Why We SHOULD Teach Our Kids To Talk To Strangers
It's seems like common sense when teaching kids right from wrong; look both ways when crossing the street, stop drop & roll, and don't talk to strangers!! It's something I certainly remember being taught as a child, and something I had planned on teaching my own two kids. After a recent interaction with my daughter, however, I have begun to question everything I thought I knew about so-called "stranger danger."
It all began last week when my daughter came home from school (she is in 4 year old kindergarten), and told me some police officers had been in to visit her classroom. When I asked her what she learned, she stated that the lesson was all about never talking to strangers. Later on that evening, she asked me if I would tell her a story about strangers. (Whenever my daughter learns new things or doesn't quite understand something, she often asks me for a story about it. I typically leave blanks in the stories and have her answer questions to teach her more or help her understand the difficult topics).
I began my story with a little girl at the park. The little girl is playing on the slide when she notices a strange man. He is there by himself. He comes up to the little girl and asks her if she can help him find his lost puppy. At this point in the story I stop and ask my daughter what she thinks this little girl should do. The good news is that she knew enough to identify this man as a stranger and also knew that she should NOT help him look for his puppy. When I prompted her about telling someone, she answered that she should tell her Mom and Dad. I then began my story again and told her there were some other people in the park with the little girl that day. There was a Mom pushing two little kids on the swings. I again stopped the story. This time I tried to lead her to the conclusion that she should go ask that Mom for help and tell her about the man with the "lost puppy." To this, my daughter emphatically reminded me that lady was a stranger, and so she should NOT talk to her.
The thoughts began to run through my mind so fast and furiously that I could hardly keep up with them. What if that really was my daughter in the story? That woman pushing two kids on the swing could save my daughters life. But if my little girl stayed quiet, that Mom may leave the park, allowing my daughter to be taken by this man. Or even if my daughter can get away on her own, that man also has the opportunity to get away, and then he will be free to harm other kids.
It really struck me hard that I don't want my daughter to view other people as "strangers." If something bad ever happened to me at home, I need her to be comfortable enough to run to a neighbors house for help, even if she has never met that neighbor. As she gets older and does more and more things on her own, I want her to be able to approach someone in a mall if she thinks she is being followed. I would sleep better at night if I knew that she could find someone to assist her if she ever got lost at the zoo. A complete stranger could save her life in so many instances... but only if she is willing to approach them.
Since that day, I have changed my philosophy on strangers and how I teach my kids. If you ask my daughter about strangers now, she will tell you that a stranger is just someone you haven't met yet. BUT... she will also be able to tell you about "tricky people" and "safe people." She knows that a tricky person is someone that may be bad or tell lies, and a safe person is someone that can help protect you. We have talked a lot about how sometimes it can be really difficult to tell which strangers are tricky people and which strangers are safe. I have given her some general guidelines; a tricky person may be a grown up who asks a child for help, someone who wants you to go somewhere with them when you don't have your Mom or Dad's permission, or someone who asks you to keep a secret. Guidelines for a safe person might be a Mom with her kids at the park, a family at the zoo, a grocery store clerk, or a police officer at the mall.
The tough part is, that obviously, my guidelines are not always accurate. A Mom with her kids or a grocery store clerk could end up being dangerous also. There are even bad police officers in the world. But, I would prefer that my daughter take her odds with those general stereotypes over the alternative. And seeing as my child is only 4 years old, and I don't want to scare her, my stories and guidelines have to be relatively simple still.
At the end of the day, all I want is for my kids to understand that talking to strangers is okay, and sometimes even necessary for their safety. I write this article with the hope that it may change a few parent's viewpoints, and possibly even save a few kid's lives.