Kids should talk to strangers

Bruce Schneier’s Cryptogram periodical came out recently, the latest issue of which brought some interesting advice: that we shouldn’t teach kids to avoid strangers.

Personally, I’ve had the concept of “don’t talk to strangers” so imbedded in my head that it’s hard to ignore the reservations I have about this quote. Yet, logically, mathematically, it should be very sound advice. Trying to avoid all contact with strangers in order to stem the efforts of the child molestors and kidnappers might sometimes be counterproductive:

Were the Berenstein Bears right, should we teach our kids to not talk to strangers with candy, or is this attitude perpetuating antisocial behavior, with little benefit?

Not sure about the antisocial part, but I wouldn’t think it’s as beneficial as, for instance, teaching children to respect their bodies and report when someone tries certain things that make them uncomfortable, no matter what their relationship with that child is.

W/r/t simply abductions/murders, I’m not sure how much benefit it has. If children try not to talk to strangers, the ones that are likely to talk to them are more likely to be ones with a hidden agenda. Not all of them by far, but you have to be extra motivated these days to pro-actively interect with children, so the percentages are screwed up from what is healthy.

OTOH, if children are encouraged to seek the help of friendly-seeming strangers when they are in trouble, if a person in a public support role (cop etc.) cannot be found, then if they are truly in trouble, they will be more likely to seek out help than to not seek out help when they need it due to not wanting to “talk to strangers”. That goes whether they are lost or abducted.

Mom always told lil’ Malodorous to go find an adult if I was lost or in trouble and couldn’t find my parents. Makes sense to me, the chances of the person a kid finds when approching a random adult for help(and it probably wouldn’t be random either, since I imagine kids will go for the kindly grandmotherly types before they approch the weird smelly guy mumbling to himself on the park bench) being an active child molestor are probably close to nil. The chances of it being someone who will help a lost kid are probably close to 100%.

Yesterday, I went to pick up my daughter at Gymnastics.
I was early, so I waited a little wayts away from the viewing area where several other parents were waiting to pick up their kids.

A little boy wandered away from his mother and asked me if I had seen his brother. This sparked a lively discussion wherein he told me how old he was, how old his brother was, what his favorite food was, and something about an animal…a snake, possibly. He was a funny little kid; very… uh, garulous.

Suddenly, there’s mom, and she is livid. "I told you not to wander off! I told you to stay where I could see you!!!See?!?! This is what happens!!!'

Apparently, talking to me is what happens to bad little boys. I was rather insulted.

I saw a list once, probably in a magazine, of ten or so things to do to keep your kids safe.

When it came to tips for ensuring they don’t get kidnapped, the list item suggested that you encourage your kids to approach a woman before they approach a man, if possible of course, in the event that they become separated from you. This reasoning was built on the tendency of a child molester/abductor to be male.

I thought that sounded pretty good to me, so I tell my son about it once in a while to keep it fresh in his mind…'cuz ya never know.

There is a major paranoia in everyone of their own community in America that I think is the cause of almost all of our problems. Teaching kids not to talk to strangers is probably a bad idea, but we also attempt to teach our kids not to prejudge people. We’re taught not to trust our instincts that tell us that someone is scary and we probably shouldn’t talk to them. I feel like a lot of profiling comes from this sort of thought. Cops harass kids in hoodies because many people have lost the instincts to suss out whether or not something is hazardous to us or not. I rarely walk in fear through most neighborhoods I go through, simply because I can tell when someone sketchy is nearby and when they aren’t. We need to help kids cultivate this ability to help them through life, rather than try to teach it away by telling them not to fear individuals but to fear all strangers equally. In my opinion this teaches our children to be impotent and afraid rather than critical and alert. This leads to a culture of people building fences around their personal living boxes, moving around inside their personal transportation pods and limiting interaction as much as possible. Something I’ve also noticed is the severe lack of multi-generational contact I had in my life. I pretty much only had contact with kids my own age, and contact was limited outside of that range. I see my friends’ kids and they are often much more socially adept than I was at that age, and they on occasion do talk to strangers.


I always told my children never take candy from strangers unless they offerred them a ride in their car.

Teaching children not to talk to strangers is different from telling them to avoid socializing. Strangers, particularly adults, represent a potential danger and can be taught as such. Social skills begin with the concept of respect for people (including strangers). They are not mutually exclusive. The lessons of life also change with time and as a child matures The lessons advance with them.

You mean people really tell their kids not to talk to strangers? Hell, I taught my kids how to talk to strangers. Don’t people realize that they’re actually doing harm to their kids this way?

It’s an inbuilt human charecter flaw that we tend to drastically over-estimate the likelyhood of rare but catastrophic events and drastically underestimate the likelyhood of more frequent but less horrific ones. Which is why some people are perfectly happy to drive without wearing a seatbelt but refuse to fly.

The whole child sex abuse thing seems massively overblown to me. It seems like a case of mass hysteria which has lead to gross abuses of freedom like the sex offender registry and the recent porn registration laws.

As alluded to by Ludovic, “don’t talk to strangers” is an oversimplification of the message that most children are taught. First of all, if you believe that parents’ messages to children is literally “don’t talk to strangers,” how do you think that parents expect children to interact with clerks, cashiers, waiters, people who call on the telephone.

The message that I believe most parents are giving children on the matter is “don’t talk to strangers who approach you.” Of this subset of people, I have no problem with my own children making many, many, many “false positive” responses. That is, the proportion of people seeking to harm children is far higher among the subset of “unknown adults who approach children” than it is among the universe of “all people a child interacts with.”

To me, “don’t talk to strange adults who approach you” is a low cost/high benefit strategy. The child in Utah seems not to have been a very good example to cite of the downside of the strategy - most children, especially of his age, implicitly understand the difference between a stranger approaching them and a rescuer when they are in need of one. That child was described by his family as being delayed in some fashion.

I’ll keep that in mind Bizzwire if I ever have some boys I need to discipline. :stuck_out_tongue:

Back when I was a kid my family moved into a new neighborhood, a neighbor came out and offered a popsicle. I declined, and untill my mom talked to her, she though I must have been Jewish. :confused:

Van, I think you mean.

I’ve always felt the same way. Then again, the US is screwed up in lots of different ways. In most cultures, if an child were asked a question by an adult stranger, failure to repond would either be #1) disrespectful to elders, and likely also #2) inhospitable. Note there is a BIG difference between a kid merely talking to strangers, and doing whatever the stranger said. For most of the world, if a stranger new in town were to ask a local “could you tell me where a certain place is located?”, it would be downright rude for anyone of any age who knew the answer not to reply.

Once when I was in elementary school an adult in a car asked me where a place was located. After clearly answering, he then told me he’d pay me to get in his car and direct him to this place. I immediately recognized this made no logical sense, and declined. I quickly picked up this whole situation was fishy. Note that I didn’t refuse to talk to this stranger. I just disengaged replying when things seemed dangerous to me.

Ice Cream Truck, I think you mean.

Or interact with adults when the situation warranted. In real life where I worked, I encountered a young child distressed because she was separated from her mother and couldn’t find her. The child came up to me asking “do you know where my Mommy is?” I immediately told her to come with me, and I’d try to find her mother. After a short while, the mother contacted another employee about a missing child, and I reunited the child with her mother. The mother profusely thanked me. Do you think it would be a good thing if this child feared me and didn’t ask for my assistance? And should I have refused to assist this child because I was a stranger? I guess forget the latter. Written company policy says to assist any customer who asks. Had I not done this with this child, I could have been quickly unemployed. Imagine the legal liability issues if I hadn’t, and something bad happened to this child. Once in the parking lot I literally had to pull an elderly gentlemen with a cane who had fallen and could get back up after his wife asked me for assistance. I’m a big guy, and even though this elderly gentleman was also quite big and heavy, I was able to haul him up erect and escort him to his car. Company policy clearly states to assist any customer who needs it. Needless to say I was all kinds of pissed of at the manager who got on my case for taking so long. My response was “ignoring senior citizens on the ground in the parking lot is all kinds of bad for business.” :mad:

Ah, touché.

Ok, but I seem to recall the first message (as opposed to the second) from my Pre-school days. I wondered what the point of that doctrine was.

Here’s my cite: Never Talk To Strangers by IRMA JOYCE, S.D. SCHINDLER.

“If you are hanging from a trapeze And up sneaks a camel with bony knees, Remember this rule, if you please-Never talk to strangers…”

[OTOH, I also remember an elementary school assembly where an entertaining visitor gave us safety tips. That was more helpful.]

A Fuzzy Memory:

When I was a little kid I was warned about strangers (i.e. not to talk to them, or to accept rides from them, or something like that).

So I asked, “What do strangers look like?” I wanted to be on my guard, so of course I needed to know what to watch out for. I could guess, from the name, that they looked strange, but I wanted more detail.

“They look just like regular people,” I was told.

Oh no! So there are these strangers out there somewhere, walking around, disguised as people!

Nicely stated. I agree that it is an oversimplification to say we teach children to avoid strangers as if it was a singular lesson. We also teach them not to play with electrical cords when they’re young. That does not conflict with future lessons on how to use power tools. A child must be taught to walk before then can learn to run.