There is WAY too much hype over the out-dated and absolutely de-bunked “stranger danger” myth. Yet, I hear it perpetuated all the time by new parents, wherever I go. Just last Saturday at the Y, E. and I walked by a woman in the ladies locker room on our way out of swim class who spoke in a low voice to her friend, “…I’m just so worried about talking to people we don’t know.” I felt like a Bad Person just walking by them, as if any moment Something Bad would happen. I get the fear but I think parents need to reign themselves in a bit on the stranger danger fallacy. Here’s why-
- Until you meet them for the first time, everyone is a stranger. That’s a lot of people to write off! Even potentially harmless people like your child’s swimming instructor, your Music Together teacher, the mail delivery person, your husband’s boss. Will Rogers said, “strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet.” Call me an optimist, but I think this is mainly true. I’d rather teach my daughter that there are more friends in the world, good people than evil-doers.
- You talk to strangers all day long: the man who’s bagging your groceries, the mechanic working on your car; the mom whose Moby you are buying, etc. You get the point. Your children look to you to know what to do, think and feel. Telling them not to talk to strangers while you share stories with them or hand over money is totally confusing.
- Your child will someday need to talk to a stranger. The bus driver for their new school or their friend’s father who returns home from service abroad, for example. These are strangers and depending on the age of your child, they may or may not “get” why some strangers are bad to talk to and some are okay. Mixed messages are confusing!
- Strangers aren’t the problem. The chances of your child being molested or kidnapped even by a stranger are very small. The chances of your child being kidnapped by your estranged ex-partner or molested by Uncle Jerry are MUCH higher.
Since E. was six weeks, we’ve been walking. As a result, she knows everyone from Arieli and Leon at Cocoa Cinnamon to the familiar faces at the Farmer’s Market. Yes, there’s a food theme here but she also knows neighbors, the garbage truck gal, the contractor who worked on the house next door, etc. I’ve learned to pay attention to my gut, to detect what may be potentially dangerous and who to trust. This is why we talk to strangers. Just like other feelings, E. notices my trust and, I think, understands.
I realize that not everyone has the background that I do. The world out there is scary but not really in the media-hyped ways that we hear about. I think things like Medicaid being eliminated for families who have special needs children is scarier…and much more common than a child abduction. Things that are scary for parents related to children can, often, be prevented.
In lieu of taking a crash course in family violence and childhood sexual assault, let me recommend two resources on preventing scary from happening to you or your child-
- Lenore Skenazy over at Free Range Kids wrote a book about this very blog topic in fact which is not only a terrific resource for parents on how to put danger in perspective but also delivered in very amusing way. Check it out if you haven’t read it.
- Gavin de Becker is an author and a security specialist who I am a HUGE fan of. If you are a parent and haven’t read _The Gift of Fear_, definitely do so. In it, de Becker teaches you to understand how to detect real threats and what to ignore by learning to listen to gut instinct. This book is worth its weight in gold.
Your kids are listening, no matter what you’re saying. They’re watching, no matter what you’re doing. So, instead of lamenting the danger in the world, why not change your approach? Do something about your fear to make yourself feel better. Get educated, be informed, be an ally and pass it on. Talk aloud about that.