Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stranger danger, and the strangers who aren't so dangerous.

Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.~~Shirley MacLaine

On our way home from preschool the other day Maeve brought up strangers.  As in, "Mom, you always talk to strangers."  I'm not entirely sure where this observation came from, but I thought it would make for a good blog posting.  What is the difference between strangers you can talk to and stranger danger?  At what point do you turn from fear of strangers into thinking them as just people you haven't formally met yet?   

"I don't talk to strangers, I bet they think that I can't talk."  I guess that explains why you can't tell a waitress how old you are.  At what point did I move from being afraid of strangers to realizing that strangers are people just like I am.  If I'm scared of them and they're scared of me, how ridiculous.  I'm not scary.  At least, not usually.  Strangers are just people I haven't met, and may never meet again.  No reason to live in fear of strangers.  They certainly can't all be dangerous.

How do you invoke a slight fear of strangers into a kid without making them so afraid of strangers that they can't "tell the nice woman how old you are"?  I'm glad I don't have to do it.  There are a lot of "stranger danger" books out there for kids.  A few of them have made their way into my house, and yet I have always felt uncomfortable telling my children that they should never talk to strangers.
Never Ever Talk to Strangers

I don't want my kids to be absconded by some devious stranger, and yet I don't want them to come away with the impression that all strangers are inherrantly out to harm them.  What's a parent to do?  Read the books to them, and then have conversations about what is and is not appropriate, and what to do in those situations. 

Did this fear of strangers somehow lead to our societal shift from community to self?  Did the fear of what may happen lead us to shut down daily life experiences that made us better as a society?  Did some people spoil things for the rest of us?  I kind of think so.  We were free to roam far and wide when we were kids, but my children have had to get much older than I was before they were allowed to go off on their own.  I need to know more about where they are and who they're with than my mother did.  I grew up in a rural area in the late 70's/early 80's, before small town kidnappings became big news.  Horrible things that happen to children are horrible, and hearing about it on the news has made us more cautious.  Not that that is a bad thing, but there is a difference between living in fear and living cautiously.

I suppose it's a learning process.  In our ever changing world, the dangers are always changing.  Dangerous one day, harmless the next; and vice versa.  Strangers are not inherrantly dangerous, but they can lead to situations that are.  It's knowing how to deal with those situations that makes the difference.  

I'm just glad that I don't have to try to explain this to a classroom full of kids.  I just get to muddle through this topic with my own children.

“If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them.” ~~Francis Bacon



    Great site that talks about the inherent "culture of fear" in modern parenting.

  2. I love this topic and struggle with how to teach my children also! I think our sense of community has suffered a lot because of stranger danger. Rather than saying hello walking down the street or playing at the park people keep to themselves.

  3. Thanks for the suggestion Marje! I now have the Free Range Kids book on order from the library!