Help Needed: A Friendly Kid, a Scolding Neighbor

Hi syifsesrzi
Readers! Can you help this mom? L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been reading your blog and readers’ comments for better than a year now.  Never really thought I’d have an experience similar to the ones I read about on your blog, but yesterday it happened.  My children are nearly-5 (boy) and 3.5 (girl).  We live in a very safe neighborhood in the Midwest, with wide sidewalks.  Thankfully, I can report that I frequently see many of children playing in their yards or at our local park (without helicoptering parents), and riding their bikes to our neighborhood school.  There is definitely a Free-Range mentalilty among many of my neighbors.

Yesterday I was outside with my children, cleaning out the garage while they were playing out front.  My daughter was riding her scooter up and down the sidewalk.  She knows she can take it as far as the neighbors’ homes that are two away from us on each side.  She never goes farther than she should, and at any given time, she’s no more than 50 feet from our front yard.  My son was playing with his trains on the driveway.  Periodically, I’d walk out of the garage (doors were open) to check on them. During one of these checks, I saw her at the neighbors’ driveway where she is allowed to stop and turn around.  There was a minivan parked on the street and a lady getting into it.  My daughter is a very friendly, chatty soul.  If she sees someone near her, she’s going to say hello and chatter about whatever strikes her fancy.  I also, however, have no doubt that if someone she didn’t know tried to get her to go with them, she’d scream and kick and struggle LOUDLY.  I have no desire to quash her naturally friendly and open spirit.

The lady she was talking to was giving her a strange look.  I assumed my daughter was annoying her and called my girl to come back.  She did.  The lady then got in her van and pulled it up to my driveway.  She got out and waved me down.  When I approached, she said to me, “You know, your daughter doesn’t know me at all, and she just started talking to me.”  I replied, “Yes, she does that.  She likes to talk to people.”  She responded, “Well, you know, I run a home day care, and you really need to talk to her about speaking with strangers.  There is a really good video that John Walsh put out about teaching kids who it is ok to talk to — you really should get it and have your children watch it.  Because, you know, anything can happen, and they need to know not to talk to people they don’t know.  I could have been anyone.” Um, okay.  I was totally taken aback.  I thanked her and headed back up to the garage with my daughter.

After the lady left, I thought about it and realized I was offended.  While I know she thought she was only doing something nice — and, therefore, it wasn’t worth starting a fight over — it really was none of her business.  I didn’t want to get into a debate with her at the time, which is why I just thanked her and ended the conversation.  But what I really wanted to say was, “I understand you’ve bought into the media propaganda about the frequency of child abductions, but you really need to understand that crime is down significantly in this country.  And yet, you’re recommending I show my kids a video that might scare them into not speaking to people. For what it’s worth, you obviously weren’t someone intending to do my child harm.  In fact, the chance of her meeting such a person on our sidewalk in front of our house is less likely than her falling off her scooter and hitting her head.”

Probably wouldn’t have done any good, and she’d have driven away feeling even more self-righteously justified in having told me what she thought about my heathen parenting ways.

I’m not sure I handled the situation as best I could have, but then again, maybe just smiling and saying thank you without further engaging someone is best.  I just don’t know.  I would love to hear what your readers’ suggestions would be, regarding how to handle a situation like this.  I’ve found they often have great advice that is sound and based in logic, rather than emotional fearmongering. Thanks. – Heather

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106 Responses to Help Needed: A Friendly Kid, a Scolding Neighbor

  1. paulbeard September 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    You could tell her or anyone else who brings up that line that you have recorded their license number and photographed them talking to your child and if needed, it will be turned over to the police.

    I really do wonder about people who see this kind of threat everywhere, how their minds work, how terrified they must be of everything. And this is someone who runs a daycare? Yikes. What does she tell the children in her care?

  2. Tracy September 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    nice article Heather. I think it resounds with honesty. We’re often blindsided by other people’s beliefs that they have the right to say what they want, when they want and to who they want. You handled it with grace but realized later than you were angry. Writing this article expressed it and vented in a way that’s helpful and didn’t engage this stupid woman in what would most likely be an unpleasant interlude for you.

  3. Rich Wilson September 27, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    I would have the same feelings you do. But the reality is, nothing you can do will change her mind. She ‘helped’ you, and trying to discuss it will make you ‘crazy’ or ‘uncaring’ or ‘ignorant’. She will never be wrong about this. it’s too central to her world view.


  4. SKL September 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I have taught my children that they are to be polite to everyone who speaks to them, and that includes strangers. Polite includes answering when someone says hello. As far as I know, nobody ever died as a result of saying hi while walking down a familiar street in broad daylight.

    I would have been very tempted to tell that lady that she was at that very moment speaking to a stranger (me) and why wasn’t she afraid?

    But it would depend on her demeanor, of course. And, I’ve been known to walk away from an offensive neighbor rather than show my kids my uncharitable side.

  5. Chris September 27, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I had a somewhat similar experience while eating at a local restaurant with my wife and child (~1.5 years old). Some kids who were dining at a nearby table saw my son, came over and started playing with him. We asked the kids how old they were, what their names were, etc. When the grandma of these kids saw that they were talking to us she came over and shepherded them away. She then told my wife and I that she’s still trying to teach her grandchildren about “stranger danger”. I was pretty shocked that she considered us dangerous, so I straight up told her “we’re not dangerous”. She then said “Well, you never know”. Now I was even more shocked. I really didn’t know what to say, but the first thing that came out of my mouth was a sarcastic “Because there are killers everywhere!”

    I think I was able to communicate to this woman-in the short amount of interaction I had with her-that her viewpoint was offensive to my wife and I. I don’t think it changed her mind, but I think it was better than just being agreeable and letting her think it’s okay to treat strangers like they’re serial killers. Of course it would have been great to have a logical argument with this woman, but most people aren’t going to hang around while you attempt to explain the nature of statistics, crime rates, media fear-mongering, etc.

  6. FrancesfromCanada September 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    I’d’ve just said nonchalantly: well, she knows not to go off with anybody, that’s good enough for me! At least I’d’ve said that in a perfect world where I come up with something smart to say when I need to say it.

    I can’t see any point in engaging in discussion with strangers like this; different if it’s a friend or neighbor who might care about what you think and actually listen.

  7. deltaflute September 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    Second, Frances. If it’s a stranger there’s really no point in getting into it. But if it’s someone you see on a regular basis, which you might with this neighbor, you can point out that statistically it’s more likely that your child will be abducted by someone she knows and not a stranger. Most cases of child abduction involve some sort of custody dispute. It’s very rare that child abduction happens with strangers. The media makes it out to be more common. I would suggest pulling up some statistics from somewhere reputable like law enforcement sites and printing it out. That way you can give her something. Otherwise she might dismiss it as bad information.

    And if you want to be snarky you can tell her that you’re teaching your child not to trust you now because she knows you. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

  8. Amy September 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    I think I’d tell her, “I actually encourage her to talk to strangers! If there is ever a problem, I hope she’ll ask for help from whoever is around.”

    This turns the ‘safety’ issue around. Instead of saying that you don’t mind her talking to strangers because there is no danger, it turns it around to say you want her to talk to strangers because there IS a danger. It acknowledges the fear, but puts the spin on it that strangers can help out a child in need.

  9. elizabeth (aka Lady K) September 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Tell Mrs. Grundy to take a hike. Oh yeah, and that she’s trespassing on your lawn.

  10. SKL September 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I like the idea of saying “since it isn’t realistic to ask a child to never speak to a stranger, isn’t it better to teach them “how” to safely interact with strangers?”

    Wasn’t there a recent study that said the vast majority of kids who were taught NOT to talk to strangers did it anyway?

  11. Peter September 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Personally, I think you handled it well. Much like religious zealots, it’s best to leave them be and thank them for their opinion. There’s a time and a place for everything and, frankly, that afternoon your front lawn was probably not the time nor the place.

    That said, my favorite answer is paulbeard’s: “Oh, don’t worry, I already forwarded the fact that you were talking to my daughter and have notified the police. If you’d wait around for a few minutes, I’m sure they’d love to talk to you? What? Have to go? You don’t have something to hide, do you?”

  12. helenquine September 27, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Heather – I would probably have done the same as you, though I wish, in the moment, I could think of something like Amy or SKL’s responses. I doubt that they would change her mind, but it would at least let her see that her world view isn’t the only thoughtful one.

    The moment may be gone, but the incident isn’t and this woman is your neighbor. You might use this as an excuse to head over this weekend, with your daughter, and introduce yourselves. You could tell her you don’t like the idea that your daughter shouldn’t talk to a neighbor two doors away so you thought you should introduce your family properly. Do it in a kind way though, not a sarcastic one, the idea really is to build a strong community, not point score. Then you can tackle the stranger danger meme in a more effective way than any quick come back on the street.

  13. enyawface September 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    I would have countered with. Wow, it’s great that you run a daycare, I was looking for a safe, reputable one for my kids, do you know anyone in the neighborhood who runs one?

  14. Kenny M Felder September 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    There is NOTHING TO BE ANGRY ABOUT here. This wonderful lady was simply trying to help a neighbor. That’s what we all believe in, right? If I saw a 3-year-old running out onto a busy street, I would grab him and warn his parents. In her mind, she was doing the equivalent.

    On the other hand, she was sadly misinformed about where the dangers lie–and she runs a day care, which means she is taking care of a lot of kids all the time–which means, she is someone we would really like to understand better where the true dangers are. So if you get the chance, I would sit down and talk to her. Tell her honestly that you appreciate her concern. Point her to Lenore’s blog, or give her a copy of Lenore’s book. Explain to her that, as a day care provider, she can really help children and parents understand what actually is and isn’t dangerous, but first she has to look beyond the myths. Do for her the favor she was trying to do for you!

  15. Asept September 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    I had a similar situation by a “Concerned Parent” down the street. We had lived three doors apart for four years, and I had ( and have) never seen them outside, nor did I know they had kids….
    I told her to feel free to send her kids down to play, we had a spare bike and a football, and plenty of space.
    When my 3.5 y/0 daughter fell of her bike right outside her place a week later, a curtain twitched, but that was all.
    Funny who you decide that your kids shouldn’t be talking to isn’t it?

  16. CherubMamma September 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    My oldest son was the same way. We lived in a neighborhood where the sidewalks were in the middle of the block (as opposed to around the perimeter) and they all pointed to the elementary school where there was a lovely park. Because of the design of the neighborhood, many people went for walks right past our back yard. My son talked to each and every one of them when he was outside playing.

    Granted, I was grateful for our fence as I’m sure he would have joined in and gone to the park with a few of them. And I was a little unnerved when folks would drive by the front of our house in the afternoon and call out to him when he was upstairs in his bedroom. (He was supposed to be taking a nap but thought it’d be more fun to stare out the window.) But he’s fourteen now and nobody stole him away from me.

    Much like the author, I never wanted to squelch his friendly demeanor. We’ve moved many times since that uniquely designed neighborhood that was so family friendly. There were times when I missed it horribly. But we’re in a reasonably free range neighborhood again and I can promise you my 6yo and 7yo have “free range” over the whole thing!

  17. Ann September 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    I consider myself a free range parent as much as possible. My kids, however, are only 4 months old and 2 years old. There isn’t a whole lot of free ranging you can do at those ages. Anyway, I am gritting my teeth in the horrible realization that this will be my story in a few years.

  18. Marcela September 27, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    I have often repeated this gem, I believe Lenore said it first, “I have taught my kids that it’s a good idea to talk to strangers. But they know never to go anywhere with strangers”. Such a small change but it is all you need. Don’t go anywhere with strangers.

  19. Robin September 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    I’ve had too many “steering wheel” conversations in my life. That’s when you think of the best thing to say after the conversation on your way home.

    Heather – there was no way anything you said to her was going to change her mind. She is in the industry and is daily innundated with ‘Safety First” thinking. You did the best you could for yourself.

    I’m wondering what happens to these kids as they get older. We’re going to hear a rash of complaints from older folks when these kids that have grown up not talking to strangers are teens and older. Common curteousies like holding a door open for someone, saying good morning, just taking notice of things around them will be gone.

  20. Selby September 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Remember the old adage, “strangers are only friends you haven’t yet met.”

    (Sound of needle scratching across record…..dead silence….)

  21. Lollipoplover September 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    Here’s what happens to these kids when they get older:

    I ran into my neighbor and asked about her weekend trip to NYC with her family. They had never been there, and she commented that it was “nerve racking.” I asked why and she said her daughter held her hand so hard, she thought she was going to lose circulation. Her daughter kept saying she was afraid someone was going to snatch her the whole time. They did not have fun.
    Her daughter is 12.

    Heather, I don’t think you will have much luck changing this home day care/stranger danger expert’s opinion. What’s lost on this is that your daughter was learning social skills, not testing stranger danger. If she can’t say “Hi” to a friend of a neighbor, then we as a society have a much bigger problem who Mr. Walsh says it’s OK to talk to.

  22. Dolly September 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    You handled it the right way. Sometimes even if you may be justified in telling someone off, it is always a good choice to take the high road.

    One point to bring up: What was your daughter talking to her about? Sometimes it is the conversation that matters more than the fact that she was just talking to someone. Like I would be more concerned if someone’s kid was telling me a lot of personal details about themselves unsolicited than if they just said “Hi how are you?”, you know what I mean? It is okay for a kid to say “Hi” and make small talk to a stranger. I allow that and encourage my kids to do that. However if questions or talk becomes more personal then I might try to deter that. That is how I handle my interactions with adult strangers too.

  23. Jesse September 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    This neighbor has her priorities all wrong. The biggest danger is this situation is not “talking to strangers”, it’s that the daughter on the scooter could get hit by a neighbor pulling in or out of their driveway. It’s not a huge risk, and I would let my 4 year old son do the same (with adequate cautioning about always looking for cars at driveways), but it is an actual, real danger, as opposed to “stranger danger” which I consider so unlikely as to not be worth worrying about beyond basic instruction about never going into a someone’s house or going off with a stranger.

  24. gap.runner September 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    @Lollipoplover, I guess I’m a bad parent. When I was in New York City earlier this month, my son (also age 12) wouldn’t be caught dead holding my hand in public. We gave him instructions on how to take the subway to our destination if we got separated (train number and stop). If he forgot the directions, he could ask an adult, preferably one who looked like he/she worked for the MTA or one with a kid. Even on our first day, he figured out which train to take to my brother’s apartment and which stop was his. We never did get separated, but we wanted to our son to be prepared. He had a great time in New York. He especially enjoyed Ellis Island, where he could look at the exhibits at his own pace. When he was lagging behind, he still knew where my husband and I would be, so nobody was worried. Even when my son was very young, my husband and I taught him to ask a nearby adult for help if he was alone and got into a jam. We taught him that it’s fine to ask strangers for help but never to go off with one.

  25. EV September 27, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Beliefs can only be changed from within. You can aid in changing someone’s beliefs through relationships that create trust. However, this chance encounter does not afford you any way to help this lady change her belief sets. Sorry. But it sounds like you handled it well. You did not harden her beliefs by raising the emotional stakes.

  26. Nanci September 27, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Caught off guard as you were I would probably respond the same as you. My planned answer would be that I encourage my kids to talk to people. I want them to know how to properly interact with a variety of people. They know not to ever go anywhere with anyone they don’t know. Kids are actually a pretty good judge of who may be a bit shady. My kids are always talking to people. One night in a grocery store check out there was a strange guy in front of us. He kept talking to the kids and they were giving him one word answers, very unusual for them. After he left they both turned to me and said that he was really creepy. He was definitely creepy, I was a relieved when he left. They had a sixth sense kick in to know not to really engage this guy in conversation like they usually do with everyone else.

    Once I was scolded at a playground for letting my 6 year old son climb on top of the playground structure. I just smiled and said that I encourage him do dangerous things. The fact is again he knows what he can and can’t do. I’ve seen him check out going up even higher onto a very steep very tall part at the top but he always stops himself, he knows he can’t really climb up there, he would fall. If I were to yell over and tell him he couldn’t do it then it’s me stopping him. That is no good. It just makes him want to do it more, either to defy me or to prove to me that he can. It’s much better for him to realize on his own what he should and shouldn’t do. The problem is too many parents step in and yell “NO” before the child gets to realize on their own that it’s a bad idea. I won’t always be there to yell no, he needs to learn to make decisions for himself.

  27. Elisa September 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    On a nice sunny day years ago, my daughter (then maybe 4 or 5 years old) was sitting on the top step of the front “stoop” of our house on a safe block in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She was on my property, behind a gate, and the front door of the house was open. I was inside the house. When I heard her talking to someone outside, I came out to see what was going on. A young woman standing on the sidewalk in front of my house proceeded to tell me that it was “very dangerous” for my child to be outside alone, where strangers might talk to her. I said, “If you think it’s so dangerous for her to talk to strangers, why are you talking to her?” She went away angry.

  28. Virginia Shea September 27, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    IMO you did the right thing. A chance encounter on the street isn’t a great place for a serious conversation about child safety. If you ever run into that woman again, maybe you can have that conversation — and by acknowledging her good intentions this time, you’ve left the door open for it.

  29. Neil M September 28, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    Thanks for all the comments;as a non-parent, they are illuminating.

    To me, this “stranger danger” stuff is just crazy. Most strangers are not dangerous to adults or children; if they were, most of us would be mugged daily and just about all our children abducted. Certainly children – and everyone else – should be properly cautious around people they do not know, but that doesn’t preclude being appropriately friendly.

    I just don’t get it.

  30. LRH September 28, 2011 at 12:25 am #

    Remember the old adage, “strangers are only friends you haven’t yet met.”

    (Sound of needle scratching across record…..dead silence….)

    Oh, I just LOVED that, it was excellent.

    On the other hand Kenny M Felder I must disagree with you. There IS something, possibly anyway, to be angry about. It’s one thing for people to give each other ADVICE, but it’s a fine line between that & lecturing, and it SEEMS as though that line was crossed. And in your scenario, why would you “warn” the parents? What would you warn them about? What a bunch of lazy jerks they were being, because they were imperfect for 2/10ths of a second? Because how they didn’t know the street was busy–as if they really are that ignorant?

    I would hope that if you did talk to the parents, I hope it would be something more along the lines of “here’s your little guy (or girl), I see the little squirt got away from you again huh? I know how that goes.” You know, a SYMPATHETIC sort of tone, if that’s how you were to do it then fine. But if it has that undercurrent of judgmentalism and snottiness–frankly, you can save it.

    As for the original poster–I wouldn’t necessarily be ugly to the person, I would say that I might would be inclined to say something like “I don’t consider John Walsh a credible source for what the ACTUAL dangers out there are, I WANT my daughter to talk to to strangers as long as she doesn’t LEAVE with them–but I appreciate your concern just the same.”


  31. Lollipoplover September 28, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    “I don’t consider John Walsh a credible source for what the ACTUAL dangers out there are, I WANT my daughter to talk to to strangers as long as she doesn’t LEAVE with them–but I appreciate your concern just the same.”

    Well said, LRH. I usually say snarky remarks when confronted with situations like this, so I usually just smile and walk away instead of getting my big mouth in trouble.
    You could also add that your child is afraid of John Walsh because he’s a stranger and won’t watch the video. Ask her what you should do then…

    @gap.runner- no, you are actually a cool mother who helps your son become an independent, curious adult. My son also won’t hold my hand anymore (but he loves holding his baby sister’s hand.) Kids are naturally curious, and innocent interactions with “strangers” are being turned upside down for no one’s benefit.

    My kids are not chatty, so our “plan b” for if we get separated is to find another child and have them get you their parent. I’d rather teach my kids street smarts than have them suffer from street anxiety. We don’t have enough saved up for therapy, college these days is ridiculous.

  32. pentamom September 28, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    “There IS something, possibly anyway, to be angry about.”

    I think the difference here between Kenny and Larry is that Kenny thinks there’s no point in getting angry at people who are misguided but not intending any offense, and Larry thinks it’s his duty to get angry every time he perceives that someone doesn’t respect his rights.

    I tend to side with Kenny here — there are legitimate times to get angry, but what’s the point of insisting on it when a more peaceable attitude could be taken to accomplish the same thing?

  33. Neener September 28, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    From the time my daughter could hold a conversation, I have sent her to strangers to ask questions and had her make her own purchases. Because you know what’s frustrating? All the kids out there who cannot manage to hold a simple conversation with an adult. Gee, I wonder why that is? Couldn’t be that they’ve had no practice? *eyeroll* Seriously, how many kids nowdays know how to look someone in the eye, shake their hand, interrupt politely, phrase a question? /soapbox

    And then when she returned, we would discuss how she felt talking with that person – comfortable, creeped out, tummy butterflies? Because I want her to get very, very good at listening to herself and trusting her instincts.

    And to the original poster, the thing to say is exactly what has already been advised by other commenters – something along the lines of “I encourage her to speak with strangers – just to NEVER go off with one!”

  34. LRH September 28, 2011 at 2:42 am #

    Well pentamom in general your posts are among my favorites, logical and reasoned and dead-on FreeRange.

    My thing is this: I am NOT looking for a fight, although it may appear that I am. Seriously, I’m not. However, I think parental rights are EVERYTHING. I think many people in this country, in an overzealous attempt to protect children from horrible parents (a noble & proper goal if not carried too far), people now don’t respect the fact that unless the parent is molesting or sodomizing their child or doing something TRULY HORRIBLE to it, then their rights and choices as the parents are absolutely EVERYTHING, and you are NOBODY to meddle in the middle of it, even if your intentions are good that is IRRELEVANT, you are meddling and it’s not appropriate or right.

    It is fine for close friends or family etc to offer their advice. I have even contacted Lenore privately (I hope it’s okay I say this, Lenore) to ask for her advice in specific situations, I respect Lenore’s opinions and I wanted her opinion, and I sought it out. A parent should not be so full of themselves as to think they have all of the answers & won’t listen to people who mean well.

    I think the TONE is what is relevant here. If someone really is trying to HELP but they are respectful of the parents’ rights and authority, it is okay. The question here is this: was the neighbor “scolding,” as Lenore put it, or was the neighbor actually coming from a place of love and compassion for the PARENTS just as much as the CHILDREN and looking to make a positive contribution? If it is the latter, then I certainly agree with you and Kenny about not making a mountain out of a molehill.

    However, if it was coming from a place of self-righteousness, snotty scolding, and a lack of respect for the parents’ position, you better believe I think that’s out of line and someone becoming angry about that isn’t wrong at all, and is completely founded in sanity and is a just and proper reaction.


  35. Christina September 28, 2011 at 3:09 am #

    You are such a nicer person than I! If someone drove up onto my driveway (hopefully she was careful not to run over the kid) and proceeded to lecture me about stranger danger, I am very sure the snark would fly out before my brain even knew my mouth was open. And how contradictory is it anyway to go up to a stranger and lecture them about stranger danger? Wha??? Pat yourself on the back for your lovely manners and then write yourself a mental script for the next time it happens (because it will).

  36. Lee September 28, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    Walsh has taken us down a very dark road. We can thank him for stranger danger, fear, misinformation, and witch hunts. This post is the tip of the iceberg. Surprised that lady didn’t come back with a camera to film the poor kid talking nicely to a stranger. Oh, it will come.

  37. Ann September 28, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    What I think is funny is that your daughter wisely chose a very safe woman to talk to…. someone who runs a daycare and likes kids. Your daughter probably caught “safe” vibes from her and felt like she was someone who would respond to her. If it had been some creepy perv who gave off bad vibes, your daughter may have wisely avoided him and headed back home. Sure, she “could” have been talking to just anyone, but she was talking to a daycare teacher for Heaven’s sake!!

  38. Maria September 28, 2011 at 4:00 am #

    I’ve seen that video – there are good parts, like teaching your child to distinguish between people they know well and people they “sort of” know, boundaries – like an adult will never ask a child to help find his puppy etc – and also making it a rule to come and ask your parent before going somewhere with anyone. But there are crazy things too, like if a stranger talks to you scream NO! at them. I didn’t have my son watch the video, but I used what was useful to teach him some street smarts.

    There’s a great book by Gavin DeBecker, who is a security expert. He advises NOT stopping your child from talking to strangers, but learning to assess strangers, how strangers normally interact with each other, how unknown adults normally talk to children, so they learn to judge when someone is not behaving appropriately. It’s so much better than treating everyone like a potential kidnapper/child molester.

  39. Myriam September 28, 2011 at 4:03 am #

    I get this sort of thing a lot. Most recently, I had a stranger telling me I shouldn’t let my child stroke a cat.

    I laughed on this occasion, which is probably the best response, but it does get on my nerves. Mainly it’s the sense of entitlement that people apparently feel to talk to parents like this. If it were a culture where it’s normal to give unsolicited advice to strangers it would be OK, but I’m in England and it’s not – except to parents, apparently.

  40. Ingrid September 28, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    Once a contractor, (who was a parent of kids from school and soccer), showed up at my house for a planned meeting. My kids, who saw him through the glass door and knew he was coming, recognized him from school drop offs and opened the door for him. He then scolded them about opening the door for strangers. The kids were confused. I was confused. Who are strangers? Who are our neighbors? And what do we do when our neighbors act strange?!
    People mean well but they say weird things. I kept my mouth shut.

  41. EricS September 28, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    Hi Heather, I’m glad you the mentality that you do. It’s very encouraging to hear that not every parent is paranoid and sheltering their children. I have been in your situation on more than one occasion. I have never shrugged them off and let things go. That is the best way to empower these know it all people. What I have said to people like this is:

    “I understand your concern, but if you look at statistics now and what it was like 15-30 years ago, you’ll realize that crime has gone down considerably. The only reason why it seems so prevalent now, is because of technology and media. Before the internet and smartphones, news was relayed from/by people calling 911. Now, ANYONE can report ANYTHING at ANY given time. Even show pictures or videos. If we had what we have now back 15-30 years ago, it would be mad chaos. You “think” it’s “bad” now, you would have a heart attack back in then. Yet, back then children at the age of 5 or 6 were walking to and from school on their own. Kids 8-10 were traveling across town to visit friends on their bicycles. But not once did ANYONE think twice about that. It was the NORM. And by your concern about talking to strangers because anything can happen, are you telling me YOUR a bad person because you ARE a stranger (she replies “well no”). Hmmmm. As well, everyone you have ever met was at one time a stranger to you. So if children shouldn’t talk to strangers, how will they ever make friends? How will they meet new people that could be instrumental in their growth. Parents aren’t the only ones that help children grow up. There are other sources of mentors and role models. But they are strangers first. It’s not that children shouldn’t talk to strangers, it’s that they should learn which strangers are ok to talk to, and which ones they should be wary of. And yes, ANYTHING can happen. A big meteor can land right on your head as soon as you go out to your car. Your car can spontaneously explode once you start it. There could be an earthquake that splits the ground beneath your feet and swallow you whole. Are you going to cower and never leave your house? Even if you lock yourself in your home, you can get electrocuted plugging an appliance in the socket. You could trip down the stairs and break your neck. You could have a heart attack or choke. Yes, ANYTHING can happen at any given time. But you don’t know what it will be, or when it will happen, or how bad it will be. Is that a reason to stop living? Is that a reason to stop using logic and common sense and give into paranoia? You drive. But did you know far more children are harmed or killed in car collisions than by abduction or assaults every year? Will that stop you from ever driving again? Hmmmmm. Again, thank you for your concern. But I teach my kids common sense and build their street smarts and confidence by letting them learn and experience what the real world is really like, and it’s not how YOU see it. Some people, like yourself, can chose to live a life of fear, and continue to listen to other fearful people. I won’t. Have a good day. Say bye to the lady.”

    By the way, that was a real conversation. She left without saying a word. But by the look on her face, she knew what I was speaking was true. But because of her paranoia, and self-righteous attitude, she left in a “huff and a puff”. Some people don’t like to be put in their place, because that would mean they would have to admit they are wrong. But because they do know deep down they are wrong, they walk away all pissy. lol Keep it up. Your doing a good job. And never let anyone tell you different.

  42. EricS September 28, 2011 at 5:07 am #

    @Maria: “He advises NOT stopping your child from talking to strangers, but learning to assess strangers, how strangers normally interact with each other, how unknown adults normally talk to children, so they learn to judge when someone is not behaving appropriately. It’s so much better than treating everyone like a potential kidnapper/child molester.” Bingo! 😉 Worked for me and my friends back in the day, we turned out pretty good. And what was good for us, is just as good for our children.

  43. EricS September 28, 2011 at 5:21 am #

    I agree with both Pentamom and LRH. Most of my discussions are based on logic and common sense. My voice does to tend to rise when I’m talking about something exciting or I’m passionate about. Some people who don’t know me view it as me getting angry. People who know me, would say “that’s not him angry, you’ll really know if he was mad.” lol. I would never let things go like that. I can’t have that person leaving “uneducated”, and empower her to expound their “wisdom” to others. At the very least, I want people like that to walk away THINKING. They don’t have to agree with me, but they should have something else to think about, other than paranoid dillusions.

    In my experience in dealing with a myriad of people over the years (working security part-time on weekends, and dealing with coorporate yahoos in my day job), I’ve learned that people do what they do because that’s all they’ve ever known, or have been condition to know. No one has ever told them otherwise. Most people ignore stupidity and ignorance. Which in my opinion doesn’t do anyone any good. You can speak your mind without being aggressive. If they perceive you as aggressive, then that’s on them. As long as you stick to your guns, be respectful, and speak the truth, no one can say you were in the wrong. Walking away would make me feel I’ve done disservice to society. Mind you, I still choose which battles I fight. There is a time and place for everything. Sometimes I don’t have the time for a discussion. 😉

  44. Tara September 28, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    I’m reading Jaycee Dugards book “A Stolen Life” She WAS abducted by a stranger. He used a stun gun and dragged her into his car (with his wife). She didn’t talk to him but was still kidnapped and hidden away for 18 years enduring unspeakable abuse at his hands. How would “don’t talk to strangers” have helped her?

  45. EricS September 28, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    Excellent comment Tara. “Don’t do this”, “don’t do that”, “avoid this”, these are all avoidance, “sweeping under the rug” if you will. Sure one can avoid…until next time it happens, and the next, and the next. You can’t avoid all your life. One has to make a stand and confront, face the obstacle in the path and go through it. You can only do this by learning how to, not avoiding it. And learning earlier is always better than learning later, when fear and habits have settled in their minds more strongly. It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks, but it does make it that much more challenging. And if the person teaching doesn’t have the patience, they will easily just give up. And no one benefits.

  46. Ellen Castelbuono Vitale September 28, 2011 at 6:04 am #

    My suggestion is to respond with something like this: “What a shame that we aren’t familiar with each other. You only live two doors down. So sorry I haven’t introduced myself, My name is Ellen V, and this is my daughter Susie and my son Matt. Susie, Matt come here, I’d like you to meet our neighbor…”

  47. Mike Lanza September 28, 2011 at 6:04 am #

    Heather – If that woman was a visitor to your neighbor’s house, just blow her and this situation off. She’s butting her nose too far into your business.

    However, if she actually lives there in your neighborhood, then that’s a big problem that you need to correct. You *and* your kids should know all your neighbors within 50 feet of your house (or 100 feet or 150 feet). Preferably, you should try to be friends with all these neighbors, but that won’t always be easy.

    My wife, I, and my boys know all neighbors within a three or four house radius well, and we know most within a block radius. Not only are we all outside a lot, but we say “hi” and strike up conversations, and we also knock on many doors for various reasons.

    The web of relationships we’ve made have been very satisfying for all of us.

    Here’s an article I wrote about my son Marco’s “village” – i.e. the area around our home that he’s comfortable roaming to.

  48. ericka September 28, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    this reminds me of when my oldest daughter was 2.5. She was very chatty. I am trying to be more free range, but have never quite been a helicopter. Anywho, I told my 2.5 old daughter that she could say hi to people, but I didn’t want her to tell everyone her full name before they even asked. I didn’t think they needed to know. Soo, when we came across the next stranger at the store, she said, “Hello, my name is Hermione” It was probably the funniest thing ever. Even funnier, she was a flower girl in a wedding that weekend and would only respond to Hermione.

  49. In the Trenches September 28, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    How old is that video? According to Lenore’s book, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which Walsh founded, has a current head, Ernie Allen, who believes that parents oughtn’t to fear, but simply to prepare their kids to handle themselves around strangers. I really wouldn’t ask someone who had personally suffered a child’s loss to abduction, as Walsh did, for advice about child safety…how could he ever be objective?

  50. Heather G September 28, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    I didn’t get to read all the comments, but I’ll answer the one about what will happen when kids grow up in the “don’t talk to strangers” mentality. We already see it. I grew up during the stranger danger hay day. So did my husband. I grew up with a police officer for an uncle who impressed in my mother that talking to strangers was safe but going with them or not knowing any kind of self defense was not. My in-laws raised their kids not to talk to strangers. My husband has had to work really hard on his communication skills because he never developed them naturally. Though he isn’t one of the millions of adults who can’t hold a conversation but spend their life online or texting the result is the same- poor face to face communication skills.

  51. Orual September 28, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    I think you handled it beautifully. People who are set enough in their opinions to flag down a complete stranger and tell them how to parent are not worth the energy it takes to argue with them. Leave it to someone who has a relationship with her.

  52. Maria September 28, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    I agree about John Walsh. He lost a child in a hideous manner, and has made it his life’s work to bring criminals to justice. I do think he’s gone way overboard, but I really can’t fault him for trying to do something to make sense of his son’s senseless death.

  53. Violet September 28, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Um, it was none of her business but I would be concerned about a child that young talking to a stranger in a car on the street. How do you know she wouldn’t go with a stranger? Kids do that all the time. Talking to a stranger in a restaurant is not the same as talking to people on the street.

  54. Diane September 28, 2011 at 7:04 am #

    I would have done exactly what you did. I always try to be polite and feel worse later if I am not, even if I have some great comebacks.

  55. Rich Wilson September 28, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    Not everyone reacts the way John Walsh has
    Not trying to fault him- just point out another result.

  56. Jo September 28, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Hello Heather – i’m pretty sure i’m probably repeating something someone else has said, but i haven’t had time to read all the responses! I think the dealt with it just fine, and engaging with someone who thinks like that is probably a waste of your precious time.

    My son is 5, and also very chatty to ‘strangers’. We don’t discuss things like ‘stranger danger’ – i have explained to him that everybody we don’t know is technically a ‘stranger’ and most of those people are friendly and can help him if he needs help, and he should always ask a ‘stranger’ for help should he need it. But, i have also explained that some (very few) ‘strangers’ *might* be bad people, and we just never know which one’s they will be – so therefore if someone he doesn’t know tries to get him to go somewhere, or get in a car, or pick him up, he has free reign to do whatever it takes to get away or attract attention (fight, scream, etc).

  57. Cheryl W September 28, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    You know, I interact with strangers every day. From people at the store, the school, the library, the gas station, the post office, etc. Yes, some are stranger than others. But it is my job to raise my kids to learn how to interact in society.

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” then they will not become good citizens. (They can’t even vote unless they are in a state with mail in ballots.)

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” then they can not check a book out at the library, or ask the librarian for help to find the book they want.

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” then they can’t be in 4-H, Boy Scouts or any other club. (And certainly couldn’t take their ducks to fair where they were expected to sit with the ducks and let people of ALL ages pet them.)

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” and then send them to school, they will get in trouble because they can’t talk to the secretary to check in, they can’t talk to all the teachers, the librarians, the lunch ladies, the parent volunteers, the community volunteers. (Because, while I may be able to take them to meet the teacher, they can’t meet or even remember everyone.)

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” when there is an actual emergency they will not be able to go flag down a car for help, ask a neighbor whom they don’t know well for help, or even get or receive help from a police officer or firefighter. Because they are all strangers.

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” I deprive them of the ability to make friends with people of all ages, to learn from other people, to babysit, have a job, volunteer to help other people, to do most anything at all.

    If I tell them “You can’t talk to strangers!” I am depriving them of what makes us human. I am confining them to living in my home, having interaction only online. Maybe that is what some parents want, when I hear of 12 year olds who are not allowed to talk to people, who don’t know how to interact with people. But, if they don’t know at 12, how are, exactly they supposed to learn? By that time they are so scared of “strangers” that they don’t WANT to talk to anyone.

    I asked my kids today, ages 6, 9 and 11, what age kids should be allowed to talk to strangers. Pretty much they said that they should be allowed to talk to strangers as soon as they can talk, but parents should be near until they understand that they should not get in cars or leave places (stores, library, school, etc) with a stranger. And that age should be around 5 or before, depending on the abilities of the kid. They realized without me saying anything, that kids do go to daycare, preschool and school, and HAVE to interact with strangers.

  58. Cheryl W September 28, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    And Heather, you dealt just fine. Best not to get into a disagreement with a stranger. (Really, what is there to gain? She is not going to change her mind because of you.) If she comes back and says any more, well, I am sure that you will have a response ready.

  59. Matt W. September 28, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    You did good. Be polite, say little, and move on with your life. Letting such people get to you is losing the good fight.

  60. Kim September 28, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    I was just in a communication and conflict management session today, and came out of it with the best take home message. Don’t take it personally. This is how we become offended. I know myself, and I would have been obsessing over this for days. But I realized today that the speaker was right. When people say things to you that can make you feel offended, they are the ones with the problem, not you. So just think to yourself, that’s her issue not mine, and move on. You handled it better than I would have. Don’t let it eat at you. Her perceptions are based on her reality, and they have nothing to do with you so just let it go. Conflict avoided, end of story.

  61. Sheila R. September 28, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    Thank her for taking the time out of her busy day in an effort to protect your children but also be sure point out that you would never, ever consider rolling up on her day care to tell her how to run her business. Then smile sweetly and tell her to get back into her gas guzzler and get off your property.

  62. Angie September 28, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Hmmm, well, I am one of those who thinks if someone is going out of their way to point something out to me, I can state my opinion, regardless of whether they are a stranger or not. Still, I agree with those who have said that, to some extent, there isn’t really much to be angry about here, except for this woman’s misinformed nature. She sounded like she WAS trying to be helpful… haven’t you ever seen something you thought was awful and “spoken up”? I have. And, yes, I’ve gotten the “mind your own business!” from people, but have felt better for speaking up. There’s a fine line between meddling and speaking up when something looks seriously amiss. I guess you could be offended that she thought you were doing something awful, but… suppose you had been doing something awful? Shouldn’t she have spoken up?

    The problem for this woman is that she considered a non-threatening situation to be one that was “seriously amiss.” What would I have done? Probably, like you, I would have not been able to think of anything on the spot. If I had my wits about me, I probably would have tried so say something to “educate” her. I like some of the suggestions I’ve read above.

  63. Donna September 28, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    “How do you know she wouldn’t go with a stranger? Kids do that all the time.”

    No really they don’t or we’d have a lot more missing/kidnapped children than we do.

  64. LRH September 28, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    I understand where Matt W and Kim are coming from, but frankly, I really like what Sheila R had to say. Darn right–you’d never consider telling her how to run her daycare, and you’d appreciate the same courtesy.

    Understand: those like Matt and Kim who are saying “don’t take it personally” and “don’t let such people get to you,” I understand. If we took every single thing personally and made it all about us, we’d be mentally insane. The world is too imperfect for everything to be exactly as it ought to be, and you have to make allowances for a certain amount of imperfection. It’s about finding peace for yourself in a crazy world.

    However, that doesn’t mean you have to CONDONE it or give your specific APPROVAL of it, and on some level when you don’t speak out about injustices, you go beyond just “finding peace for yourself in a crazy world” and you actually end up giving your APPROVAL for such things. It’s fine to say that you’re going to not let such things drive you to drinking, but it’s another thing to be a sucker & let people take advantage of you. You have to find the right balance.

    This applies in a lot of things. For instance, I very much don’t approve of people driving below the speed limit, especially in the left lane of a multi-lane highway, and no I don’t care if it’s because their vehicle is disabled, they’re scared, or are towing something heavy. It doesn’t matter, I don’t want them in my way, and I think they should at least get in the right lane to faciliate people who want to pass, those people are under NO obligation to putt-putt along at 20mph below the speed limit with the perpertrator.

    If I let every single person who did this drive me that crazy, I’d give myself a coronary. When I am able to tolerate at least SOME occasions of this wihout flipping out, things go much better. HOWEVER, at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with, in the RIGHT way, expresssing your point of view that someone doing this is being selfish and inconsiderate of other motorists. A person who is doing this does need to be told that their behavior is inconsiderate & selfish and needs to be addressed.

    Another example: I can’t stand the noise of barking dogs, it is extremely stressful for me. I used to even flip-out if I encountered this while walking in a city street by someone else’s house. Somewhere along the line, I got to where occasional instances of that no longer caused me to flip out. In other occasions, I’ve gotten by with earplugs. Either way, most of the time, I’m okay.

    HOWEVER, I still agree with laws that deal with that, and moreover, on my own property, I am VERY staunchly protective of how I shouldn’t have to put up with that on my own property. I stand up for my rights there because, on my own private property, I shouldn’t have to tolerate such noises. Also, even on city streets, if someone’s dog tries to bite me, I let them know that’s unacceptable and it will lead to a police report if they don’t address it. People need to understand that it’s not acceptable for them to let their animals run loose and harass people walking by the house, and that “the dog is just doing what comes naturally to it” is a cop-out that won’t be tolerated.

    You can’t drive yourself to insanity waging wars against every single petty imperfection that comes your way, but neither should one be told to just tolerate all instances of it either, else you send the message that such behaviors are acceptable, when they’re not. So it goes for the instance in the original post.


  65. johnny September 28, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    I’d’ve told her where to go – and get the “H E double” hockey stick off my lawn.

    Or maybe opinions are like 455holes – everyone has one.

    In reality – I’d probably just roll my eyes and wave her off….

  66. Kelly September 28, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    Heather, I don’t know if you’re still reading this far. In the past I’ve responded with, “Yes, a lot of people have those kind of worries,” and then wait and see what the response is, see what conversation we’re going to have. Many people just want to vent. Sometimes productive conversations have resulted.

    Now this woman was TELLING you what to do, and invoking an authority-like posture. In the past I’ve said things like, “It’s interesting you think you care more about my child’s safety than I do.” You can also say, “Do you enjoy unsolicited parenting/daycare advice?” Or you can just let her say her piece and not respond. Or argue the facts and statistics (which has never been fun for me).

    There is a solution somewhere that fits your temprament and allows you your peace of mind. I hope you find it!

  67. April September 28, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    1. I saw that video when I was a kid; it’s the reason why my kids and I have a secret password. Works great. They don’t go off when anyone they don’t know and if I need someone to pick them up, or take them somewhere, I give them the password (since it’s made up, no one is likely to guess it). I still remember my password from when I was a kid.

    2. The lady drove 2 houses down to talk to you? Geesh

  68. Leah September 28, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    YEAH Lady!! I applaud her! Not a popular response for many of you but let me tell you why, because my answer would have been different a week ago.

    A youngster in our community committed suicide after years of bullying. This child reached out in many obvious ways. It caused me to think…NOT about the bully, but rather about the bystanders – any of whom might have been able to prevent this tragedy.

    We are no longer a village raising children. We are silo’s. I am in my 40’s and as a kid, no one thought twice about yelling at a kid…anyone’s kid…who was acting up -in their opinion. It was awful getting in trouble by a neighbor because you knew that you were also going to get in trouble at home…and then even more trouble for embarrassing your parents.

    That doesn’t happen in most places today. We don’t want anyone to say anything to our child, or in this case, about our child. Likewise, we bite our tongues when it comes to others’ children-even our friends’ kids; often especially our friends’ kids.

    We have become bystanders in our silos. Our kids are learning from us. Yeah!! lady who was concerned for someone else’s childs safety and had the courage and loving heart to speak up. You don’t have to agree with her…take it under advisement unless you have parenting all figured out, but most definitely say, “Thank you for caring about a child you don’t know and will likely never see again!”

    I bet that lady’s child has a voice, and a child who has a voice does not need to become a bully or a bystander. Moreover, they will experience greater happiness in life because they can speak up for that which they believe.

    I say, have gratitude for EVERY person who takes an interest in your child and rejoin the village!

  69. rhodykat September 28, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    We constantly talk to strangers. I encourage my kids to talk to strangers all the time. Why? Once in a blue moon, we DON”T talk to a stranger – and when we leave, we talk about why we didn’t talk to them. They were weird. They made us uncomfortable. They were creepy. We didn’t like how they talked to us. One refusal to talk gives a whole lot of reinforcement to the concept that 99% of the people we meet are good people who are fine to talk to and who will help us out if we ever need help, but there are “bad” people out there and you will know if somebody is ok not to talk to.

    My oldest is 8 now. My kids attend a private school on a college campus. My 8 year old daughter asked if she could have the car key and walk ahead to the car last week – about 250 yards away, across two roads and around a bend (I can’t see the car from the school). Not a problem. I was walking behind with the 6 and 3 year olds, and it seemed like a good stretch of freedom for her to walk alone. As we get near the car, I see her walking back. I asked her what the problem was and she looked at me and said matter of factly – “there is a creepy guy over there and I didn’t want to go near him alone.” Lo and behold as I got near the car, there was a creepy guy there, being put into the back of the campus police car. I was so proud of my daughter. She didn’t freeze. She wasn’t scared. She just saw a situation that didn’t feel right and removed herself from it before she could be in danger and went somewhere she felt safe – and this with the car keys in her hand to go to the car and get in by herself for the first time, which I know she was REALLY excited to do. Teach them how to deal with situations as they arise, not fear the unknown, and they are a little better off.

  70. Ann In L.A. September 28, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    There’s a point which I haven’t seen made here, but which I think needs to be made. Often mentioned around here is the point that crime is way down and is now back where it was in the early ’70’s. However, crime was never *up*! At least it wasn’t up across the board.

    During the 80’s, when much of our current media and cultural perspective was formed, the crack epidemic hit. This was the era when kids were killed in their beds by bullets flying through their walls. Drug dealers were fighting turf wars for control of the business, and many innocent adults and children were killed in the crossfire. Because of sentencing laws which treated ever- younger kids as adults, pushers used younger and younger kids for their dirty work. As a result, there were lots of 11-13 year-olds who were carrying guns and delivering drugs. If they died or were arrested, their bosses just saw it as part of doing business, wrote them off, and replaced them with even-younger kids. Some police departments nearly abandoned parts of their cities out of fear. Many cities were absolutely devastated and are still working to recover. Detroit, in particular, was nearly destroyed during this time and it looks today that it might never be able to recover.

    The media ate it up. They broadcast the carnage to the world. Nightly news broadcasts stuck to their “if it bleeds, it leads” motto. As a result, people who lived even in safe, non-drug-infested, non-gang-infested areas thought that drug dealers were in their area ready to addict or recruit their kids. They thought the violence was just around the corner.

    It wasn’t.

    As terrible as it was for the high-crime areas, even during the times with the highest crime-rates, living in a safe area meant you lived in a *safe* area. Crime was heavily localized, and much of the population never had anything to fear.

    Nevertheless, we shut our doors and locked out our neighbors. We reined our kids in and shrank their world to one of indoors play and pre-arranged play dates with carefully vetted families. Walking to school was seen as ridiculous when there were shootings happening on street corners every day. Our kids worlds got smaller and more programmed.

    Our reaction to the violence of the 80’s was largely an overreaction. Most of our kids were never in danger in the first place. Now, however, they are in danger of obesity and diabetes. They are in danger of never learning to tie their shoes until they are 14. They are in danger of never learning to ride a bike. Never going around the block by themselves until they are learning to drive a car. Never doing anything at any time without adult supervision. They are in danger of being laughed at by potential employers when their mommy calls about a job offering despite their being college graduates.

    We have raised a generation of kids who live at home with their parents into their thirties not just because the economy is bad, but because they have never had to make a decision in their lives, never had to learn to do something on their own, never been allowed to fail and pick themselves back up, never had to do anything for themselves.

    So, get a little perspective and realize that our kids were all right back then, they are all right now, and they will be all right tomorrow.

  71. oncefallendotcom September 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    John Walsh is a womanizer and a fraud, quite frankly. If you’ve ever read his book, Tears of Rage, he brags about being a bully in school and sneaking out of girl’s rooms and being the bane of fathers everywhere. His wife was underage when he was having sex with her during his college days. Walsh admitted to cheating on his wife. Walsh has lied to Congress. I guess Walsh teaches all men are predators because he is one. Maybe when he talked about exploding rectum chips and compared men to dobermans he had himself in mind.

  72. Heather September 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    Even if you continue to look at it with a suspicious point of view, I finally learned that making eye contact with people and responding to them lets them know that you are paying attention to what they are doing. It goes a long way, I think in deterrence and I wish someone had taught me how to meet the world with confidence back in the seventies.
    That poor woman has been telling people what to do her whole life and she probably couldn’t stand to think she could be wrong. Just like we have to tolerate the fact that there are child molesters in the world, we also have to tolerate that there are busybody bossy know it alls in the world.

  73. Taradlion September 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    I wish “stranger” did not rhyme with “danger”. Catch phrases catch on so quickly, and can be such pain.

    I have two kids. The older got the “stranger danger” slogan fed to her (not by me) and it has taken a while to undo it. My son is the mayor of munchkin city, talks to everyone, and is far less cautious all around. He has gotten separated from us and has gone to adults for assistance. Once to the concierge desk at a huge hotel, and once to a mom with kids at the beach and asked to use her phone to call me. (I was actually not at the beach, so that was quite a call. He was there with his dad and a friend’s parents playing in the sand. I was able to call and get him reunited and I was very proud of him). I encourage my kids to talk to the MTA elevator operator, store clerks (they go to ask for assistance), wait staff. We give food to people that are homeless on the street, talk to elderly and other adults at synagogue. We also review the “do not leave anywhere or get into a car with some one” rule that unfortunately doesn’t rhyme. We talk about the fact that it is extremely unlikely that someone would try to trick them (and what to do) or grab them (and what to do) and who counts as people we know well. We also talk about stories in the media and how it makes it seem like it is not so rare, but it is.

  74. tdr September 28, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    What I find funny is this. She says “There is a really good video that John Walsh put out about teaching kids who it is ok to talk to ”

    I don’t know John Walsh and I’ve never seen that video, but does she really think that she is one of those people to whom it is not ok for a kid to talk if that kid were in trouble? (ie a woman driving a mini-van who is familiar because she lives right down the street?)

  75. cagey September 28, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    Man, I wish the reader was MY neighbor – we would get along famously.

    I have kids similar ages (4 and nearly 6) with similar personalities because I’ve ENCOURAGED them to talk to strangers all these years. And I’ve gotten similar reactions as the reader has gotten.

    My response now is to smile and say “Oh, there’s loads of evidences that shows kids are in more danger from a step-parent or a relative than from a stranger. I want my kids to learn to trust their instincts.” And then I laugh.

    The laugh is what throw people off. Eh. Whatever. When I see my kids greet folks cheerfully and respectfully at the grocery store and when I see them make an elderly person’s DAY because they made that person laugh, I feel I am doing something RIGHT.

  76. Elisabeth September 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    Heather’s account resonates with me in a number of ways: 1) the “helpful neighbor” who actually does have good intentions but is so buoyed up by the fabricated terror of a prime-time media that seems to spend more time recommending reactions and setting social norms than it does actually informing (have you noticed that each “news story” about child abduction is always accompanied by advice on how to behave or what to buy to “prevent this from happening to YOU?!??) that she ends up being completely self-righteous and intimidating, 2) having that “frozen reaction” as recipient of this well-intentioned dressing down and feeling both obligated to receive this concern with grace but also being so taken aback that your own free-range principles escape you for a moment but if you do manage to communicate them before the drive-by finger wagging is over, they come out sounding defensive or even hostile, 3) and then the feeling of hopelessness afterward that there just doesn’t seem to be a satisfying way to respond to these kinds of confrontations.

    So, I feel pretty torn about the right way to handle these situations myself. But here’s the crazy thought I’ve been having lately: We have this weird little arched shelf on the front of our house, the kind of place where you’d expect to find a saint icon or something. I’ve never been able to figure out what to put there, but lately I’ve been thinking of putting up a kind of free-range manifesto so that anyone who is thinking of coming to tell me that my kids are playing unsupervised in the park or that they were spotted at the bus stop alone could see the manifesto and think twice before asking me if I’m aware of how horrible I am. You know, like the best defense is a good offense.

  77. acm September 29, 2011 at 12:51 am #

    well, nonengagement might be the right approach, but if you wanted to say something, I’d try “Well, I certainly don’t want her to be afraid to talk to the neighbors! Those are the very people whose help she might need if anything serious or dangerous actually DID occur!”

    but, you know, picking battles and all that. depends on whether you want relationships with your neighbors over the long run…

  78. Lissa September 29, 2011 at 3:48 am #

    To me, it all rests on how important it is to you. Like someone else said, we all have to pick our battles. If this is a battle that you feel should be picked, by all means, be polite but firm in asserting yourself. However, if it’s just not worth the effort to you, then I would say you responded appropriately. Now, if her parenting lectures become a frequent occurrence, you may have no choice but to assert yourself.

  79. jenny September 29, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    You just have to go with your gut. People are obnoxious, but sometimes they think they are trying to help. You just say “Oh, thanks!” And move on. Nothing you can do. But trust your own instincts. People are weird.

  80. Dolly September 29, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    See to me I feel it is more important to teach kids to be wary around even people they do know. Since as the statistics show kids are more likely to be hurt by someone they know. Also just because it is a wise lesson in life. I have been hurt or been in bad situations when I knew the people in question. I was okay because I am wary by nature of people and I am smart about trusting people and reading them. My lesson to my kids is treat everyone nicely and decently until they give you reason to treat them otherwise. However, always be smart and wary to a point with anyone besides perhaps your mother, father and Mimi. Don’t just blindly trust anyone minus those three people.

  81. Angie September 29, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    Leah, I love what you said. It’s true, everyone feels scared to discipline another’s kid or say anything. I’ve seen kids doing things that were awful (torturing worms, as an example) and I’ve told them to cut it out, and they just looked at me like, “who are you? You’re not my parent, I don’t have to listen to you.” Hence the problem so many teachers have these days!

    With my son, I have a rule: if someone tells you to stop doing something (something probably free range, but who knows, he could be doing something harmful), he’s to say “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am,” stop what he’s doing, and come talk to me. If I think the other parent was wrong in their judgment, it gives me a chance to tell them, no, it’s really OK with me if he does that. Good chance for an education. I think we all need to look out for each other’s kids and not one of us has every angle of parenting figured out.

    The problem with this woman was that she’s bought into the fear mentality… and maybe she was being condescending or bossy or whatever, but, yeah, at least she cares. So glad you brought up this point! I think you spelled out what I’d been trying to get at in my previous post.

  82. backroadsem September 29, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    I think you handled it as well as anything. I suppose we could all think up a thousand witty (and true!) statements to make her shut up, but even though I think you have ever right to be offended, this is something of a win-win situation. It’s not very plausible anything you could have said would have changed this woman’s mind. She feels she has done a good deed by enlightening you do the madness of the world, and your opinions have not changed.

    I suppose if it were happen again and you were prepared, I would thank her, inform her of how I’m raising my child with stranger awareness (not danger, just awareness), and that she brought up an excellent teaching opportunity about assessing stranger situations. But in this case, you figured she was visiting a friend in your safe and lively neighborhood and did not pose a reasonable threat.

  83. Michelle the Uber Haus Frau September 29, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    She was nicer to that neighbour than I would have been. Would have said “I don’t pay attention to people to who cash in on tragedy.”

    What happened to his son is horrible, but that’s exactly what he’s doing on America’s Most Wanted (that even on anymore?), making money off crime.

  84. oncefallendotcom September 29, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    AMW was cancelled by Fox so Lifetime (Television for paranoid man-hating women) picked it up. He sure loves milking his kid’s death for what its worth.

  85. Camismom September 29, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    AMW starts their new season on Fox just in time for Halloween on Oct.29th. Could the time have been any more planned?

  86. singlemom September 29, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    My answer to the “never talk to strangers crowd” when they start telling me who my son should and shouldn’t interact with, is to tell them that in a time of need, a stranger will be the most likely person to help my child. When we were in a car accident, strangers stopped by to help us. When we are lost, strangers help us find our way. Almost all crimes against children are perpetrated by someone the child knows well.

  87. socialjerk September 29, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    Perhaps she could try bursting into, “A Stranger’s Just a Friend You Haven’t Met” from the musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire, as featured on the Simpsons. Even if the message doesn’t come across, that neighbor will probably be happy to leave the crazy singing lady alone.

  88. Maria September 29, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    Just posting because I’m getting too much email following this thread and I can’t see how else to turn it off.

  89. chantel1991 September 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    I think you handled the situation just fine. We all have a right (not an obligation) to express our views, which this woman did, and which you have done. Many people agree with what this woman did. Many agree with your position.

    My kids have always been friendly, which I encourage, but they also understand about appropriate personal space (more for social etiquette than safety, but the result is the same). They don’t walk up and hug strangers (like some of them did when they were small), but they’ll chat in the grocery line or in the park. They walk to school without “help,” and I don’t worry. Besides, when did worry ever count towards prevention?

    Although, I kind of would be tempted, if I were in a similar situation, to counter with a blatantly honest experience where a friend suffered more abuse from her father, a boyfriend, and others she knew well than anyone I know has had difficulty with a “stranger.”

  90. Bernadette Noll September 30, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    I think your method was perfect. To engage her would only have caused you aggravation. I might have added something like, “all the world is a stranger, until we meet them.” Or give her some stat about the percentages of abductions that are actually made by friends and relatives of the family as opposed to strangers.

    We do pretend scenarios with our kids randomly where we act out people trying to get them to do something they don’t want to do such as getting in a stranger’s car or doing something just because a peer says they should. We talk to them often about tuning into their gut (and that includes not always saying hello even if someone says hello to them!) We talk to them too about their “dog voice” which is inside them and is there for their use. It’s the loudest scream/yell ever and is useful if in danger.

    It’s too bad stranger and danger rhyme. Perhaps if it wasn’t so catchy, people wouldn’t use it so often.

  91. Nicolas Martin September 30, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    I’m fully in favor of free-rangery and fighting city hall, but Child Protective Services is not a threat to take lightly. As Tocqueville anticipated, democracy becomes a totalitarian tool by which even the most minute behavior is regulated by the state. And as Washington said, government is not not reason or eloquence, it is force.

  92. healthy educator October 1, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    In reality, this woman was trying to help you. Child abduction rates may be falling, but unmedicated individuals with violent mental illness is on the rise. It only takes the wrong person to drive by your house once and snatch your daughter up. You can’t replace her and should be thankful for the advice of how to safeguard your children a little better. Is it really worth the risk to not?

  93. LRH October 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    Sorry heathy educator, but you’re promoting the “climate of fear” that “any second your daughter could be wrong, and THEN how would you feel that she wasn’t handcuffed to your arm for that 1 nanosecond.” Sorry, but to be blunt–that’s total nonsense.


  94. LRH October 1, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    facepalm, facepalm, argh!

    “any second your daughter could be GONE, not WRONG”


  95. Uly October 2, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    In reality, this woman was trying to help you. Child abduction rates may be falling,

    And in this conversation, that’s the statistic that matters!

    but unmedicated individuals with violent mental illness is on the rise.

    Please cite your source, and then explain how you combine that with the falling crime rate to get increased danger.

    It only takes the wrong person to drive by your house once and snatch your daughter up.

    How often does this happen? (Not very.) How could you fend off a suitably determined random child abductor? WHY are you telling us to let a tiny risk cause us to make major, inconvenient, possibly damaging changes to our lives?

    You can’t replace her and should be thankful for the advice of how to safeguard your children a little better.

    Sure you can replace children, presuming you’re still in your fertile years.

    Is it really worth the risk to not?

    When the risk is that tiny? Yes, absolutely.

  96. Uly October 2, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    Oh, don’t lie. You’re not sorry to be blunt 😛

    And really, when people say inane things like that, bluntness is the best they can hope for.

  97. Donna October 2, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    “but unmedicated individuals with violent mental illness is on the rise.”

    Say this is true (it’s not but let’s pretend) and my daughter does happen to encounter a person with a violent mental illness 2 blocks from my house, what difference is it truly going to make in outcome to have me right there? We both end up dead so I don’t have to mourn her? Good for me, but worse for the rest of my family.

    I could understand the argument that a predator is not going to abduct a child with a parent right there. That is likely a true statement concerning most predators. But a person who is mentally ill and living in a world of delusions causing him to act in a violent manner is not going to swayed by my presence. He’ll just build me into the delusion. And it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to be able to over power him physically.

  98. Ann In L.A. October 2, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Was just trying to argue with another parent that it’s safer now than when we were kids, and that it was okay to let a nine year old walk to a store a couple blocks away by himself.

    She threw back at me…”Well that guy with the TV show whose son was killed says…”

    I might just be giving her The Book.

  99. Heather October 4, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Hey all! I’m the “Heather” who wrote the original note to Lenore (Thanks, Lenore, for posting it!!). I read through each and every comment that you each took the time to leave here. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness you all put in to your posts. I can’t possibly respond to each and every one of you, but a couple of things stuck with me as I read through your posts: (1) I liked the idea of saying something innocuous, like, “Yes, a lot of people seem to have the same worries you do,” and let her figure out what I mean; (2) I agree, the more I thought about it after it happened, that no matter what I said, I wasn’t going to convince this lady otherwise; (3) She isn’t my neighbor (thank goodness), but a friend of our neighbor’s…my children do know the neighbors who live around us, and thankfully aren’t afraid to talk to them and their children; and (4) I did ask both of my kids after it happened what they would do if someone they didn’t know tried to get them to go with them, and both of them said, “I’d kick and scream and run away”…good for them! Anyway, thanks again for all your comments. Good to know that common sense isn’t entirely dead and there are others out there who have similar beliefs in how to raise our kids!!

  100. Nicola October 4, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    I love this blog. 🙂

  101. Shane Tanguis October 10, 2011 at 1:59 am #

    Hi, Lenore and Co. Just wanted to drop a line to say how much I enjoy your stuff. You’re changing lives by fighting the good fight. I hope you know that.

    To Heather….

    Great post! It’s krazy amazing how fear alters our perception, isn’t it? Fear made her think that it was completely cool to offer unsolicited advice on something as intimate as raising your child. It’s a pretty bizarre thing to do if you think about it.

    And you’re right. There was little hope in changing her. Not only are her livelihood and identity associated with keeping children safe, it’s almost impossible to dethrone such deeply-rooted fear, especially by a passing comment from an obviously ‘unfit’ mother. She would need a major life-changing event instead. Or maybe a 24/7 Valium drip.

    I found this quote by Helen Keller. Forgive the repeat – I’m sure one of the other readers has posted it at some point. But I love it and you probably will, too. If anyone should have “played it safe,” it should have been her, don’t you think?

    “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.”


    Take care, Heather!!

    Shane Tanguis

  102. racheljoyhatten October 13, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Heather, I would have done the same as you, I’m sure. I get pretty shocked when people ‘correct’ me and give unsolicited advice, so I usually just smile, say thanks and part their presence. Then I get upset/mad and come up with all sorts of replies and things I wish I could have said.

    A LOT of what has been said is right on the mark.

    It *would* be nice if our villages were raising our children…but the sad thing is, our houses have turned into villages (‘they’ have done studies! our ridiculously large homes actually replace and represent villages…the gathering commons, the local cafe/diner, the bar/tavern). Yes, there is still that remnant of wanting to work together as a community—hence all the unsolicited advice. Yes, people mostly *are* just trying to help, not coming from a place of maliciousness nor are they trying to make us feel dumb/stupid/bad.

    But, the way people go about doing this is the problem. Ever notice how when people hand you unsolicited advice, they NEVER 1) introduce themselves, 2) give a compliment, 3) ask if they can offer a word of wisdom, 4) give the advice kindly and without sounding like a know-it-all?

    It’s semi-off line, but it’s applicable here. I think of the way I was trained as a personal trainer. They told us to think how when we’re in the middle of a workout, do we like to be interrupted? Outrightly told we’re doing something wrong, or told there’s a better way to do it? No. We were told, approach the target (we were of course trying to help people but also recruit them as clients), introduce ourselves, mention that it looks like they’re working xxxxxxxxx really hard (“you’re really working at a steady cardio pace”), and then ask if you could offer a way to make their session better. And if they say no, thank them for their time, let them know if they do have any questions they can come to you, and LEAVE.

    I think if people said, “Hi! I’m Dawn. Your daughter’s lovely, very friendly! I’m just concerned with the way she wandered off from you and came so readily up to me” then maybe it would show they just care.

    Alas, I think FB, Twitter, blogs (I have one, too! I’m not being a hypocrite here) and forums have made us all believe that EVERYONE wants to hear what we have to say…people are finding it more and more difficult to censor themselves in real life when it comes to things they feel they are the expert on.

    HEATHER: I also have to say though that I think it’s WoNdErFuL that you are not squashing your daughter’s spirit. I am a firm believer that a lot of the issues we are having in society, especially among our women, is because we have been taught to reign in our natural selves. We are wise, and intuitive, and very in tune with others. Keep encouraging her to let her spirit soar, and to always listen to the wisdom she’s been given within!

  103. Nathani October 21, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    I would (if I could compose myself)…
    LAUGH (not in a malicious way, just as if you’ve heard a joke)

  104. Warren September 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Very late to the party, but what the hey.

    My response to this, and I have used it more than I should.
    “No, I have taught her not to talk to strange people, not strangers.”


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