Most parents have a conversation with their children about “stranger danger.” Don’t talk to strangers, don’t take candy from strangers, don’t get in vehicles or go somewhere with strangers. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? While all that is good advice, I think it tends to just worry children about things that aren’t necessarily true threats. The only reason I have had that conversation with my kids is because other people have already talked to them about it. In my opinion, kids are more likely to get hit by lightning than be taken by a stranger. Actually, they are more likely to be hurt by someone they know. Yes, there are weirdos out there. But most likely, the weirdos are going to be weird to a kid that they are familiar with. Hypothetically, I worry about the uncle or cousin or neighbor that takes too much interest in my kids. Instead of telling my kids not to talk to strangers, I tell them to let me know if someone makes them feel bad inside. I tell them that if they have a “secret” with an adult who is not their mommy or daddy, they should tell mommy or daddy that secret. I like my kids to tell me what they’ve done over the weekend at their other houses, not because I’m grilling them, but because I honestly care. To me, there should never be any secrets.
Stranger danger also takes on a whole new meaning at the grocery store, a walk down the street, or at events. An extended family member they see at Christmas wants to give them a big hug, but the kid doesn’t remember them, and the kid screams stranger danger! We are walking down the street, and new neighbors are moving in. We go over to say hi, and the kid feels like that is not a good idea. The check-out clerk at the store wants to give a sucker to the kid, she is hesitant to take it. How are kids supposed to know the difference between good strangers and bad strangers? How are they supposed to know when to be polite, and when to scream and run? I read something somewhere about Halloween myths. Do you know that there has not been one documented event of a child being poisoned by the candy? Now, is that due to overzealous parents checking each morsel the kids get, or is that because the people handing out candy are not the bad people we think they are?
When we are in public, my kids are expected to act decent and say hi when someone says hi to them. If they want the sucker, take it. If they don’t, say no thank you. When a great aunt they don’t remember wants to give them a hug, you hug back. I really don’t worry about someone snatching my kids from the grocery store. I DO pay attention to any weirdos hanging out at the park. But so far, I don’t think any kids have been snatched from our park here in Ludington since it’s been in existence for the past 10 years or so. I make the kids assert their independence and learn to play with themselves and the friends they make while I sit on the bench and watch.