The Stranger Danger Is…Me!

Hi Readers! This essay by Jennifer Carsen originally ran at her blog,  Mommy Tries, which bills itself as “Bringing you good-enough parenting since 2010.” – L.
.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been wondering, “WWLD” (What Would Lenore Do?)

My daughter Lorelei was on the swings at the playground today, loving it as usual, when a little girl and her dad ambled over to the swing next to us. It’s hard for me to accurately calculate the ages of other people’s children, as nearly all of them are smaller than Lorelei – including a few incoming UNH freshmen – but she must have been 3 or 4 or so.

“Hi!” I said brightly, as her daddy was getting her settled.

“Hi,” she replied – and then got a worried look on her face.

“Daddy, is that a stranger?” she asked, pointing an accusing finger at me.

He looked me over, menacing in my turtleneck and mom jeans, and said (with a slight smile at me over his daughter’s head), “Yes.”

“She talked to me,” the little girl said, her tiny voice dripping with equal parts horror and disgust.

“It’s okay, Sweetie,” he said, laughing. “I’m right here.”

I understand that teaching our children to be cautious is a good thing, but there’s got to be some better way to distinguish “stranger” (mommy at the next swing; merely a friend we have not yet met) from “STRANGER” (creepy guy who separates you from the rest of the herd with promises of puppies and van candy).

.
Me (Lenore): Agreed! And the thing is, even the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children — the folks who put the missing kids’ photos on the milk cartons — now formally distances itself from the idea of “stranger danger” — because it’s useless.
.
First of all, the vast majority of crimes against kids are committed by people they KNOW. So it’s like warning kids about the dangers of spoons, when — if we’re talking cutlery — the bigger danger is probably meat cleavers, right?
.
Secondly, when we warn kids never to talk to strangers, we are taking away a safety net for them. If they are ever in trouble, it is GOOD to ask for help from anyone, fast! As the late, great Mary Duval once said, “I think we can trust random people not to suddenly become child molestors just because they happen to see a child.”
.
And thirdly, if we tell kids that everyone unfamiliar to them is a potential child killer, we are effectively stunting any street smarts they might otherwise be cultivating. If you automatically distrust EVERYONE, how can you develop that tingling sixth sense of, “Something feels a little weird”? EVERYTHING feels a little weird — you’re surrounded by killers!
.
So here’s “What “Lenore Would Do”:  Teach kids you can TALK to strangers, you just cannot go OFF with strangers. That way, they get to see the world for what it is — basically good — with a dollop of caution, which is also basically good.
.
And as for that dad, who is teaching his daughter she’s safe as long as SuperDaddy is around, but otherwise she’s a delectable hors  d’oeuvre for the crowd of slavering wolves at the swingset,  maybe it’s time to put HIM on a milk carton with the caption: “Have you seen this well-meaning but clueless dude?” — L

Yikes! I see some strangers at this playground. Run, kids! Run!