Kids should talk to strangers

Bullshit. As a kid, on my own I quickly concluded that not talking to strangers was morally wrong. I’d expect a stanger to talk to me if I asked, and I should return the same courtesy. Why should I fear speaking? Being antisocial is in the long run a bad strategy.

Disclaimer - I don’t have kids and don’t really know any of the creatures.

However, I’ve met kids who asked, very politely, if I would cross the road with them. I have no doubt that they were acting on instructions from parents to the effect of, yes, you may go out to the shop, but you should ask a grown-up lady to help you cross the road, because it is safer that way. Good move, in that case, I think.

Recently a small boy in a shop - as I was at the checkout and hurriedly grabbing my shopping and handing money over to the checkout guy, the little kid suddenly bent down, picked a £5 pound note from the floor, and held it out to me, saying “this is yours”. I was suitably thankful, (the Celyn impecuniosity (neologism? :slight_smile: ) is such that, yes, five pounds less than expected could be quite a sad thing. Dashed off to pack up my stuff away from the checkout, then returned to give the boy a pound by way of thanks for his honesty. Yes, the kid was with his father*, but I think kid’s actions were immediate and self-ordained, not acting on instructions. So, kid talks to stranger, kid then accepts money from stranger … ? On the face of it, that could look as though it is giving the wrong message to the kid. I don’t think so, though. I think he was a nice kid, and charmingly honest and good.

  • I had the impression that father didn’t have very much English, my area being one that has a very high proportion of refugees and asylum seekers, therefore one might not have been surprised to find that Dad would look worried at his little kid voluntarily talking to strangers. No, he didn’t, ('though he only replied by smiling when I spoke to him, so is hard to tell.)

Hell, that got a bit rambly, didn’t it. What I am saying, though, is that there are good reasons to talk to “strangers”.

I think this current stranger-danger panic (and whoever liked it to mass hysteria, such as witch hunts does have a point here, I think, and quite a serious point. If a kid trips over, and falls down, I’ll probably pick up kid, ask if kid is hurt, and if all seems well, quickly remove myself elsewhere and carry on going wherever I was going. Translated as: I want to help but I just might be scared to be seen with a kid I don’t know at all. And I am female (which might be a bit important here, 'cops of the perception of those who would damage children often being male). My brother, for instance, and I daresay many very good and model citizen men, would actually have even more worry. This cannot really be a healthy state of affairs.

Nit-pick: Not talking to strangers would be asocial. Punching them in the gonads would be antisocial.

I’m a parent of a 10 year old and a 4 year old. The process of coming to tolerate your child getting farther and farther from your own sphere of control is a strange, fascinating and scary one. You do what you can to try to alleviate the inevitable thought in the back of your mind when they are somewhere else.

My bottom line is that no adult should have any conceivable reason for approaching a child they don’t know. Particularly my child. Children, on the other hand, may have all sorts of reasons for approaching an adult.

Hmmm, let’s see. Maybe to warn them of danger? (“Hey kid, your shirt’s on fire!”) Maybe if the kid’s doing something wrong? (“Hey kid, stop spraypainting your initials on the side of my house!”) Maybe because they stand in some official capacity to the child, even if they don’t know the child yet? (“Hello, I’m your new teacher.”)

Hmmm. Wow, those are handy and pertinent. Thanks.

I’ve always thought it’s not only antisocial, but downright unhealthy for a child to be taught that everyone they don’t know is to be looked at suspiciously.

Thinking that anyone who talks to your kid has a hidden agenda isn’t helping anyone, either. The vast majority of strangers who talk to your kids are being friendly. Hint: This is how your children learn to read people and weed out Mr. Creepy from the rest of the crowd. There is no need for a kid to be suspicious of anyone unless they are given reason. Friendly conversation is not a reason to fear a person. The ones that pose a far greater threat are the ones who work with children all the time, i.e., teachers, scout leaders, priests, and the like.

Any advice given to kids regarding how to deal with strangers needs to be accompanied by advice on what to do if you are lost - I thought this was pretty obvious.

There are plenty of real-world scenarios where an adult can have quite reasonable cause to approach, or talk to a child not known to them, of course it’s hard to get kids to perform proper risk analysis though.

Well, as regards me, you have it entirely backwards. I don’t for a moment think that everyone who talks to my children has a hidden agenda. I think that those with a hidden agenda assume the appearance and behavior of a nice friendly person, giving very few signs to get suspicious about, thus making it virtually impossible for a child to “weed out” the bad guys. I know that most of the people who would approach my children to talk to them would have friendly motivations. That’s why I said I would accept a high rate of false positives - falsely identifying people as worthy of suspicion to lower the risk of missing the wolf in the fold until it is too late. The downside is that some strange adults will not have the opportunity to talk to my children. The social skills building opportunities lost from this are so miniscule as to be almost entirely absent. Proper social skills building can easily be achieved in all the other settings and venues that children are around known others and are interacting with strangers while their parents are present. It’s fairly silly, in fact, to suggest that children will end up asocial or antisocial because they were prevented from recieving invitations to social interactions from strange adults.

This seems kind of at odds with the entire post that precedes it, but yes, this is the risk. Here the benefits of allowing such interactions outweigh the risks, but the risks are not absent. It is much harder for children to avoid the wolf in the fold in these circumstances.

I don’t agree with this. I think there’s a fairly high cost, and very little chance of (an admittely large) benefit. The cost is that I want my kids to grow up being positive and outgoing, not creating more monsters for them to worry about.

Many years ago, I happened to go to Blockbuster at the time they were “helping the community” by videotaping kids, so that if a kid were abducted, there would be high-quality images of what the kids look like to help authorities identify them. I didn’t have kids at the time, but still I was shocked that parents were actually there doing this. “Come on, little Suzy, let’s have this nice person video you so that if you’re abducted, it might help find you or identify your remains.” Although “don’t talk to strangers” is not nearly as extreme, it’s along the same lines.

I’m another “I don’t have children, but” type. I definitely think children should learn to talk to strangers if they or any other person is in trouble. “Not talking to strangers” could even mean the person at 9-1-1.

I think children (and everyone else on the entire planet) should recognize they should never get in a car with a stranger, or let them take you to a strange place. In this day of cell phones, every child should know their parents’s numbers, and how to ask a stranger if they could use their cell.

As I said above, I don’t think anyone is teaching their children, “Don’t ever talk to a stranger (period).”

The idea of “don’t respond to strange adults who approach you” is to prevent the circumstances from getting to the point of getting in the car, taking them to a strange place, spinning some story about a hurt puppy, help lifting a stack of books into the trunk, and so on. People like this can be glib and charming enough to lure adults into compromising positions. I’d rather my children just keep walking.

It appears we are going to go around and around on this, covering the same points. I am curious about one thing: Is there anyone who actually has children who has no problem with their children responding to any approach by strange adults? What limits do you encourage your children to set?

Those without children: How often do you yourself actually approach strange children and for what purpose? What benefit do you think the children actually derive from your interaction? That is, if this is some sort of wonderful skill building activity for the child, what in particular are you doing that differs so meaningfully from the hundreds of interactions with other peers and adults that the child has on a regular basis?

One important consideration is that kids vary in personality, and what is an appropriate blanket policy for one child might terrify another into believing there is a monster around every corner. Some kids come out of the womb so gregarious and friendly that they terrify the crap out of their parents: they’d wander off with any stranger without a second thought. Others can’t stand to be out of mommy’s sight long enough to let her go to the bathroom. You teach these kids different rules, and you modify those rules in different ways as you get a better handle on your kids and on how they make judgements.

Kids get a “vibe” from people just like we do. They learn to read body language and tone and eyes by interacting with people. You can’t learn it by avoiding basic interaction with people. I taught my kid to be friendly but to use his head. Teaching a kid not to talk to strangers is teaching him to distrust first; and I believe that is harmful to a person’s development and to society in general.

Of course you set limits. You don’t encourage your kid to get in a car with a stranger. I talk to strange kids all the time. Particularly in the grocery store, but I do it on the street as well. I’ll ask questions about their MP3 or ask if a particular store is in the area, remark on their clothing or what have you. What is the harm in that? The one in a million chance that the vocal encounter would lead to harm does not outweigh the social benefit for all concerned.

A kid came to my dad’s a few months ago selling something for his team or whatever. My dad said he’d buy it. The kid was alone. My dad, absent-minded nice guy that he is, asked the kid to step in out of the elements while he wrote out the check. THe kid said “No thanks, I’m fine out here.”, which is exactly the right response. He was friendly and sociable but used his head.

    Our approach to the issue is pretty close to what you're describing.  To help simplify it we would say that adults can help children, but adults need to help other adults.  Then we'd go over examples.  One example . . . If someone has lost a puppy or kitty, come get ME and I will help them.  We talked about inappropriate touching, etc.  I was always a little concerned about making my two daughters fearful (they are now 11 and 9)  But I've actually had to 'rescue' people who are simply trying to walk their dogs down the street when my oldest daughter traps them in little girl chit chat.  She's NEVER met a stranger.  That terrified me.  Social butterfly doesn't even begin to cover it.

   I quit worrying quite so much about the other extreme when the same daughter had to have her physical for kindergarten.  The doctor (female) wanted to visually examine my daughter's genital area.  When she was asked to pull down her pants she smiled very sweetly, patted the doctor's hand and said 

“No, thank you. What else would you like to do?”

We had ice cream afterwards. :slight_smile:

I don’t have a problem with my children responding to strangers talking to them. Never did. Because you see, when my children were very young and immature, they wouldn’t come into contact with strangers unless some trusted adult was with them. I didn’t let them outside on their own until they were mature enough to understand not to go anywhere with anyone unless I knew about it. I didn’t care if they told a stranger the time, where the bus stop was, which way the avenue was, or in which direction the black kitty ran. I did care if they went off the block with anyone , stranger or not, adult or child, or got into or close to any vehicle. If I thought my child would get into a car or leave the block with anyone, well, that child wasn’t mature enough to be outside alone no matter how old.
“Don’t talk to strangers” requires a lot of judgement on the kid’s part Who’s a stranger? Is the crossing guard a stranger? Should I be afraid to ask a police officer or store employee for help because he’s a stranger? Should I refuse to say hello to a stranger that my mom says is her friend? I don’t know her and Barney says don’t talk to strangers. (one of my kids actually did this). Mrs S isn’t a stranger . She lives next door, mom and dad talk to her and she buys me a Christmas present every year. She just invited in for ice cream. Samantha’s older brother offered me a ride home. I know him- he’s not a stranger. Easier to give rules that don’t require exceptions and judgement- “don’t go off the block or into anyone’s house without telling me first” or “don’t get into a car without telling me first” No exceptions.

It may be that no one means to teach their children “don’t talk to strangers, period” , but that doesn’t mean that’s not how they take it. One of my kids picked that up from Barney, and the Cub Scout who hid from rescuers surely understood it that way.

Same experience here (including Ms. Joyce’s book). I also remember the annual presentation in elementary school - strictly “Never talk to anyone who isn’t family or something BAD will happen to you.” It was accompanied by a short film depicting the sad tale of a girl who shows up for a babysitting job advertised by a stranger, only to be abducted, murdered, and left in a dumpster (I recall the film actually included a scene of the dumpster with a child’s feet visible).

Largely as a consequence of such drivel, I later had the terrifying experience of being stuck on a ski lift with a gentleman I didn’t know. I don’t know what I thought this guy was going to do to me, hanging up there in full view of several hundred skiers and fully clothed in ski gear besides, but I was absolutely convinced something terrible was going to happen if I responded to he perfectly reasonable attempts to make small talk.

Smart kid…though I must say I don’t remember a doctor looking at my genitals as a kid unless I had a problem with 'em.

Thank you. I think so, too.

I didn’t remember anything like that either. It was a very superficial exam and when I asked around I was told that some doctors do and some don’t. I was told that there are some hormone imbalances that can lead to some formation problems when children are very young. We had just moved to the area and this wasn’t our usual family doctor, so I chalked it up to her being thorough. A different doctor did the exact same thing with my younger daughter for her entrance physical.