Stranger Danger: Worst–First Thinking

Stranger Danger: Worst–First Thinking

I was reading a guest post on Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids blog on stranger danger that got me all worked up. In this post, the author, a dad, fears societal reprimand for trying to help a crying little kid, and in the end, is called a pervert for approaching the child to help.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to call someone names just for talking with a kid, but what if he were talking to my kids? Admittedly, I do have stranger fears. I also have a fear that my kids might get hit by a car. So there. We live in fear. How much should I let these fears drive my life?

We live in a quiet Vermont town. Smallest population for a state capital in the United States. We know our neighbors. We talk to strangers. Strangers become our friends. People here, on the whole, love kids. I catch glimpses of adults watching my kids as they walk, or ride bikes. The look is of a longing for their own life. Their own children. Our landlords talk to us about their kids. The plumber talked about his kids. The appliance guy talked about his kids, and his grand kids. The 5 EMT guys who came to help get my stuck toddler son out of the bathroom talked about their kids.

Okay. You get it.

What I’m finding now is that my 3.5 year old is more chatty, and more comfortable with answering questions posed by strangers. Sometimes, when people we don’t know have asked her a question, I’ve told her, in Spanish, that she doesn’t have to answer. I’d like to think I would say that to her regardless of who the question was coming from, but the truth is that I’ve been concerned with her readiness to talk to any stranger and tell them all sorts of details about her life, including her name, and her brother’s name.

I am functioning on the “worst-first thinking”–a term Skenazy uses in her writing. I’m assuming that people aren’t trustworthy. My body language makes it clear that I trust mothers, but not all women; fathers, but not all men. What if a man is talking with my kids and doesn’t have his kids by his side? That would be a stranger I’m going to be cautious of.

I don’t want to live this way- always in fear of strangers. I want my kids to trust strangers- to a certain extent. I don’t want them to feel helpless if we should be separated at a theme park or something equally overwhelming. I want them to be able to think on their feet, find someone they feel is trustworthy, and ask for help.

I don’t want them to accept treats from strangers, or get into a car with someone they don’t know, but there has to be a medium ground.

How much do you think your kids should trust strangers?

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