School Alerts Parents: Local Man SeenTalking to Kids!

Hi Readers! This is the kind of story that makes me bite off little pieces of my own arm in frustration (almost. Ok, let’s just say it makes me nuts.)

An elementary school in Toledo, Ohio sent home a note that said a stranger had been speaking to some of the students at a popular bakery on their way to school.  According to this story on WTOL:

The letter said, “The situation is now in the hands of the police. Fortunately for us today, all of our children are safe.”

The letter also tells parents to remind their kids to report suspicious people. Parents were shocked.

“That makes me nervous. I want my kids to come to school and be safe,” said Gail Hodson, a Harvard Elementary parent.

Excuse me, m’am, are you shocked by the idea that your kid might someday encounter an adult male you did not personally vet first? Maybe it’s time to move to another planet.

But wait — the story gets a little weirder. Turns out that the man is a regular at the bakery and it was when he was there that he offered some kids some donuts.

Pretty terrifying!

School administrators left those facts out,  and defended themselves later by saying that the alarm was, if nothing else, a “teachable moment,  and they sent the letter home to be proactive, before misinformation spread.”

Um…doesn’t that sound like exactly what they made happen? This letter WAS the misinformation, and the school spread it! As far as teachable moments go, this one taught kids to be suspicious, scared and unfriendly no matter how unwarranted. Worst-first thinking in action!

Then again,  just maybe it taught them that their school has gone absolutely ape with fear and can’t tell the difference between a sweetroll  and Sweeney Todd. If so, that letter has done some good. – L

ADDENDUM: While we’re on the subject of stranger danger, here’s another little tidbit: A man in a van asking a little girl if she’d seen his puppy turns out to have been (sit down) LOOKING FOR HIS PUPPY. Here’s the story. Weird,  right?

Donuts! Men! Arghhh!!!

57 Responses

  1. I’m so tired of every male in our society automatically being an assumed predator & pervert. I’ve already seen this attitude being applied to my sons (they like to hug) … and this was when they were both under 8!!
    I’m amazed males are allowed to be out and about, unescorted by a woman, without wearing some kind of emblem that certifies that they’re up-to-date on their background checks and etc.

  2. This weekend, I was walking the block to the neighborhood store when I heard a small voice say “Hi! My name is Kenyon. What’s yours?”
    I am ashamed to say that the first thing through my mind was NOT “What a nice, friendly child!”, it was “Am I going to be accused of attempted abduction or some such thing for talking to this child?”. Now don’t go thinking that I am a frightening person. I’m a mother and grandmother and thoroughly agree with Lenore’s columns. However, my first impulse, while smiling at the child, was to scan for his parents PRIOR to talking to him.
    Paranoia reigns, I am ashamed to say!

  3. Just another reason I think it’s actually harder to raise boys than girls in this day and age: they will be suspects for the rest of their lives for the sin of having a penis.

  4. I am told I was a very friendly little girl and often talked to strangers while out with my parents. My parents’ good friends often commented on how personable I was and enjoyed my interest in interacting with adults. I was educated quite clearly on the difference between being polite and friendly, and putting myself into a dangerous situation. Even as a young child, this was not difficult for me. Sometimes when I think back to the pleasurable interactions I had with adults (I would have been TICKLED to have been bought a donut on my way to school) I wince when I think of how they might be handled today.

  5. *sigh*

    I live in Toledo. Not only did Harvard Elementary School screw the pooch by not telling the whole truth in the (unnecessary) letter they sent home, WTOL did so by reporting this at all.WTOL is our local equivalent of Fox News – all about stirring up controversy and panic, disguised as “human interest”. The poor folks in the TPS district don’t know what to do when they wise up and move into the WLS district, where some of the elementary schools have a “grandparent” in residence.

    I don’t think I’ll ever forget the PTO meeting some years back, when the Monsters were still in elementary school. A Mom who had just moved into the district was having herself a giant panic about the “strange old man roaming the halls”, making her feel like our school was unsafe. She railed and threatened and demanded he be banned from school ground because he “might be a pervert”. School administration held fast and said NO. She continued to demand, school continued to say NO, and she eventually pulled her children from our school and enrolled them in Catholic school.

    That “strange old man” was Grandpa Chuck, a kindly old vet with no family of his own, who gave freely of his time, talent, and energy to our kids. He never missed an assembly, track meet, basketball game, football game, play, or concert. He brought the kids sports cards and treats and a ton and a half of love, and they all loved him right back. The community was devastated when he passed in 2007 at the age of 90. Worst first thinking, though, robbed that woman’s three kids of the chance to get to know someone incredibly interesting and devoted to the community’s kids.

  6. More details:

    It seems that a 13-year-old boy was taught to be terrified of adult males who happen to be on the same sidewalk as him.

  7. @E. Simms, plus…are these sidewalks so empty during the walk-to-school hours that ONE man walking in the opposite direction of a child is THAT scary?

  8. […] Lenore Skenazy: School Alerts Parents: Local Man Seen Talking to Kids! […]

  9. Is nobody ashamed or at least a little sorry for falsely accusing a man (to the police as well as parents and kids) of being devious? What about the fear this creates in the hearts of nice guys?

    When I was little, my parents taught me that some people prey on children and may use sweets, etc. to lure them. So honestly, when an adult offered me hot chocolate or whatever, I wondered. I made a decision. Sometimes the person was a bona fide weirdo, and I felt it. Other times it was just a nice person who deserved a warm thank you, and I felt that too. I’m still alive, so there must be something to that instinct thing. (Note, I hardly ever told my parents that someone (weird or nice) had offered me anything. It wasn’t how we operated in those days, at least not when we were school-aged.)

  10. That 13-year-old exemplifies the reason I always gave for my free-range approach: I could live with a small chance of harm, or a very large chance of neurosis from being raised to think everyone around her was suspicious. I chose the small chance, and did my best to minimize it. Then I worked with her (and still do) to fine-tune her instincts, and learn to tell the difference between a guy out walking, and one who’s on the prowl. If we ever spot one of the latter who is actually a threat (at 16, most guys who are trying to get her attention are doing so because she looks old enough), I’ll help her call the police and report it. My rough guideline is “steer clear of the ones who make you uncomfortable. If they’re decent folks, they’ll let it go at that. If they won’t let you be, it’s time to complain to someone.”

  11. I think you are overlooking the real crime that was committed here.
    This nice gesture (local patron offering free donuts) was attempting to lure these children into a lifetime of obesity via a transfat-laddened donut. Oh, the humanity! The police who were notified should have charged him with Attempted Child Obesity Solicitation with Controlled Substance (Transfats).
    And I cry for the tree that was killed to send these letters to the parents.

  12. Well, to be honest, in the pedo world, “donut” = offer to have anal sex, which makes conversations at Krispy Kreme really awkward.

  13. When I was little my mom taught me not to take candy from strangers, it was part of the standard “Stranger Danger” training.

    So I sympathize with the kids. But where are the adults exercising judgement, and teaching the kids to do the same?

    When I was 10 my family was riding Amtrak and I was off on my own in the observation car. I struck up a conversation with a British gentleman who, after some time offered me chocolate. I told him I wasn’t allowed to take the candy with out my mom’s permission. He gave me a strange look before I ran off to find Mom. When I told mom, she gave me a “your telling me this why?” look and came to meet the man. They had a little chat, and mom took some chocolate.

    Out of earshot (I hope), I asked mom how she knew the chocolate was safe. Mom, still calmly enjoying the chocolate told me that she had no way to know for sure. But the man seemed okay, so it was worth granting a little trust. She sent me back after licking her fingers clean saying, “This is really good chocolate, you should try some.” I basically apologized to the man for the inquest, and asked if I might still try some chocolate. That was the most amazing chocolate I had ever tasted.

    It took lots of experience to move beyond stranger danger. Oddly most of those lessons involved men. I am infinity glad to have met the men who gave random gifts, helped me, feed me, and drove me places. One man even took me into his home when an accident left me alone and shaken. I would have got by okay without any of them, but I’m not sure I would have developed much faith in my fellow humans.

  14. Well, in Portland Oregon we have a teacher writing in the Oregonian newspaper “,,, students learn that adults have the right to invade their space without permission. Given that these touches may be indistinguishable from those of a trolling predator in the pre-grooming stage, teachers need to think before they touch.”

  15. Contributing to the well-being and delight of others is possibly one of the most vital needs we have as human beings. When we assume that no one does anything just for the joy of contributing to others, when we read it always as manipulation, and even manipulation with intention to harm, we not only cut ourselves off from receiving the gifts of others, but we cut the joy of living off from those who offer gifts.

    A simple “No, thank you” is all that is required if you don’t want a donut. Running off screaming to the authorities lets us know that you have been trained out of your own connection to the joy of contribution to others.

    I, too, was taught as a child about the possibility that someone might offer me candy to get me to get in their car. It never happened. When someone would offer me a candy, I would eye it warily and make sure it was in a wrapper of some sort. I think I was more afraid of cooties than molestation!

    It’s important to teach kids about ingratiation as opposed to giving from the heart. If someone is giving to you from the heart, they want only the best for you, and it will be clear as the situation unfolds. But simply assuming that every person, especially males, who offer gifts of any sort (service, food, treats, help, smiles) are “out to get you” is basically shutting kids off from life itself.

    People, please get ahold of yourselves. If the man had given the kids donuts for a full week, then said to them, “You know, you could just come to my house next time, I’ve got cupboards full of donuts and you can have as many as you like,” that’s a whole different situation. Right? Right?

  16. So what are we teaching our kids? Be afraid of men? And what does that tell our boys what we think of them once they grow up- you will be a danger to others and not to be trusted? Great message.

    We did have a letter sent out in our school district when a man was reported to have approached a young girl walking home from school and offered her a ride. Now that is a teachable moment reminding kids to be aware of their surroundings and making smart choices- but not to be afraid of every single adult person out there.

  17. When I was in middle school, I had to walk home past a small cornfield. A man hid in there naked and jumped out into the path when my friend came walking by. He had a few other “victims” as well. He seemed to be amusing himself by trying to shock people. My mother and the other mothers that I knew never overreacted about this. We kept walking to and from school like before, with a reminder to watch out around the cornfield and walk with others if possible. Well, maybe our mothers weren’t worried because he didn’t SPEAK to the children – he was just naked. (Seriously though, I can imagine how that would freak people out today!)

  18. Antsy, I don’t know why I can’t stop laughing about that… something about Mr. Green Jeans and the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz “gone wild” perhaps.

  19. A couple of times in the past few years, I’ve run into a lost child, who wouldn’t communicate with any adult. I was able to get them to give me their name by showing them my teacher ID and papers I had in my bag for grading. At least their lives weren’t in danger.

    A few years ago a boy scout got lost on a camping trip. Hundreds of people turned out to look for him. When he was finally found quiet near the campsite, officials found out he had hidden from the search parties because they were scary strangers who knew is name.

  20. Okay, just read the follow up link. So the school scared the crap out of a buch of parents because a 13 year-old (who was going to elementry school why?) had so little sence that he ran away from a man walking down the sidewalk. Then was horrified that said man continued walking in the direction he was already going. And to confound the teen’s shock the man was headed to the same nearby shop. Then the man offered donught to OTHER kids. For all this story is saying the man may have been offering donughts to his own kids and kid’s friends. Or perhaps just trying to calm some kids who were alarmed by a teen running in screamming “Call 911!!!!” This goes infinitly beyond my fear, at 10 of a stranger offering me chocolate.

    The school’s excuse is pathetic: “School leaders said they sent the letter home to be proactive and remind parents to talk to their children about strangers.”

    That 13 year old sounds like he had quite enough “stranger danger” talks.

  21. I was at boarding school when I was a teen. We walked to or from school 4 times every day, technically in groups, but they didn’t police it that closely. They gave us safety info, but most of it passed informally through the kids themselves (older kids taught you the route to school when you arrived, for example).

    The area had a local flasher (UK term for someone who likes to freak out strangers by opening a long coat to reveal himself either naked or partially naked). We all knew his name, most of us found out what he looked like, and we also knew to ignore him, but let someone know if there was an incident, because it meant he was off his meds again. I think there was only one incident affecting our school in the 7 years I was there, though we joked about it often.

    In a way, that’s probably the best way to explain something like that to older kids. Most of them know people on regular medicine of one sort or another by then, even if it’s just headaches. It doesn’t say all men are weirdos, it doesn’t even paint the flasher as dangerous (he wasn’t), and it doesn’t send the kid who sees him screaming for the police, but it does mean that if he does something, the authorities will find out. The only thing it’s not great for is their possible attitude to people with mental health needs, but a bunch of teen girls are never going to be that great about that, even when it happens in their midst. We grew out of it.


  22. OMG I’m a terrible parent a complete stranger offered my grumpy 3 year old son a small unopened packet of M&M’s on the train recently and I let him have them and even talk to the man for most of the train trip. I often wonder what happens to kids that are not allowed to talk to strangers 1) if they get lost- what do they do 2) how do they determine when a situation actually is dangerous and makes them feel uncomfortable. I want my kids to be able to get help when they might need it from adults in our community whom I feel are generally going to help a child (although I fear some people are now too scared to approach a child in trouble for fear they will be seen as some type of predator). Please can we have some common sense and let our children develop some instincts that might actually help if the worst happens ( and by this I mean maybe they injure themselves or get lost, but far more likely than been snatched by a stranger)

  23. Craig, that commentary (written by a teacher!) is very sad. When I was taking my teaching certification classes, we were told we had to be more than just teachers. We were to be child advocates, active members of the community, family counselors, etc. We were encouraged to be more to the kids than simply someone who lectures and administers tests. Now we’re being told to keep a safe distance from students and stand in front of the room without touching them at all (which is lecturing, right?). So which is it? Which is really better for the kids? Does anyone even know anymore? Sad.

  24. I certainly hope to teach my kid some common sense. This “don’t take candy from strangers” thing is wrongly stated (particularly when we then encourage kids to knock on doors and take candy from strangers every Halloween). Walking over to a car or into a house to get something from a stranger is a bad idea. Taking things from strangers in perfectly safe situations is not.

    There was nothing dangerous about this situation at all. This is a man offering to buy kids donuts IN A DONUT SHOP. He may have known these kids. He may not have. Either way, he is not luring them anywhere to get donuts. I’m guessing that he is not going to dangle the donuts over their heads and make them follow him home. He is not going to able to slip drugs in the donuts before the kids consume them. Unless he is regularly in the donut shop offering donuts to strange children – at which point I’d hope the donut shop would question his actions which may still be innocent but are starting to look more suspicious – he was probably just being nice.

    Several years ago I dated a guy who, while in his 30s and unmarried, lived in a suburban neighborhood swarming with kids who were always outside. He had this dorky little dog that all the young girls loved so they would run over to him whenever they saw him to pet the dog or ask about the dog. He said that the neighborhood kids made him nervous and he feared a knock on his door accusing him of something one day. I generally just rolled my eyes at him. I now feel like I should call him and apologize. He was not insanely paranoid; just a little ahead of his time.

  25. My friend has a son who has assorted disabilities, for which he is getting help. Two of them are for speech therapy and writing. She has worked hard for years to get him to write, and now he is doing online gaming and typing lots to the other players. Success!

    Only now the speech therapist told her that the son should have a microphone so that he can talk to the other people. The mom told me she is scared of him talking to strangers. (Even though he IS interacting already and wouldn’t probably say anything that he wouldn’t type. And, he can hear them talking.) I asked her about her own interactions with strangers. “No, I don’t talk to strangers!” “BS!” I told her. “You go to the store and talk to the clerks. You go to the post office and talk to people. You talk to people in line. You call up the phone company when there is an issue, and you know NONE of these people! What is the difference?” Well, she replied that she really wanted him doing more writing and typing so he will do better on state testing. Um, well, tell people that then, that is is a worthy goal – saying no talking to strangers is BS because we all do it every day. Unless you live in Mayberry, which we don’t.

    I could totally see her agreeing with this kid who freaked out. I will keep working at her though. Total overreaction. What if it was the dad of classmate? I can’t recognize faces well at all, I would totally not be able to tell who someone was and if I had been trained like this, well, every guy I met would be a potential preditor because I couldn’t tell that I actually knew them.

  26. I spent six hours today waiting in a local children’s hospital, for my 14 year old nephew to have his check-up for his Spina Bifida. During that time I must have had at least 15 small children sit in the chair next to me and say “Hello.”.
    It used to be that I would talk to them, and on occasion I’d even read them one of the story books that were always around. These days, what do you do? Today I just buried my face in the book that I brought along.

  27. Do these parents/educators/administrators NOT see the difference between “Have you seen a dog?” and “Get in my car and help me look for my lost puppy?”….C’mon!!!

  28. I’m having my own `stranger danger’ issues right now. I’m a Scouts leader and one of my fellow leaders has decided to book a speaker to teach our unit of 5 to 7 year olds a session titled, Stranger Danger. I raised my concerns because I’ve worked hard to teach my own children NOT to be afraid of strangers because strangers are potential friends and potential help in times of need. Strangers sell us our groceries, serve us at a restaurant, book our doctor appointments and hold the door open. I do teach my children not to go off with strangers and to respect their bodies, which I think is better for my children than teaching them to be afraid of strangers and that someone may kidnap them. I was accused of not being concerned about what could happen to my children. I countered that I am more concerned about what will happen to my children if I don’t teach them how to appropriately interact with strangers than to be afraid of them. My fellow leader insists that in this session the children will learn how to protect themselves from strangers but also how to defend themselves. Yes, DEFEND. How can a five year old defend themselves against an adult? I have a blue belt in karate and I know that even I can’t defend myself in many situations. I can’t stop her from running this session so I’ve decided to stay home with my children the night of this session as I don’t agree with the message. The person running this session has a business that makes money off the fear of parents, offering classes to parents and children on protecting them from strangers. I just haven’t bought into the fear.

  29. Sorry if other posters have said it already, but I think it’s actually getting dangerous, this amount that we are scaring kids about ‘strangers’. There will be times when it is necessary to accept help from a stranger, like if you’re lost, or you’ve fallen off your bike, you don’t have a first aid kit and you’ve buggered your knee. The kind of man who’s nice enough to offer strange kids a donut while in a store, with no attempt to lead them off, sounds like the kind of bloke who would help kids in actual trouble. After this nonsense though he’s probably ‘lost’ to kids. What a shame…..

  30. Reminds me of a trip we were lucky enough to take to Euro Disney in Paris.I noticed one little boy who appeared to be lost, but he didn’t speak English and I couldn’t find an official who spoke English to explain about this kid, (my schoolgirl French sucks!), so I just hung back and watched the kid until his dad turned up. Dad, who did speak English, was appreciative of the act that I was keeping a watchful eye over his son (who wasn’t in any actual danger at any time, of course, just getting upset with being lost in those ridiculous crowds).
    Meanwhile my husband, in another part of the park, watched an Eastern European woman ‘right’ a toddler who had fallen over right by her leg, only to have the hysterical American mother come running over to her screaming ‘Leave my baby alone! Don’t touch my baby!’ While it’s doubtful the E.E. woman had any idea what was being screamed at her, it occurred to my husband that a/ common courtesy seems to be completely missing from some people, and b/ what a terrible message that toddler was going to receive about the human race, if even a strange woman can’t be trusted to pick her up and place her back on her feet.

    I dread to think what would have happened if the stranger concerned had been a man – he probably would have been sporting a couple of black eyes for his simple good deed.

  31. Well….the folks in the Toledo Public School System ,parents and administrators alike, are not know for their common sense and free ranging tendencies. And the local media feeds right into that mindset! My grandparents used to frequent that bakery. It makes me sad to think that that man could have very well been my grandfather! Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

  32. By the way…Hi, Missy! It’s great to see that someone else from the area visits this blog:)

  33. On sort of a different topic, but considering the abovementioned 13-year old ‘child’, today I’m going through all sorts of stats for an essay, and I just came across this gem from the 1893 NZ Yearbook :

    ‘Of the arrivals in 1892, 16023 persons were classified as adults, being above the age of 12 years…..’

    Hasn’t Western civilisation taken a great leap backward?!

  34. And, ye gods, I have just witnessed a young student being asked by an older gentleman carrying a crutch (an offensive weapon if ever there was one) if he would mind retrieving a lolly from a vending machine for him. And the student has just done so. And returned to his seat unharmed. Oh dear, what were the odds?

    Two strangers interacting. Really, how dangerous. What was the young man thinking? And should I hand myself in to the police for not interfering?

  35. Jenn, can you leave the kids with a sitter and come and see the presentation? I suspect that snarky comments will ensue unless you do. Being there to ask….”Well, what about those strangers that we meet in our neighborhood every day? How do we deal politely with them? How do you deal with the gentleman who offers to buy you a donut?” may be very informative for other parents who are there or who have kids there but are doing it because every one else is, but they don’t want to be questioned about how much they love their kids.

  36. In Germany it seems almost compulsory for women over 60 to carry a stash of candy in their purses and offer some to young children that they see. I lost count of the times I violated the “never take candy from strangers” rule because of the grandmotherly ladies offering candy to my son. There is a big difference between someone offering candy to a child in a parent’s presence just to be nice versus offering a child candy to lure them into a car.

    It sounds like the whole “stranger danger” thing has gone way too far in the States. In kindergarten (preschool) kids learn about good strangers and bad ones. For example, they learn that policemen or the people who work in stores are good strangers who can help you. But they also learn only to take rides only from people that they know and never to go off with a stranger.

    I think it’s sad how men are automatically viewed as suspicious characters in the States. Fortunately, that way of thinking hasn’t hit Germany (at least my city) yet. My son’s friends’ parents let them do sleepovers at my house when I’m working the late shift and my husband is the supervising parent. When my son and his friends were younger, it was always the fathers who took a group of boys out skiing. At least one-third of the teachers at my son’s school are men and they seem to be the big favorites.

  37. If the school was so concerned why didn’t someone from the administration go to the bakery and talk to the man. They would have found out he was a regular and seem him as a positive influence in the community rather than a potential threat. I am glas my grandson knows a lot of the adults in the neighborhood. Some I don’t know that he introduces me too. I feel he is safer with the community looking out for him not just his family. I also know he will think twice about doing something wrong because everyone is not only watching out for him but watching him as well.

  38. I am also from the Toledo area, and I would echo Missy and Maggie that WTOL is a sensationalistic station. This story was not in the newspaper or on the other 3 local stations, to my knowledge.
    In my small-town-turned-suburban neighborhood, a local Grandfather volunteers his time to stand at the crosswalk before and after school. He helps the elementary-age children, who are walking to school (which is encouraged!) cross a road that is becoming busier and busier as time goes on. We were having a problem with speeders and reckless drivers, but his presence seems to calm everything down. Instead of telling the neighborhood children that they can’t walk the 3 or 4 blocks to school because of some bad actions by a few adults, this man has found a simple solution. No one does a story on him, though.

  39. Jenn,

    Did you point out that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children now says that “stranger danger” is a myth?

  40. I’ll never forget how shocked my mom was when I let a strange woman hold my oldest daughter while we were standing in line at a store. My mom said “You shouldn’t do that, what if she had tried to walk out of the store with her?” I had no clue how to answer her cause the scenario she was suggesting was ridiculous. The lady would have had to have some pretty big balls(figuratively) to try to abduct my child while standing right in front me me! My daughter is a very happy socialable little girl and she will talk to anyone. She’s 2 now and loves people. I’m not going to stifle her personality just to instill fear into her about everyone in the world she might not know by name. My second daughter is turning a year old in a few days and she is not like her sister, she is shy and afraid of strangers. I hope she outgrows it. but I have had people tell me it’s a good thing. That my oldest being friendly makes her a more likely target of child abductors or molestors or whatever than my shy 1 yr old. It’s insane! It all drives me crazy too!

  41. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is a farce. If people were able to take a look at the actual data of what constitutes a “Missing and Exploited Child” the organization would cease to exist overnight. The majority of the so called missing children are as a result of custody issues resulting from divorce. Several years ago, a friend of mine was awarded custody of his two daughters. The Mother refused to turn the girls over to him even after he obtained a Court order. The Mother relocated and my friend didn’t know where his kids were. The Welfare department knew, but, wouldn’t tell him. The Welfare department did garnish his wages for child support even though the Court said that he didn’t have to pay since they awarded him custody. He eventually found out where his daughters were and took them out of state. The reason that I am mentioning this is that both girls are listed as missing on the NCMEC rolls. They are not missing, I just talked to both of them on the phone last week when their Dad wanted me to come out and stay with them while I look for a job.


    wow really your 17 yr old calls to say I made it to school safely. I mean come on not knowing whether my child made it to school safely or not can’t be reassured by the fact that you didn’t get a call from the local police anymore!!!!

  43. Once, last year, when my kids missed the bus and I was driving them to school, I passed an older boy who rides their bus. He was walking back to his house because he’d also missed the bus. I happen to know that he was going home to an empty house. I was actually afraid to offer him a ride to the school with us because I didn’t want anyone to accuse me of anything so I just let him be. He probably missed school that day. I often wonder about kids like that who miss the bus whose parents are already gone to work. Do they have to call their parents home from work to take them to school instead of letting the mom from down the street take them with her own kids? And I agree about how every man is made out to be some sort of predator. My third grader had his friend over after school a few weeks ago and I wasn’t going to be home but my husband was, and I felt like I had to check with the mom to make sure it was okay that it was my husband at home with my five kids and her son and not me. I was almost afraid she’d change her mind about letting her boy come over. Fortunately she still let him come (yes, it was an arranged playdate but only because that boy lives in another city–he and my son are friends because they attend the same school because his mom is a teacher at that school). The world is just getting crazier.

  44. “If the school was so concerned why didn’t someone from the administration go to the bakery and talk to the man. They would have found out he was a regular”

    Given the attitude they displayed, that might have gotten him thrown in jail for grooming, since he did this “regularly.” It’s probably better that they didn’t interact with him or they could have ginned up some reason why he was guilty of something!

  45. A friend of mine who passed away a few years ago used to say that she was sad that she couldn’t talk to friendly children that she met in public, because she’d be “setting them up” to be harmed by someone with bad intentions. Having learned what I’ve learned since about how unrealistic that line of thought was (I just sort of took it for granted at the time because it’s so “in the water” of American society, and she probably did the same, being on other counts a wise and sensible woman) I wish I could go back now and tell her she didn’t have to, she shouldn’t have, felt that way.

  46. @ Cathy, I also have a very outgoing daughter (14 months old) she has always been attracted to new faces and being around lots of people. I sometimes let other people hold her (back before she was walking, no luck now), and got ‘jokes’ about stealing her. My default response was. “No problem, I could use a good night’s sleep and a break from the colic. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow morning.” (Said calmly with a half giggle, while stepping in uncomfortably close.) Except for the time I said it with my back turned, the joker put her back in my arms before I could inhale.

    Because of my perception of social expectations, I used to apologize to random strangers she got friendly with saying “yeah I’ll need to teach her not to talk to strangers.” I think I pick the line up from other moms. But I never really meant it. Stranger danger failed me big time as a kid and at the time I was struggling with an alternate plan. Now that I have found free-range kids I don’t apologize for her. I say things like “It is good to know the neighbors, they can help her if she ever gets lost or wanders off.” Or, “It’s wonderful that she is so friendly, she knows so many people who could help if she gets into trouble.” or “Well now you are another adult who knows which parents she belongs to.”

  47. So sad. My husband has ran into this sort of thing from time to time. He looks “rough” to some people what with his beard and ratios and such. People have actually came up to our kids while he is out alone with them to ask if they know “this man”. It has only happened a couple of times but it broke his heart and was very embarrassing. -sasha

  48. Gee.. my stupid washing machine broke down again, so I had the fun of sitting at the laundrymat with some kids whose parents were doing laundry. I handed out quarters all around for the quarter machines. Figured I didn’t need them all, and kids seem to love the stuff that comes out of those machines. There is an elderly gentleman in our town that frequents the library, my girls grew up talking to him. He’s kind of strange, but nice. They always went over to him, said Hi, and worked on puzzles with him. One birthday of his, he gave them each a dollar to get an ice cream at DQ after we left the library. I still see him there at the library, working on puzzles at the reference book stacks.

    @hineata – “but that was back years ago, kids are different now”… as in yeah, they are made really stupid and big babies. My oldest was thought to be 26 or 27 when her (now) boyfriend met her. She had just turned 22. I think many generations of grandmas will be turning in their graves at the coddling of this coming generation.

  49. Risking being flamed, while I disagree with the school’s response and agree there was some unnecessary fearmongering, I am also very suspicious about the guy. In this day of hyper fear of strangers, any sane man would know better than to offer kids donuts when one child was already upset by his presence. Yes, the 13 year old’s response may have been an overreaction, but seriously, if someone had just accused you of stalking them, and was calling 911, would your response be to start offering other kids donuts? He had to KNOW people were going to freak out (it is just totally implausible that given the scenario he thought that his actions would calm ANYONE down) and so his actions either demonstrate a total lack of social understanding, a perverse desire to upset people or, the guy really is dangerous.

    I honestly try to be free range, and I do NOT jump to every negative conclusion, but some strangers ARE creeps. Maybe, just maybe, is it conceivable that the 13 year old’s ‘spidey-sense’ was triggered? Do we give this kid ANY credit for picking up that something was possibly ‘off’ about the guy? One poster commented that she had a second sense about who to trust and who not to. Well, maybe this kid does, too. Can we agree that’s possible?

    And the fact that he is a regular is irrelevant. There happens to be a total creep who is a regular at our local donut store. I happen to know some of his history and trust me, he is NOT a nice man. Nor is he especially sane. Bad combination. And yes, he is always trying to offer my kids donuts. His being a regular does NOT make him safe.

    Sometimes the kid who gets the heebie jeebies is right.

  50. My take on it was that this was an elderly gentleman who was born and raised and lived most of his life in a world that was not automatically suspicious of a single male walking down a sidewalk, let alone an elderly gentleman who was familiar to those in his neighborhood. He probably grew up in a time and place where the guy offering you a doughnut was just…a guy offering you a doughnut! I can honestly see many elderly folks in my life react this same way. Yes, just because someone is a “regular” at a shop, or a bar, or a park, does not automatically make them “safe”, but chances are, they are just like you or me. You may know one guy who is a creep, but there are 99 others who are not. This guy is probably lonely, unable to get around or out much, and reaching out in a way that makes sense to him. God knows we pay little enough attention to the elderly the way it is!

  51. And even if was a young and spry 30 year old, it is really that wrong to reach out to your neighbors?

  52. Hmmmm. The boy ran for absolutely no reason simply because a man was walking toward him. There are no allegations that the man was near the boy or interacted with him in anyway whatsoever. The boy alerted police and accused the man of chasing him, again with no allegations that the man came near him or interacted with him in any way. I’m going to go with it’s not possible that this kid has a good spidery sense and, frankly, from the description it sounds like he seriously needs therapy. Running from a person who is doing absolutely nothing except walking towards you, is crazy behavior. Far more crazy than offering kids donuts.

  53. I have to concur here with Donna. My 10-year-old had been so indoctrinated by his dad about the likelihood of being kidnapped (as in, “Anytime, anywhere, anyplace, you are highly likely to be kidnapped”) that I can imagine at that age he might have gone a bit loco and imagined that someone was “after” him when they weren’t. It took a good amount of shaking him by the shoulders and challenging this outrageous indoctrination to get him snapped out of it. He’s 11 now, and goes everywhere on his own, and seems to have gotten over the idea that the whole world means him harm. God knows how it would be for him if BOTH mom and dad were paranoid… and I think for lots of kids, this is the case these days… sigh…

  54. @EtobicokeMom, to me that is really proof that they missed the ‘teachable moment’ opportunity. But nowhere in the article or the letter does it mention that kids should learn to trust their instincts in these matters and what to do to keep themselves safe. And in my view, even if the guy had bad intentions, there was no danger to the kids because they were in a public space surrounded by other people.

    If that would have been my child, I would have let them know that it was good of them to tell me about the “weird guy” and good of them to trust their instincts and that as long as they made sure to not go off with him, they would be safe. THAT is a teachable moment!

    It is important for kids to trust their instincts, but 1) was that what the kids here was doing or had he been told that strangers talking to kids are automatically bad and b) that doesn’t mean it is right to go reporting people to the police just because your child thought he was “a bit dodgy”.

    As for the “he should have known people would panic if he offered some kid a donut” attitude, that is the very sad thing about overreactions like these. Maybe he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed? That’s not a crime. And what’s more, it results in the kind of situations where kids who need help are not helped because of this fear that others will accuse the adults of attempted abduction or abuse. It’s just totally wrong!

  55. Reblogged this on naturalhealt and commented:
    Free range kids with in side softy tip news for parents

  56. How many casualties of civilization will it take for reason, facts, and levelheadedness to prevail? How many men will be sacrificed without cause?

    I am disgusted with media and lawmakers for isolating everyone from everyone based on needless hysteia.

    Is there a chance that something may possibly happen in our children’s lives that shouldn’t? Yes. Should we create a paranoid unhealthy attitude where children ‘create’ boogey men where they don’t exist? And when we have these children so paranoid and fearful of normal, healthy behaviors what are we creating? We are creating unhealthy problems for the civilization of tomorrow.

    Come on poeple—get over the hysteria!Bad things happen but if we let the exception rather than the rule prevail everyone loses especially our children and the future of this country and of civilization.

    If we continue with this mentaility everyone go dig an underground bunker and never come out. Better yet…let govenment implement selective child birth and decide who can have children to begin with and then take them away and have them raised by govenment chosen “parents”—– in other words brainwashed.

    Leave the politics out of personal lives! People make mistakes. They make bad choices. They learn and move on. Or that was the way it used to be. Now if you make a mistake or a bad choice you spend years of your life in prison so lawmakers can justify their existence even when FACTS prove that their hysteria is not saving anyone..

    It’s time to get back to basics and civility and trust and believeing in people and above all forgiveness without obstruction. In other words: LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN CAST THE FIRST STONE!

    If I grew up under the laws we have to live under now just about every guy I went to school with would be in prison or on a registry somewhere. Exceptions are sensationalized and hysteria created. Such a sad legacy to leave what few children won’t be in jail by age 20.

  57. […] agreed that worst-first thinking is not the desired outcome. But, am I doing enough? How does one strike the right balance? Share […]

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