Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Do You Let Your Kids Talk to Strangers?

Talk to StrangersAfter a considerable hiatus, my eyes were recently reopened to the wonderful world of libraries. Not only does my local library offer free passes to Museums in Ottawa but also that they hold weekly events for kids that revolve around a particular theme. Currently the focus is on Spring and Earth Day.

So, this afternoon, we went to the North Grenville Public Library for activities associated with “Jack and The Beanstalk”. The Kids got to create a plant marker and then plant beans* in a cup. They ended their time with the book, Jack and the Beanstalk (surprise, surprise).

If you’re not familiar with the fairy tale, Jack and his Mother are poor. So poor that they’re down to their last cow and when the cow stops giving milk, the Mother asks Jack to take it to the market and sell it. So off Jack goes down the path and along the way, he comes across an old man and starts talking to him.

At this point in the story, the librarian stops reading, closes the book in her lap and says to the kids,

You know that you’re never supposed to talk to strangers, right!?

Huh?

I scanned the crowd and saw all the other young kids nodding their head “yes”. A few even jumped up and shouted “Talking to Strangers is bad!” and “No, I never do that”.

I can’t tell you what The Kids did because their backs were too me but I know that they didn’t say anything and as for me, I was too busy trying to figure out what just happened.

AND THEN I FREAKED OUT.

Not once in five years have we told The Kids to not talk to strangers. Were we supposed to tell them that? If so, what reasoning were we supposed to provide? Had we dropped the ball?

Naturally, I messaged a few people to see if THEY had told their kids not to talk to strangers and like us, they had not. I started to breathe again.

Once the adrenaline had left my eye sockets and I was calm enough to think, I realized that while we haven’t taught them to not talk to strangers we have taught them many things about People.

That 99% of people are good and that they need to be aware of and not fearful of the other 1%. We’ve taught them how to recognize a drunk from 300 feet away (a necessary skill in Mexico) and to listen to their own person-radar. We encourage them to make their own judgments of people and support them in their conclusions (whether we agree with them or not). A few times over the years they’ve come up to us and said “I don’t like that person” so, we open up a dialogue as to “why” that is.

We allow them to talk to (almost) anyone, anywhere. And, if you know The Kids, you know that they do in fact talk to almost everyone. However, we always make sure that an adult is keeping an eye on them. Watching for that 1%. They are only five years old after all.

As it turns out, over the past five years, except for going to school in Mexico, The Kids have never been left alone with anyone other than family members. So technically, they don’t need to worry about strangers**.

Regardless, I don’t believe that they would be any safer if we kept them away from strangers and/or taught them to not talk to strangers. Truth be told, based on statistics, strangers aren’t the greatest danger to our kids***.

Do You Let Your Kids Talk to Strangers?

*The library didn’t have any beans so the kids planted peas instead. Didn’t fool The Kids. Both of them asked me what they really planted because the seeds they planted weren’t the right shape or colour to be a bean.

** The librarian and/or parents of the kids present might have only been talking to their kids about “not talking to strangers where they’re alone” as was the case with Jack (and the Beanstalk).

***You can read this Newswise article titled “Strangers aren’t the greatest danger”. The Canadian Red Cross statistics states that 85% of child sexual abuse victims know their abusers and Little Warriors says that the numbers are closer to 95%. With respect to child physical abuse, Statistics Canada says that 85% of the time the abuse is caused by a family member.

Photograph taken by Penywise.

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19 thoughts on “Do You Let Your Kids Talk to Strangers?

  1. Charu

    As a kid I knew my postman, even my neighbours, some of whom mom detested. I spoke to strangers and sometimes even exchanged food with them. I survived. But when my husband found my kids saying a polite hello to everyone from the society guards to random smiling people in the malls, he was petrified. I was duly pulled up for such unwanted friendliness I was teaching the kids. His fear was somewhere not unjustified, strangers do harm. Especially today

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear Charu,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing a piece of your story.

      I agree that strangers do harm. I also know as a matter of fact that so do family members. In fact, based on the numbers, they cause harm more than strangers.

      Just wondering why you think that strangers do more harm today?

      ((Sorry if I paraphrased you incorrectly but your use of the world “especially” led me to believe that there was an increase from the past.))

      Besos Sarah.
      Sarah recently posted…Start this Fun Birthday Tradition with Your Kids!My Profile

      Reply
  2. Laurie P

    Generally I don’t talk to strangers, so no, my kids don’t. But a friendly hello, etc, is always polite. Plus my toddler is at that stage where she wants to say hi to everyone we pass while we are out and about.

    Reply
  3. loucheryl

    My 5 year old is very outgoing and talks to strangers. He does know about “stranger danger” and talks to strangers when I am around.

    Reply
  4. Tara Gauthier

    I am not sure that strangers do more harm today then say when we were growing up. With the advances in technology now we hear about these things easily and a lot sooner so it seems we are inundated with cases of issues with children/people being harmed. I wonder how many of these cases we just didn’t hear about when we were growing up as it took longer/intensive to get word out. People had to pick up phones to talk to each other versus posting and sharing on FB, Twitter, etc. I can remember some key cases from growing up in Ontario of missing/killed kids but not nearly as many as today’s age.

    I do worry about my daughter as she is very outgoing and will talk to anyone so these are things we discuss. That being said, with some family circumstances in my husbands family we are more aware of family dangers and discuss how no one that makes you feel uncomfortable/scared is someone you should be around, even if they are family. And that your body is your own. We also do not force our children to hug/kiss family if they don’t want to. I also don’t like the practice of calling people who are not family aunt/uncle etc. I like to use names so it is easy to identify people in your child’s life. Call me paranoid but like I said based on family history we unfortunately know that family/those close to you are more likely to do harm.

    Like I said I think educating children on not been around someone who scares them/makes them uncomfortable, asks them to do something or go somewhere they know they shouldn’t regardless of who the person is, is key.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear Tara,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. You raise so many great points and I’d love to expand on them further.

      When We Were Young versus Today. In 1980, the population was 4.43 billion. The United Nations forecasts it to be almost double that in 2025. While I’m not an expert on statistics or child abuse rates, it makes sense that technology (as you mentioned) as well as shear population growth have caused the rates to increase. Personally, I believe that the numbers are still as relative today as they were in 1980.

      Family Members. I’m so sorry that you have a person with questionable ethics/actions in your family. That must be very stressful for you. We also teach The Kids that their body is their own and that includes us as Parents. When they require medical attention, we talk to the about why their Father and/or I and/or their Doctor must do the things we’re doing. They know when something isn’t right and we’re always listening for situations that might need to be talked about further.

      Hugging/Kissing Others. This is a different one for us as The Kids are half-Latin and we raise them in the culture, especially while in Mexico for four months of the year. They see us kissing people (many who we’ve only just met) and they usually follow suit. Regardless, when they meet people, I teach them to look them in the eyes and say a greeting, anything else is their choice.

      Calling People Aunt and Uncle. The Kids have about 20 fake Aunts and Uncles. These are people that my husband and I feel comfortable enough for The Kids to go to in times of need. If we only used their real Family Members then they would only have about 20 people and not one of them do they see on a regular basis. Most they only see once a year. We are often criticized for doing this but as you mentioned, only teaching them to trust REAL Family Members doesn’t necessarily keep them safe. We want them to know that so many people in the world care about them. The moniker that they use for a person does not ever give the person the right to harm them. And that includes their parents.

      I totally agree that education, communication and listening are key to raising a happy and secure child. Unfortunately, even with all these skills, we can’t always keep them safe.

      Besos Sarah.
      Sarah recently posted…Have You Ever Been to Disney World? #travelMy Profile

      Reply
  5. Aliya D

    Absolutely! They talk to everyone, they greet everyone, they ask questions, interact in full conversations… I grew up speaking to “strangers” from all walks of life and it taught me how to understand social cues, body language; I learned a tremendous amount about the world, people, cultures, etc. from everyone I met. You’re right, 99% of the people you meet are good, never intend you purposeful harm. I truly believe that if you do not interact with everyone, kids run the risk of never understanding this. Makes being social as an adult difficult. I work with a lot of Millennials (specifically the younger group of 19-25 year olds) and am seeing some serious issues with their daily ability to work with others, manage expectations, their sense of entitlement and also their social interactions; in some ways, with the consistent pattern I am seeing, I am starting to believe its due to the way they were raised (fully protected in a bubble). My opinion anyways…

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear Aliya,

      The experts (whoever they are) say that if as parents, we tell our kids what to think and do all the time then when we’re not there, they won’t have the skills necessary to think for themselves. It appears that the experts are right.

      A friend once told me that they’ve focused their parenting style on the need to “teach my child how to live without me when I’m gone”. I like that style and think about it often. Usually before I open my mouth.

      Unfortunately, there are quite a few things that I don’t like about the current generation. However, I’m sure our parents and their parents said the same thing about previous generations and we turned out okay. Right?

      As always, it’s a pleasure hearing your opinion.

      Besos Sarah.
      Sarah recently posted…Changing the World — One Dollar a Day #1DollaraDayMy Profile

      Reply
  6. Denise B

    My kids talk to everyone, there is a difference between talking to a stranger and going off with a stranger and it is up to us to teach our children the difference.

    Reply
  7. Rachel G

    I think when we were very little we were probably taught not to talk to strangers for a time. I remember when mom would leave all of us in the van when she’d head into the post office to mail something, we had already had enough warnings about being kidnapped by strangers that our favorite pasttime when we were alone in the van was to decide on a game plan for if a guy broke into the driver’s seat and tried to drive away with us. I pity the would-be-kidnapper who would have tried to steal that old conversion van and the 5 fierce kids in it–we were always planning on what we would use as self defense weapons and at least one kid was always assigned to biting the kidnappers ears. Strange kids.
    Over time, I feel like my parents rules changed to be something more along the lines of be respectful to adults, greet them (with “auntie” or “uncle” since that’s how it’s done in Malaysia). Our safety related rules were to always ask Mom and Dad’s permission before you go anywhere, whether with friend, family member, or stranger, the parents have to know where you’re going and when you’ll be back–and in the vast majority of cases, we weren’t allowed to walk anywhere alone. There were so many of us kids that it was easy to send us out in pairs or 3s for errands and outings. Some of the kids in my family are naturally extroverts, and some of us prefer to avoid strangers whenever possible, so personality shines through a lot. My Dad is one of those “never met a stranger” kind of people and I know he influenced us a lot.
    Rachel G recently posted…The Official AnnouncementMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Sarah Post author

      Dear Rachel,

      Not sure if you read my replies to the comments but I replied to one talking about our decision to call some people “Aunts and Uncles” when they weren’t really related to The Kids. Not everyone is given this title but the ones that are, are the ones The Kids can trust (in a time of need). Everyone else is called “Mr” [Insert First Name] out of respect. The Kids know the difference and we remind them often. I often wonder what traditions and parenting strategies are latin influenced and which ones just make sense to us. That could very well be one that is latin influenced.

      I personally would not have wanted to enter your vehicle for any reason. Ninja kids are the scariest.

      Off to see what adventures you’ve gotten yourself into this time. I often think about having a “Perfect Day” day and the thought alone makes me smile. Either that or it could be the bath of caviar.

      Besos Sarah.
      Sarah recently posted…Surprise Your Kids with Notes of Love from @PICKmeUPnapkins, US/CAN, 5/18My Profile

      Reply
      1. Tara Gauthier

        I think this is probably the Latin influence. Now that being said, my kids do have people in our lives that we are very close with who fill this role for them, the only difference being that they simply call these adults by their first names. This is how we grew up as well, except my Mom had one very close friend whom I referred to as my Aunt even though she was not my Mom’s sister. No one else in our circle had the title of Aunt or Uncle that was not related to us except for her. But she and my Mom were friends since before I was born and she was honestly part of my life just as much as my Father, and she was always with us on trips etc with my Mom since my Dad worked so much.

        I think it is great that you have given that distinction of the title being used for those your family really trusts. My nephew used to call every one of his Mom’s boyfriends no matter how long they were in his life “Dad” It was sad to watch him get attached to someone only for them to leave sometimes a short while later.

        Reply
  8. Clare Korth

    Like your beauties, mine were only looked after by family (but mostly me) and then when they were a little older, close trusted friends. I love your line, ” Truth be told, based on statistics, strangers aren’t the greatest danger to our kids” This is the truth. From one who knows. Peace and Love and Thank you for always sharing your Kindness. Love from, Tia Clare 😉 <3

    Reply
  9. Elizabeth Matthiesen

    No, I didn’t teach my children not to speak to strangers but did teach them to be wary of someone who wants them to go somewhere with them, they knew they had to ask me first if it was OK. It’s not easy making sure that they are safe from predators (whether it’s family or not) and instil confidence in themselves at the same time. They were also taught not to keep secrets and that some secrets are bad.

    Reply
  10. Tara Gauthier

    You should read the three items below, concerning unaccompanied children in stores and outside, plus unsolicited parenting advice. I remember as a child taking signed notes from my dad’s girlfriend to the corner store to buy cigarettes for her and now a child can’t shop in the lego store under the age of 12! Times have changed that’s for sure, just not sure if it is all for the better. And, to add I have most definitely left my son many a times in the toy section of a store while I grocery shop….he is 13 and have been doing this for a couple years now.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/raising-children-on-fear/2015/02/13/9d9db67e-b2e7-11e4-827f-93f454140e2b_story.html

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/lego-store-detains-11-year-old-boy-for-shopping-without-an-adult-1.3054467

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/naked-4-year-old-complaint-takes-unsolicited-parenting-advice-to-new-low-1.3054216

    Reply

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