I Walk By Kids, They Run Away (Because I am a “Stranger”)

Hi Readers!  Here’s a note from a doctor, Par Donahue. He’s author of the book and blog, Messengers in Denim, all about the things we can learn from teens (and life). Here’s one lesson he got from kids that he did not like. (Nor I.) — L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a retired pediatrician who walks my dog twice daily in our neighborhood and enjoys talking to kids — after all, that’s what I did for almost 40 years. But, now I feel like bogeyman.

When kids are outside, they see me coming and run into the house. If they are waiting for the bus, they stare at the ground or cross the street when I approach. If I say good morning, or, “Have a nice day,” they either do not respond or they grunt without looking up!

Some years ago my wife and I moved into a new neighborhood where a family with two small kids lived next to us. They were usually in the fenced back yard when we came home from work and would always run into the house as we walked from our garage to the house. After 6-8 months of this the younger boy, 4 or 5 years old, stayed out and actually said, “Hi.”  His older brother, 6 or 7, quickly grabbed his arm and said, “Don’t talk to them, they might be kid-nappers.”

What a terrifying life parents make for their kids when they teach them to be this afraid. With very rare exceptions, kidnapping is done by estranged parents or other relatives. We, of course, hear  about the half dozen kids in the USA who are kidnapped each year by strangers. Fear, as Michael Crichton said in “State fo Fear” controls! So sad! — Par Donahue

Lenore here again: Par’s note reminds me of a great essay someone sent me the other day that I have to go dig up. It’s about a parent deciding NOT to teach the kids that strangers are “bad.”  There IS an alternative to automatic distrust and fear! 

74 Responses

  1. Didn’t he leave this as a comment at first? I think I read it then. He sounds like a nice man and it is very sad that you can’t have anything to do with kids now a days without someone thinking predator.

  2. I am proud to say that my son is more friendly with our neighbors than I am. We have one neighbor who walks her dog each morning and won’t say hello or even smile at him. He gets very upset over her lack of manners. Are we teaching adults to be afraid of children?

  3. we had a similar conversation at the dinner table the other night after a neighbor gave one of our kids a flyer for an upcoming book sale at the library. it was a great opportunity to talk about how talking with people is fine — just don’t go anywhere with them. we also model that for our kids since we often take walks as a family after dinner and see lots of neighbors as we do so. neighbors are the people you live near, so we have LOTS of neighbors. we just distinguish between the neighbors we know and the neighbors we don’t know.

  4. Try Protecting the Gift or The Gift of Fear for a realistic and helpful approach to stranger danger (2nd one is more for women). In that first book he mentions ways to empower your child, to practice asking strangers questions ( for example, having your child ask someone for the time and talking about why they picked who they did, how they felt). Telling kids to look for a police is often misguided as our kids see kneecaps and there may not be one around. You can tell your child to ask a friendly mom or grandmotherly- type and give them a better chance of being able to access help. And trusting the instincts we have is a huge part of the book to avoid trouble in the first place.

    It is a shame to instill fear in our children for the rare “just in case”- we lose a diversity of positive interactions and don’t make our society any safer when we mistrust everyone instead of learning to listen to our instincts and trust ourselves and the majority of humankind.

  5. I was so pleased to get the overview of our 2nd graders’ sex abuse prevention program that “stresses what children can do to protect themselves, not what to fear, and how to prevent this from happening to them.”

    The bullet point on strangers says “it is stressed that most strangers are very nice, but because we don’t know how they will treat us, we have special stranger safety rules.” which I think is about as neutral as you can get in this context. The program includes identifying “helper strangers”, how to get help if they need it, secret code words, meaning and right to privacy, types of touching, anatomical words for everything, etc etc.

    I hate that there is cause at all to have this education but so grateful they seem to be taking a very balanced approach.

    Oh, and just a giggle… our little story teller told us all about a giant caterpillar on the playground last week and how it terrified everyone and *caused a lock down* because the school wasn’t sure if it was poisonous or not. It’s both sad and hilarious that our paranoias are apparent as such even to 8 year olds.

  6. When I was a kid, neighbors who took kindly to children weren’t all that bountiful. Most had their own handful of brats running around (or perhaps finally! out of the house), and just weren’t up to suffering fools gladly. We, the children, were grateful for any and all interactions on the kinder side of: Get off my lawn! Now it’s the kids dissing the adults? Gawd!

    It really seems incredible that parents would actively instill – not just rudeness, this goes beyond that – cruelty in their children. Why is all the empathy always only going to the children and what MIGHT happen (hasn’t even, almost def. won’t) to them, and completely ignores all the adults who fall victim to these – let’s go for it – hate crimes.

    Because come to think of it, it really is a hate crime: For nothing other than being a stranger to the child,or by virtue of the fact that one is an adult male (gender bias, anyone?) people are verbally “assaulted”, with what is most probably the worse accusation possible in our society: child molester.

  7. At the dojo where I teach, I had a long talk with the chief instructor about changing up the whole “stranger danger” segment for kids, and tell them that we’ll show them what to do to protect themselves if they need it, but most people are inherently good. She agreed with me, fortunately.

  8. Sounds sad, and more than a little odd. Even with all the stranger/danger stuff, most kids, it seems, retain some shred of common sense (even if their parents don’t!).

    I think it’s great that you’re friendly and warm with your neighbors; I appreciate that, and so do my kids. Perhaps if kids in your area see adults relating on that level, they’ll relax with it a bit more.

    I’d keep up the relaxed, open rapport, and try not to take personally kids’ responses. Kids can be shy, preoccupied, just not wanting to chat–just like adults.

    And, with the heavy doses of fear-mongering they receive, who knows what else they might be feeling.

  9. I agree with Jessica about reading Protecting the Gift… My kids run errands in our neighborhood, nothing major just the store, post office, laundry and library. The other day the laundry lady said to me and she has known my kids since they were tiny and she loves and adores them, my kids were far too friendly towards people and they wouldn’t know what to do in a tricky situation. And I had to ask her if she would have liked to miss out on their relationship because they shouldn’t talk to strangers… she didn’t think she was a stranger… well historically speaking she once was!!! So there are good and bad folk and their is no harm in making friends and learning how to tell the difference. Most people aren’t out to get your kids and the ones that are are already most likely “within their circle” and they should have the tools to look out for them… I say keep my kids friendly, they have met so many amazing people that way, and maybe when they leave home I will tell them about stranger danger…

  10. I’d like to take what tuppence has said and carry it to it’s conclusion. What will these kids be like as adults? What lessons are they learning? All strangers are bad and I’m the most important thing around. Can’t wait until they’re in the workplace! Although, how will they interview for a job if they can’t talk to stangers?

  11. Here’s a piece I just finished for Salon….I did not know there was a term, Free Range Kids, until I colleague pointed me in the direction of your blog. It’s great to find like minded parents and those who care about children! It will show on the cover soon as an ep

  12. My kids are open and friendly to adults. Growing up in Europe they started off by chatting up anyone who spoke English. Once fluent in French they expanded their potential conversation partners. My sons once chatted in Barcelona with a fellow from Ivory Coast. They talked about skin colours, African weather, religion, and personal histories. The new friend suggested (jokingly) maybe he should visit Geneva, where we were living, some time. My son, thinking he was serious, went so far as to tell the gentleman how to get to our house from the airport, the address, the security code to get in, and what floor our apartment was on. We had a talk afterwards about private information. I have received plenty of compliments from strangers about my friendly, polite, talkative kids. Luckily I have not yet encountered any admonitions that they are _too_ talkative. I am waiting to see how long that will take now that we have moved back to North America. So far we are 5 months in and we have only encountered strangers happy to have a conversation.

  13. I must say, kids in my building seem normal in that they do have conversations with me in the hallways and the elevator (as do their parents). Maybe I look entirely non-threatening being a young woman wearing glasses and a white coat. Since I live close to a major hospital and some 80% of people in my building work in healthcare, maybe kids here automatically equate white coats with good, “safe” people?

    I can’t comprehend the whole “stranger” fear. Does that mean a kid freaks out every time (s)he gets a new teacher? Sees a different parent pick up his/her classmate up at school? Every time the kid goes to the grocery store?

  14. For some reason that old story of the pediatrician attacked because people thought it meant pedophile came to mind.


  15. Starting when I was about 9 years old I’d take the family dog for long walks around the neighborhood. On our way home, we’d stop at the house of an elderly couple and I’d chat with them. They’d give me a glass of soda and Rosie, our miniature schnauzer, always got a dog treat. Sad to think that this could be viewed as creepy nowadays.

    There aren’t a lot of kids in the neighbhorhood where I live now, but so far I haven’t seen any of them react fearfully to adults. A few weeks ago, I was walking my dog (not the same one as in the previous paragraph, obviously – now I have an English pointer by the name of Elvis), and I ran into 3 young boys riding their bikes in the road in front of their house. We wound up talking for about 15 minutes, they mostly asked questions about my dog. They thought it was hysterical when he caught sight of a rabbit and pointed, so completely focused that none of us could get his attention. They were scared to pet him (granted, he is nearly as big as they are, so I guess that’s understandable!), but at least they weren’t scared of an adult human who clearly posed no danger to them. 😉

  16. Crowjoy, I have to laugh about the caterpillar because kids did a similar thing at a birthday party my daughter was at recently. The worst part is that the kids freaking out most about the possibility of it being a poisonous caterpillar were in their teens, which really got the younger kids going.

    Except my daughter, who used a leaf to pick up the caterpillar, bring it to a tree and spent the next 15 minutes or so watching it. She got some of the other kids to look too.

  17. That’s just sad. I wonder how long it will be before men don’t even become pediatricians because either the parents don’t want a man touching their precious gifts or because the insurance is too high or some other legal issue.

    I know lots of women online that refuse to take their kids to a male doctor because all men are pedophiles just waiting for an opportunity… like a school physical, apparently.

    My kids are friendly to just about everyone. I’ve never told them strangers are evil and out to get them just to never go with them or let them make the kids feel uncomfortable.

    They always wave and say hi to people walking down the street or when we are out.

  18. So sad that this is what parents are drilling into their kids. I was with my two youngest at the Y the other day, and a little boy of about 4 opened the doors and held them for us. My 3-year-old daughter thanked him, and I told her how nice it was that he held the doors for us, even though he is small. The little boy then stood just outside the doors. There is a long path lined with shrubs and picnic benches before you get to the parking lot. His mother tore out after him, and dragged him back in yelling at him “You don’t go out there by yourself! Somebody could STEAL you!! Do you want someone to come along and STEAL you?!?”
    Funny thing is, I’m always more worried that my kids are going to be mowed down by an SUV as we usually are if we park towards the front of the lot, and I wouldn’t doubt if this woman was one of the fast and furious drivers herself. But she’s got it stuck in her head that someone is just going to snatch a little boy in front of all those people, and she’s pushing it on him. I don’t go to the Y to get more kids, I go to get rid of the ones I have for a couple hours!

  19. This is interesting. My kids (7 yo twin boys) got some sort of “stranger danger” talk at school about not talking to strangers, not going places with them. Sounds like what I got when I was their age (I’m 33.) I took them to the local playground on Saturday, after my husband and I decided they could be left for 20 minutes at age 7. (They were so sad that no one else came.) My kids felt that they were so lucky, being allowed to play with no parents – I told them about when I was a kid, how I was allowed to ride my bike all the way up to the main road from my cul-de-sac road, and was allowed to go to the playground at the elementary school whose property backed up to my house. They were amazed.

    Anyway, 20 minutes later, I returned for the kids, who were hanging from monkey bars with their bike helmets still on. They told me about the “stranger” that they hid from – the guy mowing the playground! I asked “Did I say *hide* from strangers?” No. “You can be friendly, just don’t go anywhere with them.” Oh.

    Sometimes I think kids add their own flair to the lessons they get taught.

  20. “Sometimes I think kids add their own flair to the lessons they get taught.”

    That’s definitely true. That’s all the more reason it’s bad to emphasize the “stranger danger” thing — “don’t talk to any stranger ever” will become “everybody you see is trying to kidnap you” in a kid’s mind WITHOUT our help. Imagine what it does to kids to actually say stuff like that (“Stay away from that man! Do you want to get taken?” as I have heard of people telling their kids.)

  21. […] the original here: I Walk By Kids, They Run Away (Because I am a “Stranger”) Share and […]

  22. This isn’t *just* about “stranger danger” as taught by parents (more parent/mother blame passing around I see). Many grownups treat children like second-class citizens, and many children have adapted behavior accordingly. For instance: as children’s agency is routinely ignored and trampled on, they are going to be less able to analyze a true risk scenario and you are more likely to see, “all grownups are scary strangers” strategies as demonstrated by children.

    While we are advocating for children to not be taught to be afraid of all adults, are adults learning how to respond to and care for children properly?

    If Par or anyone else would like more positive relationships with children, they are going to have to seek them out. I have kids coming in and out of my house all day long (as soon as they are out of school – we homeschool so mine are home and incidentally, mine are not afraid of strangers de rigeur). My (male) partner and I have found a direct communication with children, looking them in the eye and not requiring “manners” or some kind of particular response when addressing them – and feeding them – helps. 🙂

  23. I am definitely more worried about more likely stuff happening to my kids than being kidnapped or molested like getting run over by a car. I have freaked on my kids for walking away from me but it was because they are small and I didn’t want a huge car mowing them over.

  24. Stories like this are so far outside my experience (around here everyone smiles and says hi…maybe that’s a western thing) that I really have to question whether they are really true…or at least whether they are really representative.

    Is it possible that dwelling on this stuff creates a different kind of fear? Are we hearing about the extremes of stranger-danger fear more than it actually exists?

  25. Crowjoy and Marie,

    Can you possibly provide some more information to me on this? I am a field biologist and am putting together some literature and K-12 education stuff on how to avoid this sort of paranoia. There are pretty severe consequences for this sort of nature disconnect when you consider sensitivity to environmental issues, science literacy, etc.

  26. To the retired Pediatrician: You are welcome to live in my neighborhood! We had a pediatrician in our neighborhood when I was growing up, and my Mom always said that he was the best neighbor to have (she had 10 kids!).
    My kids are taught stranger danger for just that- strangers. They know 8 out of 10 families on our street and even solicit jobs from them (snow shoveling, dog washing).

  27. I’ve heard other kids told not to play with other kids because the other kids were “strangers.”

    We haven’t perpetuated the Stranger Danger thing in our house (our kids are 9), and as we live in a neighborhood without too much traffic, they can range several blocks from the house, so they have gotten to know many of our neighbors.

  28. I think I’ve mentioned before. I am a member of a private resort. Recently I volunteered for the project of the resort store. The store was always ran by one individual, now of course, a committee had to be formed and I “chair” the committee.
    Previously, the resort kids were quite welcome in the store, the person running the store would also proivde ‘smores for the campfire ( I am still doing this) and also collected up the “lost” toys,around the park, cleaned them, fixed them and kept them handy for the kids. I also intended to continue this, but it was decided for me, by the committee that I “chair” that that would not be so, the kids, the customer base of the store, are no longer wanted there. They don’t need to be hanging out in the store, aka they don’t need to be hagning out with a single male in the park ( it hasn’t been outright said but it has been inferred) So this last week, all old the toys and other youth items were stripped from the store and placed outside, in the weather under an open porch/carport up on the hill, out of site were all the animals can get into them. And now added to the list of, can’t be at the pool alone, can’t run on the lawn , can’t be in the playhouse without a parent, can’t be at the kitchen, is now, can’t hang out in the store. This from a “Family Resort” that claims it is trying to attract youth.
    They want new items stocked in the store, I have in mnd this week to purchase Polygrip, Ensure, Depends and Poise.

  29. I love the great stories here… 🙂 I can’t remember if I’ve shared this story before, so here goes…

    About a year ago when I was HUGELY pregnant with my son and waddling and in pain I was taking the elevator at the rec centre to the lower floor to meet my husband and daughter, who had taken the long ramp that I just couldn’t face in my “condition”…

    There were two women on the elevator, a mother and her daughter, and her little girl who I guessed to be somewhere between 2 and 3 years old…

    The poor tot hid behind her mother with wide eyes and kept repeating “Stranger, stranger!” while looking furtively at me. The two women were trying to console her that I was a “good” stranger, I wasn’t someone to be feared, but she looked so scared.

    Now, I know that little ones go through age-appropriate stages of fearing all people they don’t know, and some kids never really grow out of it completely. But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! What had they been prepping this little girl with that she should be cowering in terror repeating “Stranger, stranger!” at her age and at the sight of a smiling, pregnant woman who could barely walk…?

    I am already having to counter what my child care centre teaches about “stranger danger” (don’t talk to strangers? Um, no, you *must* talk to strangers, just don’t go away with them…)

    I can’t imagine how difficult this little one’s childhood will be, terrified of everyone around her but her immediate family.

  30. I try to get to know my neighbors. It’s hard. I’m very shy by nature. But getting to know your neighbors has such rich rewards. Trick or treating feels safer. If you need to change a tire, there’s often someone to help. The retired pediatrician next door can say hi to your kids without being afraid.

    This stranger fear has a lot to do with isolation. We don’t live near our friends anymore, and we don’t get to know our neighbors. That means the unknown lives right next door, and that’s scary.

  31. “(more parent/mother blame passing around I see)”

    I don’t “see.” I think we’re talking about what schools/the media/our culture teach our kids, more than parents.

    Although, undeniably, some parents DO. You can’t exempt all parents from all blame just because you don’t want to be a blamer. Sometimes parents really do things wrong — you and me included.

  32. Here’s a article you might be interested in.


    Apparently children shouldn’t be allowed in dog parks. Because they might get bitten. Not because they have, ever, but because they *might.”

  33. This sounds like a great opportunity for him to introduce himself to the couple next door, tell them who you are, and say ‘hi’ to the children.

  34. On the dog park issue it might be more to protect the dogs and dog owners than the kids. I have heard reports of dogs having to be put down or just fights breaking out between people or just general problems because people take toddlers to dog parks and a large dog running around (which is what they are suppossed to do in dog parks) ran over a toddler and then all hell breaks loose.

    I honestly can see why little kids don’t belong in dog parks. Dog parks are the ONE place dogs are able to run around free unleashed and play with other dogs and get to be a little wild. The last thing they need is little kids getting in the way or pulling their tail and then calling vicious dog or whatever. Little kids are lots of dogs being rambunctious really don’t mix. I don’t know if they need to outlaw it but I wouldn’t take my small children to a dog park and I would not feel comfortable letting my dog be running at a dog park if little ones were about.

    So it may be more for the dogs sake than the kids sake and I can totally understand that. Our town has tons of kid parks and only one dog park.

  35. Dolly, I’m not even a dog owner or even much of a dog person, and I’m with you. Many dogs respond well to children, but some simply do not, even those that are well behaved in general. The dogs and dog owners should be given a space where they just don’t have to worry about unpredictable small children who may themselves not play well with dogs. The reality is that if a given child and a given dog don’t mix well, it’s the child who’s going to get hurt, so I can’t even blame them for describing this in terms of keeping the kids safe. Everything that’s done to protect children is not necessarily “overprotective,” even if there hasn’t been a problem *yet.*

  36. The depressing thing about teaching kids “stranger danger” is that, not only does it instill totally unnecessary fear, but it leaves them with no filter.

    Instead of teaching children what suspicious behaviour is like and what to do to avoid people who might do them harm it’s “all strangers might do you harm, avoid them all just in case”. That’s a stupid blanket rule that leads to a lot of antisocial behaviour. Moreover, it does not mentally prepare children for the abuse to come from the people that child abuse usually does come from – friends and family members.

    I’m not saying children should be taught to distrust their own families, just that they shouldn’t be pre-trained to expect abuse will come from strangers and hence not cousins or uncles and aunts or mum’s new boyfriend. And, if it does happen, they need to be able to identify the suspicious behaviour before it gets to a point where the child is hurt. “Stranger Danger” strips that away – instead of teaching the child what is or is not suspicious, which would be empowering, the child is taught “all strangers are bad, avoid them and you won’t get kidnapped, raped or murdered”, which is disempowering because it is, effectively, a lie put in place so that nobody has to take the effort to teach the child useful skills, leading to a phobia of strangers AND a total lack of preparedness to deal with any actual dangerous situations.

  37. I fully agree that SMALL children should not be in dog parks. A pack of running dogs and toddlers is just asking for trouble. However, by SMALL children I mean under 5, not 8. By 5, properly trained kids should know not to approach dogs without asking the owner.

    But the law is stupid. Nobody has been harmed which means parents are using their common sense and not bringing toddlers to the dog park or are able to control both dog and toddler. Doesn’t this town have enough to do? It needs to spend time addressing things that aren’t a problem? Unless every issue in the town has been addressed sufficiently, it seems idiotic to spend time on this non-problem.

    And the requirement of a parent with kids 8-14 is absolutely ridiculous. I was the sole caretaker of all my pets by 8 and working at a horse farm by 12. I think most 8 – 14 year old dog owners who would actually WANT to take their dogs to the dog park can be trusted at the dog park. Leave to the parents as to whether their 8 – 14 year olds can handle their dog alone at the dog park.

  38. A little off topic, but wasn’t sure where to put this latest bit of fearmongering…my local news has a lovely link on their website to an article and quiz regarding the following topic: “Are you ready if your child goes missing?” As if every kid is in immediate danger of this happening. http://www.clickondetroit.com
    Apparently you should have fingerprints and dental records, and an updated every 6 months photo of your child immediately on hand. I encourage you all to check this out, and please-take the quiz!

  39. Donna: agreed on 8 being a good age to probably handle themselves at a dog park. I would be more in support of a maybe 6 and under rule. Not so much law as a rule posted and if someone violates it they could be asked to leave if someone complains or at the very least that they are taking their own safety and their children’s safety into their own hands and the city would not be liable nor would the dog owners should something bad happen.

    If you read the comments section on that article that was linked they are several people in that area complaining about people bringing babies to the dog park and letting the kids run around and get into dog feces and it creates a bad scenario for everyone. Some of them were in support of it. I have actually heard elsewhere on other boards or whatever of some of the same complaints about little kids in dog parks. Dog parks are for the dogs first and foremost and everything else should come second. As I said our town has one dog park and 20 kids parks and I bet most towns are similar.

  40. Dear Bogeyman

    As a father, I love kids, in fact I believe kids are the most beautiful beings on earth, but than again you have to be a loving parent to feel and realise that.

    To answer your question and feelings, let me tell you that unfortunately we live in a crazy world, a world so nasty it is our natural sense of logic and survival that lead parents to warn their kids of any stranger, a world where satanic crimes are committed against defenceless young children or angels I would say, crimes so nasty it shocks animals even, so yes as a parent and loving father I d love to talk and interact with kids I see in the street, but I don’t because I respect today’s reality and parents feelings, in that I am not selfish, and I am also a citizen aware of the challenges our societies face, societies where criminals or I should say demons when they commit such crimes are released on bail or on probation to commit another one, instead they should be put to death, or even better we should invent the demon penalty, something like rolling a Boeing jet on them for touching any kid, and I bet you or any other reader of this article that if we put such a law in referendum it would win pass by 90% of the vote, why ? because normal human beings cannot understand such evil, so doctor or bogeyman sorry if your feelings are hurt, may be you should leave the kids alone for now, may be write to your government asking them not to release any demon back on the street, may be send them to Mars as experiment, and may be also you should help this world regain a bit of morality cause things aren’t going the good way if you noticed…and for Lenore, she is encouraging insanity, so I suggest if anything happens to a kid during her event, to have a criminal lawsuit against her and the parents who will join the event for not taking care and looking after their kids and putting them in harm’s way.

  41. Man, the parents really done a number on the older brother for him to be that fearful of retired pediatricians.

  42. First, I want to relate a story about when my son was in daycare. Frequently when picking him up, the kids would run out to the cars on their own. One mom would tell her son to not run out by himself because the vicious dog next door would run out and eat him up. I have always wondered if that child grew up to fear dogs, and this is the same kind of thing we are seeing now.

    And in response to Father. You have either got to turn off the TV or, if your neighborhood really is overrun with Satanists sacrificing little children on a regular basis, you need to move. The *reality* is that we hear to much. Things are not so different. Most neighbors, and fellow shoppers, and pediatricians, and the ice cream man are nice, ordinary people like me and you. I’m thankful to live in a community (New Orleans) where talking to strangers has been elevated to an art form. People boast about it, and come back from other cities saying how they got strange looks when they tried to chat to someone in line. Most parents here would be horrified to think that their kids didn’t say hello (or rather, Howyadoin’?) to the mailman or the lady at the bank. And honestly, it’s that COMMUNITY that keeps kids safe. If you never talk to anyone, who the heck are the kids going to run to when their really is trouble.

    Put down the remote and start talking to your neighbors.

  43. Oops, I realized that in the first part of the above, I meant to say that this is what we are seeing now with stranger danger.

  44. […] her blog, Free Range Kids, Lenore posted a letter sent to her from a retired pediatrician about how children are warned to run away even from their […]

  45. Dolly, it just seems weird to me that this would be a large problem. Every dog park I’ve ever been to has been used almost exclusively by adults.

    “complaining about people bringing babies”

    So? I agree that babies in strollers or babies crawling around are serious problems in a dog park. I see no problem with someone bringing a baby/young child in a sling/carrier. A dog should not be in a dog park if the owner can’t control him enough to stop him from bowling over or attacking other adults at the park such that a “worn” child will be injured. Another reason I don’t like an age-limit rules – it would knock out infants who are in no danger at all unless the dog attacks the adult (a separate problem all together).

    “As I said our town has one dog park and 20 kids parks and I bet most towns are similar.”

    I believe our town matches them fairly close in number. In fact, they’re largely in close proximity to each other – the same park has both a dog play area and a kid play area.

  46. K, I’m not sure how much more information I can provide. I know a lot of the concern the kids showed was because the caterpillar was an unfamiliar type, and it had a few spines, and I know some species like that do have a sting. The overreaction is what got my attention, since it’s not like caterpillars are fast or generally vicious. A simple leaf was all that was needed to move it safely.

  47. You should move to my neighborhood! During the summer sometimes the kids just sit outside so they can say hi to everyone who passes by!

    I tend to be of the belief (which, shockingly enough, is shared almost 100% with the centers for missing and exploited children) that stranger dangernis actually dangerous. Your child is much more likely to get lost than abducted, and lostnchildren have been known to hide from rescuers due to stranger danger!

  48. […] I Walk By Kids, They Run Away (Because I am a â??Stranger … […]

  49. I just don’t get it. Since when are neighbours “strangers”??? It’s just nonsense.
    I always thought it would be SAFER for my kids if the whole neighbourhood got to know them by name, and know their parents, and where we live. So, in the event that they got lost, or wandered away, or got hurt, or whatever, I would be warned as soon as possible.
    Hey, our neighbours even know that they have to be extra-careful driving near my house, because a horde of kids may dash into the street with almost no warning (not that I don’t shout myself hoarse every time they do something like that).

  50. I’m a very bad parent who is obviously doing something wrong. I have always taught my son that if he was out in public alone (or with a friend) and needed assistance to find the nearest adult. My husband and I taught our son that most adults are good people and will help a child in need. My son has gone shopping by himself and has no problems asking a salesperson to help him find something. Some of you older readers may have heard this story before…Last year during the soccer World Cup my son wanted to get a sticker book of all of the teams in the tournament. He asked me to go with him, but I had to cook dinner. As he was riding his bike to the store, the chain slipped off. There was a nice older gentleman walking alone on the trail who my son approached and asked to help fix the chain. (Predator alert! That man was obviously staking out the trail looking for kids in need to abduct or abuse.) As the man was fixing the bike, they had a nice conversation. It turned out that the man owed a local bike shop and that his granddaughter was in my son’s grade at the same school.

    My son does know the difference between good strangers and bad ones. He also knows common sense things like only accepting rides from people he knows and not to go off to an unknown destination with a stranger. I want my son to grow up knowing that most people are good and willing to help their fellow man.

  51. This story reminds me of an incident from when I was a kid (over 30 years ago). On my first day of kindergarten my mom told me to wait on the porch and let her know when the bus came so she could wave good bye to me. I waited patiently, eager for my new adventure, when a little brown bus pulled up. I was expecting the big yellow bus so when the driver waved to me, called me by name and asked me to get on the bus, I was a bit confused so I thought it was best to get my mom. I yelled out to her, “Mommy! A stranger wants me to get into their van.” My mom came out to see the bus driver and they had a good laugh. I happily got on the bus and remember the incident vividly. Not as a moment of when I was scared, but of humour.

  52. Donna: agreed that if people used common sense when it came to young kids and dog parks everything would work out just fine. Unfortunately not all parents make the wisest decisions when it comes to stuff like this. Do a quick Google search. I did and you will find tons of pages of people complaining about small kids running around at dog parks and bad things happening as a result. From the 10 or so pages I visited the majority of dog owners were not in favor of small children at dog parks and unfortunately some parents do bring them and let them run around and then problems arise. So I guess a rule would be a good idea to protect the dogs and the city’s liability because if someone disregards the rule and their kid gets hurt at least that is on the parents and no one else.

  53. My three-year old son is very friendly. People who work in stores love it when he goes and talks to them, but they almost always say, “I guess that could be a good thing or a bad thing!” I’m always tempted to say (jokingly) “why? Were you planning on kidnapping him?”, but I usually just smile and say I think it’s a good thing.

    Also… “Father” is a troll, right? I have so much trouble knowing if people are being ridiculously inflammatory on purpose or they really believe what they’re saying.

  54. I, too, wondered about stories like this until this past weekend. We stopped at a small rest stop in Connecticut. I went to the restroom there, and there was a mother with two small (3 and 1) kids. My kids were in the car. As I was washing my hands, she was struggling with the older and had left the younger on the changing table, out of arm’s reach. I tried to distract the older by smiling and saying what a big boy he was using the potty (it was obvious from listening to her that he had just trained). The boy literally shrieked and ran behind his mom, who told him (It’s ok, mommy is right here) and looked at me and said “I teach them never to talk to any strangers.” I was then drying my hands and the baby was getting antsy on the changing table (with mom definitely not close enough to catch him if he fell), I wanted to keep him from falling off, so I tried to distract him with a little smile, and the same thing – he shrieked in terror. I couldn’t help but wonder how awful their lives must be living in constant terror from any stranger. Completely awful.

    We do the “most strangers are good” approach, and talk to pretty much everybody. Once in a blue moon (I can remember two times) somebody has talked to us and I’ve walked away without answering. Both times we had a conversation about how it just didn’t feel right to talk to that person and I just didn’t like them, so we walked away. Not terror, just common sense: You’ll know if someone isn’t safe to talk to. At the beach this summer, a man started harassing my son. I was there, but he didn’t know it. He kept trying to get my son to talk to him and engage with him. I watched to see what my son would do. My son didn’t look up, he didn’t talk, he just walked away to the point where the man couldn’t bother him. He didn’t come running to me, he wasn’t terrified, but he knew that he shouldn’t talk to that man and just removed himself from the situation. Periodically, they’ll ask me about stranger danger and we’ve gone over the basics – never get in a car, etc. but I ALWAYS stress that it is very good to know, and they should always use the rules if the situation arises, but the chances of it happening are very small.

  55. Yeah I teach my kids by example that is it good to be polite and speak when spoken to but I also teach them that if someone makes you uncomfortable or for whatever reason, we never have to talk to someone just because they want to talk to us. I get guys trying to flirt with me or just pushy nosey people or just rude people etc and they see me just walk away from them without saying a word or ignoring them or giving a curt answer when it is warranted.

    I never force my kids to talk to people, strangers or not strangers. If someone makes them uncomfortable I teach them to follow and trust their instincts. You will never catch me forcing my kids to hug or kiss a relative or whatever. Their body is theirs to share as they feel fit. I might suggest it but I won’t force it. Same with talking. I may say “Tell the sweet old lady what your toy is named” if the lady is trying to talk to them but if they don’t want to talk I just say “They are being quiet today” and smile and walk off.

    I think that teaches a good lesson that we are in control of our own bodies and minds and that will help protect them from abuse. I also teach them never to go away with a stranger (not that mine would anyway, they are pretty wary of strange people just on their own), never take food from someone without checking with me first, stuff like that.

    I also teach mine that it is safe to go to another mommy with kids or a policeman or fireman if they are in trouble. Mine worship fireman and policeman so I think they would have no problem approaching one.

  56. Dolly, Do you believe everything you read on the internet? A desire to not have small children in the dog park does not translate into a need for a rule preventing it. I’ve never once seen a small child in any dog park in my town, and yet, an article in the paper proposing a rule against small children in the dog park would result in many favorable comments. Not because it’s a problem that needs to be solved but because intelligent minds agree that small children should not be in dog parks and there are a number of people in the world who dislike being around children and think children should be banned from anywhere they frequent (and several of the people I know who feel this way about children are rather obsessive dog owners).

    There may very well be areas that have a problem with small children or being injured or dogs being harassed in dog parks and may want to consider a rule. What we know for certain is that THIS dog park is NOT one of them. They admit it right in the article. Either people are not bringing their children to the dog park or the dogs and children have found a way to happily co-exist. So a rule preventing something that is not at all a problem seems idiotic and a waste of time and sign space. Common sense does appear to be prevailing in this situation.

  57. The fearmongers are going to have to find a new hobby:


    Apparently there has been a steady, completely unheard of drop in major crimes in almost all areas of the country. We’re going to have to find some new phobias.

  58. “I also teach mine that it is safe to go to another mommy with kids or a policeman or fireman if they are in trouble. Mine worship fireman and policeman so I think they would have no problem approaching one.”

    Dolly, not to pick on you because I’ve said the same thing to my kids in the past, but I think it’s time to rethink this. We really should tell our kids that a mommy OR daddy with kids is safe. I realize that some daddies may be reluctant because of concerns that have been expressed here before, but that’s for the adults to deal with — at least a man who has been alerted of a problem could find someone to deal with it even if he’s reluctant to.

  59. Pentamom: True. But as you said many Dads are nervous about being around other people’s kids because of stuff like that. My own husband is. So that is why I say a mommy. Daddies are also not around often in the places we frequent. We go out mostly during the week days and we only see moms.

  60. On a related note: I have a friend who is a police officer. I was talking to him about how my kids worship policemen and firemen. He thought that was cute and then went on to say it was good too because like we said kids should feel safe going to policemen if they are in trouble. He said he has encountered a lot of parents who use the old “If you don’t behave I am going to call the police on you” or “The policeman will come get you blah blah” or “Policeman will get mommy if you don’t buckle up and take me away to jail blah blah”.

    It makes kids be afraid of policemen which is not a good thing should a need for them to go to one for help ever arise. I have heard parents use those tactics with their kids and I agree with my friend. It is not a good way to handle discipline issues by putting it off on the police.

    He said he has encountered kids who were afraid of him when he was trying to help him and its just not a good scene for all involved. I never really thought of it that way until he said something to me about it but I guess it makes sense.

  61. I admit, I had a healthy respect for the police growing up. But that was because my dad was a cop. The cops have quite a network, and I knew that if I got caught there was no way in hell I was getting away without dad finding out! And he would tell mom. And then I would have to move to Alaska and change my name.

    So once they get to teenage years, a little fear o’ the law can keep them on the straight and narrow. But as a little kid, I just thought it was cool getting the occasional ride to a softball game in the Police Wagon 🙂

  62. When I was very young we lived next door to a nice old man and his grumpy wife. We talked to him, played in his yard and he even gave us candy! And we ate it!

    Nothing bad happened, actually lots of good happened. We entertained an old man, and we got the experience of having an older, adult friend… Who gave us candy!

  63. ~*Giggles*~… can you teach my 5 year old to run, go inside, and realize the world is a stranger? My son can care less if you are old, young, color, religous beliefs, or anything else… I don’t wanna hover over him, but he sees all people as a “friend he hasn’t met yet”? To me that is a danger! And try and use various situations as a teaching opportunity… stranger don’t look like a monster, they look like you and me, and just because they say their name doesn’t mean you know them

  64. Dolly, I understand that point — I’d just hate for a kid young enough not to be able to step out of his training to be paralyzed with fear, because there was a perfectly respectable looking man nearby with a couple of kids in tow, but no moms.

  65. “He said he has encountered a lot of parents who use the old “If you don’t behave I am going to call the police on you” or “The policeman will come get you blah blah” or “Policeman will get mommy if you don’t buckle up and take me away to jail blah blah”.

    I have heard stuff like that and I think it’s idiotic and appalling, but yes, people do that. It was only a few years ago the last time I heard a mom threaten a young child with the lady salesclerk in the store we were in, “If you don’t stop that, the lady will come over here and be angry.” I’m not the confrontational type so I didn’t say anything, but man, was I annoyed thinking about how she’s setting the kid up to have a negative view of people in general, as well as abdicating her own responsibility — shouldn’t the kid learn to obey HER instead of “the lady?”

  66. shouldn’t the kid learn to obey HER instead of “the lady?”

    Probably, though I will say that my niece completely stopped screaming during her tantrums because (and only because) people could hear her from far away and somebody eventually complained during one of them. I was embarrassed, but I’m glad she doesn’t scream. (This is the niece who never used to throw tantrums. We’re glad she’s standing up for herself, and hoping she’ll find a better way ASAP.)

  67. So often i see my sons approach other children in public places only to be snubbed. the other child actually scoffs and walks back to their parent. my kids are always sadly shocked by this (they wanted to make a new friend). I have come to believe that this is part of the “stranger danger” that parents are over-doing these days. except do they realize that their kids are computing this down to the kid level and treating kids that they do not know as “strangers”. When i was a kid, kids flocked to each other, at a park, at a library, at a doc’s office, or at a really long boring adult line-up….it makes me so sad every time i see one of these incidents.

  68. I agree with some of those who fell SAFER because their children are known to most of the neighbors on the street. My street includes many who enjoy being in their front yard or on the front porch. It certainly made me feel more comfortable when my kids were first getting old enough to walk to places themselves.

  69. Lenore, I would be interested in reading that essay. Can you re-post it or send it my way?

    Thanks 🙂

  70. Uly, I agree that public embarrassment does influence kids and to some extent that’s fine. I just meant that the woman just seemed to be completely skipping the step of asserting her own authority and just using some semi-mythical stranger to get the kid to listen. It wasn’t like “Stop that tantrum or people will think you’re being naughty,” it was more like “stop that specific disallowed behavior because there’s some Scary Authority Figure who doesn’t like when children do that,” as though “stop that because I say so” or “stop that for some rational reason” weren’t in her toolkit.

  71. There’s a little girl that lives on my street that has seen me since she was born. But when I take walks – 2-5 times a week – if she is on the sidewalk she RUNS to her porch and sits and waits for me to go by. I’ve stopped saying hello or even smiling at her. She’s run away and parked herself on the step *every* time she sees me for the last 3-odd years no matter how I react, so now I do my best not to engage her in the hopes she’ll feel less, I dunno, threatened? She’s about 9 years old now.

    I can only imagine what her parents tell her about strangers.

  72. Not only are kids mortally afraid of anyone who’s not immediate family, but adults are becoming mortally afraid of kids.

    To avoid being accused of being a pedophile (with resulting placement on “sex offenders registries”, official or otherwise, even without a shred of evidence, and the resulting terrorism from entire communities against you) , a single man had better avoid being seen near schools, playgrounds, or indeed any children anywhere.
    I now consider any area within about 50m of a school or playground to be off limits to myself, unless on official business (polling stations here are mostly in schools, and I’m not letting them take that right away from me for example). It’s for my own protection, yet I still get shouted down when walking a street by kids on the opposite side.

  73. We.recently had a discussion with our two and four year old kids about the difference between strangers and neighbors. Later that day a friendly man from down the street passed by and my two year old (playing safely outside without scrutiny from her parents) yelled out to him, “I know you! You live down the road, so I can talk to you!” He later told my husband how impressed he was that we are teaching them how to play safely outside.

  74. “it is very sad that you can’t have anything to do with kids now a days without someone thinking predator”

    “Is it possible that dwelling on this stuff creates a different kind of fear? Are we hearing about the extremes of stranger-danger fear more than it actually exists?”

    This question is exactly what I was wondering. It’s demonstrably false that “you can’t have anything to do with kids now a days without someone thinking predator” just as it’s demonstrably false that you can’t let your kids play alone outside because there are so many perverts now. You know?

    I agree with Frances, situations like this sound so strange to me that I find myself thinking about what alternate explanations for them could be.

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