie “Oh, of course not!” It’s the sort of polite lie NTs know means “Yes, shut up now”, but if you’re used to taking things at face value and saying what you mean (like many autistics) what are you going to do? You’ll go “Oh, all right, I misunderstood, I better keep talking!’


    You can’t win sometimes.

    2. Making eye contact isn’t the problem, exactly. (A lot of people don’t know this, but there are many autistics with the opposite problem – they make TOO MUCH eye contact!) The trouble is that autistics don’t use eye contact to communicate with other people. I’m told NTs do, I guess NTs do, everybody seems to think eye contact helps communication for NTs so it probably does… but I was fully in my 20s before I realized that all those quaint eye-related expressions in books weren’t just figurative!

    So even if you spend a lot of time convincing your kid to fake eye contact effectively (something which requires a lot of energy, and which may impair their abilities in other areas), it won’t make them communicate any better. Eye contact is one thing, but eye messages are something very different.

    3. Additionally, explaining body language has its own challenges.

    This one time my nieces were on the bus, and I’d managed to fit them into one seat very neatly. I was pretty upset because this woman with a stroller was completely blocking ANOTHER empty seat, and she could’ve just offered it, but we weren’t going that far.

    Anyway, I’m watching my nieces, and I see that the woman next to them is looking at them repeatedly and frowning, so I worked out that she probably felt a little squeezed every time the older niece scratched her nose or sneezed. We were NONE of us going to be on the bus that long (the last stop was only five minutes away), but it was a bit cramped so I asked Ana to stand up. Boy was she upset.

    So upset that after we got off I turned around and explained that the person next to her hadn’t liked sitting so close, and kept frowning, but I couldn’t say so THEN because I didn’t want to go “Ana, you have to get up because the woman next to you thinks she should have more space”. That would have been really rude, and to somebody who hadn’t said or done anything worse than frown a little. But I couldn’t think of another way to say it, so I had to wait until we had a bit of privacy.

    (The real villain here, of course, is the woman with the stroller. For crying out loud, her baby wasn’t even IN the stroller! Fold it up!)

  68. Melissa Sorbello July 19, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    How many times have we ourselves talked to a stranger! I am 42 and I still talk to people around me! I even ask for opinions on things when a friend is not with me! Right on my friend Renee! Teach safety not fear! My beef is that people don’t communicate anymore. On the T to Boston I noticed ipods and cell phones all around me. No one took the time to talk. Wow! It blows my mind. As you know I am not a cell phone fan. Put things in my ears so I cannot hear what is happening around me??? WHAT! Love you girlie!

  69. heather July 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    Good one!

  70. Meggles July 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

    That Target mother is one idiotic woman.

  71. Wendy July 20, 2010 at 6:47 am #

    Great article, Renee!

    As for that mother: Wow, just wow. She is like the mascot of an overfearing parent. I mean, she may have well have screamed, “A STRANGER’S A-COMIN’!!! CALL 911! SHE’S GONNA SNAP UP ALL YOUR LITTLE KIDS WITH HER SUPER POWERS!!!”

    God, I just wish these brainless mothers would get a freaking clue. Hey, I should tell her, “Did you know that statistics show your precious little girl is in greater danger with you than a stranger?” Well, I’d tell her that IF she didn’t run away screaming from me. Bless you, Renee, and Lenore, for all you’re doing against this shiz!

  72. Lisa July 20, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    I encorage me 8 year old to talk to people. He knows what info not to give to “strangers”. That mother in Target is a complete nut job, but sadly there are way to many out there like her. I’ve read somewhere that only 80 child abductions are year are by strangers and the rest are by someone the child knows. People are only strangers til you meet them.

  73. Layne July 21, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    I wonder if this is all over the US or just in areas. I live in the KC area and am constantly chatting up cashiers, salesclerks, other shoppers with or without kids, etc. and have never had a negitive experience. I’ve heard that doing this may actually deter a bad experience, since you’ve made eye contact with someone and therefore have a mental picture of them.

  74. pentamom July 21, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Layne, you’ve got me thinking.

    This might be a crackpot theory, but I wonder if part of the problem here was that Renee started interacting with the kid when the mom wasn’t watching. That sense of the interaction being out of her control is what made it (in her mind) a stranger danger event. I have a hard time imagining even the most stranger-fearful parent reacting so badly if all three people were standing in a checkout line, and mom and kid were both looking toward Renee when the conversation started. I mean, mom might still have been a little uncomfortable (especially if it were, shudder, not Renee, but a MAN) but I doubt she would have reamed the kid for “breaking a rule” in the same way.

    So it might be an “illusion of control” thing. I’m not saying that makes it any less problematic, but maybe that’s why sometimes, you can chat up a kid or vice versa without a parent reacting, and in other situations, the parent will react — because the interaction isn’t one the parent controlled. After all, if the rule was really “don’t talk to strangers, EVER” there would be a lot of perfectly normal situations in which the kid couldn’t function — what if the family doctor got a different nurse? I think the rule is really (implicitly) don’t talk to strangers unless I am right there with you, on top of you, hearing every word.

  75. Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson July 22, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Pentamom wrote: “I think the rule is really (implicitly) don’t talk to strangers unless I am right there with you, on top of you, hearing every word.”

    Wow! I have watched this thread morph and move over the last few days. I have to reiterate, this child began the conversation with me and her mother was within arms length and earshot. There was no evidence that the child had Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism. Her eye contact was outstanding. She was polite and completely appropriate.

    Perhaps I am misinterpreting this comment by pentamom, but as it is written, it is truly the ultimate in helicopter parenting. Not my style!

    My main point was that in her interaction with me, “Target momma” taught her child how to be rude. She could have handled the situation/her discomfort in dozens of different ways. She could have gone one aisle over and said to her daughter quietly: “Honey, I know that you like to talk to people, but it makes me really uncomfortable when you strike up conversations with folks we don’t know.” She could have said a lot of other things in a much more civilized manner.

    As an educator, a parent and a human being, I am concerned with how rude we have become to one another these days. In my mind it is counter-productive as I truly believe, we all need each other more than ever!

    xoxoRenee Schuls Jacobson
    Lessons From Teachers and Twits

  76. Dawn Tuchel July 23, 2010 at 1:57 am #

    As the mother of a 2 1/2 year old boy who is continually talking to strangers, I’d be hoarse if I had to constantly tell him not to. Not once has it every occured to me to tell him not to talk to strangers, and even if it did, it would be futile because people are constantly stopping to talk to HIM.

    I just think it’s so sad that we are instilling a sense of terror in our kids instead of teaching them how to be social and to use common sense in who to talk to and who not to. It’s especially disturbing considering statistics show children are far more likely to be abducted/harmed by someone they know than someone they don’t.

  77. chat hr July 23, 2010 at 6:44 am #

    i’m always kind of surprised at some of the experiences people here report. thank you so much

  78. Maria Droujkova July 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    When my daughter was little, some people thought she was a boy. Males would strike a conversation with her, like, “What’s up, big guy?” Upon learning she was a girl, many disengaged, looking afraid. It broke my heart and I am sure confused the hell out of my toddler!

  79. Rachel July 27, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

    I’ll be the first to admit that I have some improvements to make in allowing my children their freedom – but I am also careful to a) not be rude, and b) not disallow the behavior – just because I have mothering issues, doesn’t mean my child should end up with childhood issues.

    My 3-yo very frequently approaches a stranger and begins a conversation (“Yay! a new person who doesn’t know about my new hat/toy/game yet!”). If I find I’m feeling uncomfortable about it, I will JOIN THE CONVERSATION. Any danger, real or imagined, is gone. Short of springing a weapon on us, there’s not much harm that can be done at that point, even if we had fallen on a dangerous maniac on our quiet suburban street.

  80. Jen July 31, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    As mentioned so many times, it’s all about teaching your children to find the right “strangers” to talk to. My 15 month old babbles at everyone we see anywhere, and it’s actually a 50/50 split of people who talk to her and people who just look annoyed that I’m not keeping her silent (ever try that? good luck!) I can’t imagine ever telling my daughter not to talk to strangers, and intend to encourage her to have appropriate conversations with friendly-looking “strangers”. After all, how can she learn if she never has the experience.

    Also on topic, when I was doing my student teaching (3rd grade, extremely rural district), I was at Wal-mart the weekend after I had started my placement. The parents of my students were all aware that I had joined the class as a student teacher, as the teacher had sent out several notes over the month prior to my arrival, and I’m sure the kids were all talking about it at home. While at Wal-mart, I saw one of the kids in my class, and the little boy waved at me and said “Hi, Miss Smith!” His mom’s immediate (and loud) reaction as she drug him away: “Don’t ever talk to strangers. They might take you and hurt you!” His answer: Not a stranger. She’s my new teacher!” His mom’s next sentence was the real mind-blowing one, though. In response to that, she said “You don’t know that! It’s a stranger!” *jaw drops* So even people her child has met in a theoretically appropriate manner are still strangers? How do kids cope with this stuff?

  81. Stephanie Lynn August 17, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    Even as a kid I can remember being confused by the “Don’t talk to strangers” warning. I thought “Never? But how will I ever meet anybody or make any friends? But YOU talk to strangers, so they can’t be that dangerous.”

    Dont get me wrong, its important to teach kids never to go anywhere with a stranger and stuff like that, but just TALKING? I guess its because kids are generally very persuadable and they figure if you can engage them in conversation you can convince them to do anything. But, c’mon, really?

    It reminds me of a very feminist teacher I had who related to us a story about a woman who was raped and killed by a man who convinced her to let him into her apartment to help her unload groceries. This teacher then drilled into our heads that if a man ever asks you to do something like this you should immediately start screaming and running. Apparently to tell him “No” and continue to engage him in conversation would spell your demise because women, like children I guess, are mentally incapable of following our gut about people and refusing to be persuaded into putting ourselves into bad situations.

  82. Andacar August 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

    I agree with you that some parents are too ready to swoop in and rescue their kids. However, it is not without good reason. This morning a complete stranger drove into a nice neighborhood here in Albuquerque in a nasty old panel van, grabbed up a six year old and ran off with her. Textbook. She only escaped because an alert neighbor chased after him. I rest my case. There’s always somebody going on and on about the odds of stranger abduction, how it’s exaggerated, bla bla bla. How many kids are you willing to sacrifice to prove your point? This little girl was a free range kid. I rest my case.

  83. Anthony Hernandez August 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    @Andacar, you would apparently have us sacrifice the freedom and independence and natural maturation process of 62,000,000 children to potentially (and I do mean potentially) save a fraction of the 115 who experience such textbook kidnappings?

    If so then you really need to pick up an elementary-school level biology book and read it.