Hi, friends! Today I’m sharing this month’s edition of Seeking Advice which I just know is going to quickly become my favorite post on this here blog. This month’s topic is one of those things no one really wants to talk about because it’s awkward and it also kind of seems like common sense, but when you delve deeper it’s more complicated than that. So let’s get to it!
As parents, there are so many questions we may have and for the most part, fodr each question, there are a million different answers. So where do you start? How do you determine what is the “right” answer? For me, the answer is research and ask around – which is what this new series is going to be for.
About once a month, I ask a question to all of you about an aspect of parenting that is all shades of gray. I’ll ask the question(s), give my own opinion on the matter, and then leave it to all of you lovely people. My hope is that the comments section of this post will fill up with helpful, supportive comments that reflect a number of different points of view. After a week has passed, I will then compile the most helpful comments into one post called, “Advice Found: [insert topic here]”. If you are a blogger, I will include a link back to your blog so that if someone really identifies with your view on something, they can hop over and learn more about you. If you have written a post on the topic in the past, feel free to leave it with your comment – I may link it up! This post will go up on a Sunday, so the Advice Found for this post will go live on May 29. I hope for this series to become a resource for myself and others trying to navigate parenting and life and a place where we can all be honest, open, and accepting.
I also want to note – if you do not have children, THAT IS FINE! You undoubtedly have an opinion on the topic – someone raised you, and they did XYZ while doing it. What’s your opinion on it? How did you parents handle it? How do you expect others’ children to behave in regards to the topic?
That being said, any negative, rude, or hurtful comments will be deleted without notice. I want everyone to feel comfortable expressing views and opinions without feeling judged or criticized. So let’s get to it!
This month’s topic is STRANGER DANGER!
I feel like stranger danger is one of those things I never thought about until I was older and had a kid of my own. But it’s pretty terrifying if you think about it. This world can truly be a scary place – the news is littered with stories about children being harmed or worse, and at least once a week my phone blares off an Amber Alert. When you become a parent, the idea of something like that happening to your child puts a rock the size of a minivan into the pit of your stomach. It’s the kind of thought that keeps you up all night if you let it.
The seemingly obvious answer is to tell our children not to talk to strangers – the same advice we received as children. And it’s sound advice – strangers are not people who have earned our trust yet, so they are the most likely to cause us harm. But what happens when our Stranger Danger fears start to encompass our children’s lives, stopping them from growing?
So here’s my question: Is teaching kids to fear strangers more harm than good?
(source.) ^ I had to.
Funny story: when I was a kid, maybe 6? my parents lost both me and my brother (who is a year younger) on the Wildwood boardwalk on a weekend summer night (so it was packed). I refused to talk to anyone but a police officer, and eventually was reunited with my parents who then had to look for my brother, who they had lost while looking for me. (can you imagine!?!) He came galavanting up, sitting on some total stranger’s shoulders. So clearly, we had different ideas of what was acceptable in regards to strangers.
In that situation, if my brother had been “afraid” of strangers, would he have gotten himself into more trouble? Would it have taken longer to find him?
I guess what I’m asking is are we teaching our children to be afraid of everyone and everything? By teaching them to avoid all strangers and are we discouraging the use of their gut and intuition to make conscious decisions about who is safe and who is a danger to them? Is it possible that “stranger danger” is making it worse?
I once read an article about refraining from telling our kids not to talk to strangers and instead telling them to stay away from “tricky people” which I thought was genius. (this isn’t the article, but a very interesting breakdown of the topic and “tricky people” as well as how to teach it to kids. )Basically, the article says that “tricky people” do things like asking a kid for a favor or help, trying to get you into their car to see something, or asking you to lie to your parents – and not telling your parents something is still a lie! The article went on to remind us that an adult will never ask a child for help, they are being “tricky”. I really loved making this distinction to kids who might not understand “good” stranger versus “bad” stranger.
To be honest, I don’t have much to add to this since my kids are so little. I will say that my dad was very paranoid about something happening to us when I was little and we were NOT to talk to strangers. We had a family code word if something happened and a new person had to pick us up (it was pumpkin, if you’re wondering. I think I’m in the clear sharing that with ‘strangers’ now.) and there was a general air of ick and fear around strangers. (Note: I do not hold this against my parents. As a parent myself, thinking about even the slightest chance of something crazy happening to your kids will put the fear of God in you.) To this day, I do not like to talk to strangers. I hate calling places, I hate having to ask for help, I hate small talk with people I don’t know. It makes me feel so uncomfortable and I have to wonder if that is why. And then I’m forced to wonder if this (potential) knowledge should effect how I teach my boys about strangers. I’m at such a loss, which is why I’m so excited to hear from all of you!
So here are this month’s questions to start you off: Do you teach or will you teach your kids the “classic” warning of stranger danger? How were you taught to handle strangers? Do you think that constantly warning kids about strangers is doing more harm than good?
I want to know your thoughts and advice on the topic! Be sure to leave it in the comments or send me an email at email@example.com!!
To read last month’s topic, Kids, Bad Language, and Potty Talk, go here!
To read last month’s advice, go here!
Susie @ SuzLyfe says
My mom had a tough go of it with me because I was shy of people I knew but bold with people I didn’t, so that was a weird combo to navigate. We got a bit of stranger danger from school, but my mom also did a good job to preach the be respectful of other’s rule, which I think in turn taught me to be wary, but not scared, of people. I think that was a good way to go with me–only take things from people you know, and if you feel threatened, say something, but in general learn body language and that takes you far. Unfortunately, in today’s world (and especially Chicago, where gun violence is increasingly rampant), I don’t know how far that carries.
Jessie @ The Acquired Sass says
Buckle up for a long comment. So i was maybe 8? Or 10? And wanted to ride my bike to a friends house. NBD. Less than a mile away. My mom said to call home when I got there. So off I went. Apparently a few minutes in, she panicked. Realizing she had never taught me about stranger danger. So, she hopped in the car and drove to catch up with me. When she did, she started yelling things like “little girl, I have candy” so I stopped my bike and was like “candy”?! And then she was like no, get back on your bike. And I was confused. But I did. And then she tried, “little girl, I have a puppy” so of course I stopped my bike and tried to go over to her car. And she freaked out and yelled at me again. She literally followed me all the way to my friends house yelling, trying to get me to hop in her car, and then yelling at me when I went to.
She finally explained her purpose once we got to my friends house. And I calmly told her, if the cops has stopped us I would have said I didn’t know her. 😉
And now I take candy from strangers and have done my fair share of hitchhiking with randos. So. I can tell you how to NOT teach the boys.
In all seriousness. I think the tricky people is a good one. As is the code word. And to let them know that if something was ever out of the ordinary that you could call. Like if someone else was coming to get them from school lets say. Also. My mom never let me have my name printed on my backpack like the other kids because she said a crazy stranger could then know my name and pretend to know me. Sigh. Growing up was weird sometimes.
Heather @ Polyglot Jot says
This is a good topic! I like the idea of teaching kids about “tricky people”. I think that might help them to not fear every single person in this world. I was also taught to never talk to anyone I didn’t know. I feel like I still dont like talking to strangers either and grew up semi-paranoid that something terrible was going to happen to me. I think I will try to teach them that they need to be very careful but I also want to try to find a balance so they don’t grow up totally paranoid and terrified of everyone else.
Sarah @ BucketListTummy says
This is a great topic idea, Morgan. I never really had stranger danger growing up, which may sound somewhat concerning that my parents and I never had that discussion? Or maybe we did and I don’t remember. I’m the oldest of 4 so I was pretty responsible on my own anyway. I think the “tricky people” notion is a good one but how does a child know who is “tricky?” I feel like that can be subjective. I think I would talk to my children and give scenarios about how much information they should disclose if they were asked certain questions, and obviously, not to fall prank to people giving them things.
Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday says
I know I heard about “stranger danger” growing up, but I think what worked for me more was the fact that, as my mom says, I have a sixth sense about people. Within about a minute of talking to someone, I form a gut-reaction opinion of them. Whether that’s good or bad, I’ve never been wrong. People my family thought were great but I never meshed with have turned out to lie, spread nasty rumors, and be straight-up bullies. Also, I’ve just always been pretty sure of myself and cautious, so while maybe I’ll listen to a stranger or respond when he/she talks to me, if I get a bad feeling I walk away. I think that’s where the “tricky” person is really useful.
Amanda @ .running with spoons. says
I’m not really sure I can give a good answer to this question since I don’t think I ever had the stranger danger conversation with my parents… mostly because I’m pretty sure I’ve been distrustful and wary of others since the day I was born 😆 The tricky people is a good idea in theory, but the scary thing is that the most dangerous people are usually the ones that come off as the most normal… so I feel like it would be hard for a child to judge that. That and most abductions and assaults are carried out by people that the child knows, so the stranger thing doesn’t even apply 😕
Wow, I am so glad that you covered this, because I don’t think I ever really struggled with stranger danger. My parents weren’t overly parannoyed. We were homeschooled, so I guess that made a difference, but they weren’t worried about us going places in our neighborhood by ourselves as long as we didn’t go into neighbor’s houses. I think being homeschooled, interestingly enough, made me love meeting new people. I’m not sure? I think the best thing my parents taught us was to be aware of our surroundings. I agree with everyone else that it is good to teach children about ‘tricky people.’ You can tell them apart by the questions they ask or the way they act, and it’s definitely something children should know! :)) <3
tineke - workingmommyabroad says
I don´t want my kid to grow up in a world full of fears and dangers. I think the stranger danger conversations gives a very biased view of the world around you, YES there are some creeps out there but most people are not! If you´re not allowed to talk to strangers you will miss out on a whole lote of nice people you can meet and interesting experiences you will live. Although the world sometimes seems a crazy dangerous place, I don´t think it should drive our day-to-day. I love a kid´s innocence of always being optimistic and trying new things, the stranger danger conversation only limits that and feeds fear.
heather @Fitncookies says
This is such a great point! Man I’m learning a lot, haha. There are so many fears and dangers besides this that putting one more fear in them can be more harmful.
heather @Fitncookies says
This is tough. I was actually just thinking about this the other day with Annabelle. Here I am trying to get her to be happy to those around her and not cry at them. But in reality, they are strangers to her, so where do we draw the line, ya know? I was told not to talk to strangers (I think, haha I don’t remember!), and I’m not sure what to teach Annabelle. I thought we’d teach her the same but I like the “tricky” aspect to it. I don’t want them to fear everyone, but in this world, it’s SO scary and so much can happen. It makes me nervous already!
Hannah @Sunshine and Spoons says
Growing up in a small town, we were encouraged to talk to everyone. I’m now raising my own kids in the same small town, but things have changed since I was a kid and there are more questionable people around. I’m trying to teach my kids to be polite, but unless they know the person, that’s it. Statistics say that most children are assaulted by people they know so the key is to analyze any relationships that others have with them and be aware of red flags that could indicate “grooming.”
Julie @ Running in a Skirt says
What a fun and helpful series. I think you have to be extra careful in this day and age. Sadly the world is not what it used to be!!! But, as with everything, balance is key!
Jasmine Hewitt says
I actually touched on this just a little in my own blog – my son is only 10 months old, but we’ve experienced some “stranger” encounters since his birth. Everyone wants to shower a baby with attention. And while sometimes it’s off-putting or even downright scary, sometimes a “stranger” is just a friend you haven’t met yet. I don’t want to raise my son in a world of fear. Safeguard himself, yes-but don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think looking for warning signs is important, and try to identify safe authority figures as well.
THAT is a fascinating question.
I really feel like it has a lot to do with each individual child and their maturity level. For example, my son is young but he is extremely mature. He understands a lot more than kids his own age. So if I were to explain a complex concept to him (for example, why we don’t talk to strangers) he would get it. If a child is old enough to grasp the concept, I think it’s best to teach them to think critically instead of automatically instill “fear” or “distrust.” Because what happens if we were at a grocery store, I fell down and was unconscious, and all of a sudden he’s surrounded by strangers trying to help? That would be an extremely scary situation for him. But since he can think critically about his surroundings and situations, he would know those people are doing more good than harm and would likely not be afraid.
Did that make sense? In short, I think it’s a case by case basis and each parent should really step back and evaluate whether their child is able to grasp the differences between a bad stranger and a good one.
BUT! Here I’m going to argue with myself and prove me wrong — I saw a few years ago I think on Dateline an undercover segment they did with 8 or 9 year old kids. They knew not to talk to strangers and to always ask their mom and dad before doing something a stranger was asking them to do. But when they went to play outside and the ice cream truck showed up and he said they would get free ice cream, they all got inside the ice cream truck!! No questions asked!!
Moral of the story — ice cream truck guy? Definitely, definitely no. Grocery store people helping someone who fell down? Probably okay.
Good luck to us parents out there… 🙂
Kristy @ Southern In Law says
Stranger danger is definitely a tricky topic! You want kids to be wary but not terrified of every single person at the same time.
I think these days it’s even harder because strangers aren’t only on the street – they’re on the internet too!
Gloryanna @onlyaseason says
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this but that might be because growing up, I had some bad experiences with strangers. I think in the end, teaching them some basic ground rules about strangers is definitely wise and that not everyone is a “danger.” I also think there’s a difference to be taught too about being polite with strangers and what that looks like and how far that goes. Great idea/series! Interested in the next round!
The Work + Home Mom says
Thanks for including my Body Safety (Part 1) post! Here is the original post (on my blog) and I posted a follow-up (Part 2) earlier today. http://www.theworkhomemom.com/blog/2015/08/25/back-to-school-body-safety-part-1
This is such an important topic and thanks for opening it up for discussion.
Wow! This is good! My parents like yours had the same philosophy when it came to strangers. Little did they know that they person who would act inappropriate towards me was a person they knew very well. http://www.millionsofpeachesblog.com/#!The-Reason-I-Dont-Like-Sleepovers/zgf9t/56df42bb0cf2389d88fcedd1
However, back to your question: we have a similar approach for our children in discerning between strangers and tricky people. We teach “be aware of your surroundings” and “say what you see” this way once said out loud it becomes more aware. We teach this from the get go with just about anything. I got it from a book actually called “Say What You See” google it — I’m sure it’ll come right up. Also working on a blog post for that one actually. Anyways, great idea. I’d like you to keep me posted. Thanks.
Stanger Danger is a tough saying for me. I agree that kids so know the difference, but I just read a blog about a mother who noticed two people trying to get her young daughter away from her at the grocery store. Her attention was on her other kid and was not full attention alert on her older child who was slightly in front of her. This to me is so much more real life than stranger danger. It is so important to teach your kids to always hold on to the cart, always stay in the stroller, always make sure you are holding mommy’s hand. The amount of kids I see just run off from their parent is absolutely terrifying. My 3 year old does not know what a stranger is, when he is 6 he may, so I will speak more to him then. But, right now I think it is so important to hone in on always being away of where mommy and daddy are and always making sure to listen to us. Just my feelings, but love the idea of “tricky” adults.
I have two boys. 9 and 2. With my oldest and will with my toddler, we taught them that they can speak to strangers. But they cannot leave my side, they do not accept anything from a stranger unless mom or dad says so, and no wandering off. My oldest has been real good about staying with me. I have explained what could happen if they were to wander off without mom knowing and it’s worked pretty good. Now I’m kind of worried about my toddler. He has a mind of his own!!
My babies are all grown up and the world is a very different place than it was 25 years ago when I was teaching my children about stranger danger. With that said, some things haven’t changed-like common sense! You’d think. Teaching children to never speak to a stranger can also be unsafe for them in certain situations. Point: If they ever get lost we teach them to look for a police officer, but most of the time police officers are not around. They would need to approach someone for help. We teach them to beware of strangers, yet many abusive situations happen to children with people they actually know. I could go on and on with scenarios, but to keep this short and to the point – look for teachable moments and know your child’s personality. Like you stated with your brother and yourself, different kids see situations in different lights. It must be a consistent lesson in different situations and must constantly be talked about when the situation arises. We use to role play with our girls actually creating “what if” scenarios so they would know what to do in any given time. Knowledge is power and kids very young can learn. First and foremost teach them three numbers 911 and how/when to use it. Great awareness here for parents.