Approaching the issue of Stranger Danger

Walking down the road with our little girl, I said ‘hello’ to a random stranger as we both moved across slightly to make room for each other while our paths crossed.
It was enough of a move to warrant a friendly yet anonymous ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ from me to them and vice versa.
Approaching the issue of stranger danger charlie says streetwise street wise safety children kids parenting don't talk to strangers
“Who is that mummy?” asked our 6 year old.
“I don’t know them but it’s nice to say hello to friendly people when you pass in the street sometimes.”
And that was that.  In that moment, I realised that I had indirectly told our little girl that it was okay to talk to and to say hello to random strangers…
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…which it is.  And there’s the problem isn’t it?
We’re bringing up our little girl to be friendly and open by saying hello to strangers, and therefore encouraging her to speak to strangers.  And in the process, going against everything that ‘stranger danger’ ever taught me as a child.  I distinctly remember the ‘Charley Says…’ campaign.  “Charley says always tell your mummy when you go anywhere…”
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Of course, to my adult mind, this is perfectly acceptable.  To our little girl’s 6 year old mind – obviously not so.
Where do we go from here then?
Do we now ignore everyone ‘random’ and friendly in our little town?  Of course not.
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As an after thought, I told our little girl that they probably knew Grandma… laughing that she knows everyone and therefore, they are not a stranger.  It still doesn’t get around the wish to bring up our little girl to be friendly, considerate and polite though.
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Where we’ve moved from, saying random hellos is just not the done thing. Where we live now, it is common.  We love it.  It’s a very friendly town.  To say hello to dog walkers as they pass on the pavement and you each move slightly aside to let each other pass is what happens here.
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To myself and hubby, it’s a refreshing change that our adult m0nids are mature enough to deal with.  To our little girl’s immature mind, it’s not so easy is it?
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In an ideal world, this is a value I’d love to instil in our little girl.  To talk to people, to meet people, to listen to people, to learn about people, to make friends with people.
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To a degree we have to perhaps just let her get on with it, let her talk to these people with us there, to encourage her to say ‘hello’ too.  She has to make her own way in the world herself eventually, after all.
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Society can be a cruel, anonymous, dangerous place though.  Where we live, in the main, it isn’t these things.  The simple word ‘hello’ brings into question the whole issue of how to approach ‘stranger danger’ without turning our children into ignorant unfriendly, even rude individuals.
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What are your views?  What would you have done/said in this situation?  Please share in the comments below.
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And then the fun began...
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Let's Talk Mommy
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14 Comments
  1. Good point! I think it depends on where you live and the vibe of the place. Where I live now it’s not the done thing to say hello to strangers (I still do it, but I get some terrible glares! Hehe!) but when I lived in Torbay things were totally different and everyone was really friendly. Somehow the community seemed so much tighter there, and it just felt a whole lot safer! Sadly, I wouldn’t be too happy about a child speaking to strangers here though!
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  2. I was also taught not to talk to strangers as a kid, which is silly because there are many situations where it would be totally rude NOT to talk to strangers. I think the issue is GOING somewhere without telling mom and dad, which should be stressed – never go somewhere with anybody before asking mom or dad. Talking to strangers is fine.
    Jenny @ Unremarkable Files recently posted…It’s Official… I’m an M.O.M.My Profile

    • Very good point Jenny. In fact, I think we could even teach our children that it’s good to TALK to strangers without the need to GO anywhere with them, on the basis that we can learn so much from people of all walks of life.

  3. What a difficult balance it is! I remember being terrified of strangers and even turning down sweets from my sister’s friends because of being told to be wary as a child, I think it can be so confusing! I’m a very sociable person now but it took a long time for me to overcome shyness and talk to people. So I think you can swing out of balance either way, and not just because of anything you do (my parents never really pushed the issue, they often said hello to strangers when we went out for walks too, so I must have picked up on it elsewhere).

    I am not entirely sure how I’ll approach it. WB is 4 and I love how confident he is when he meets new people and how he’ll go off to play with kids at the park (and in one instance how he joined in a game with another family and their Grandad once!) but I know I won’t always be there to help him know if it is safe or not. So I guess we’ll be thinking of ways around this… Maybe saying that whilst most people are lovely, some people might not be and so it’s always a good idea to check with mummy or daddy or grandma or Grandad or whoever he is with. Or that if he ever finds himself lost/alone to find someone official (eg if in the supermarket find someone in uniform). And that he can play with and speak to strangers when in a public place but never to go anywhere with them, never to get in a car or go to their house or whatever. I’m not really sure what else to do, you know?

    • Teaching them to approach someone in uniform when lost is a very important lesson Amanda. We’ve talked about that subject too. It really is such a minefield of a topic, I think, especially when you’re encouraging confidence too.

  4. I struggle with this one. Where also do you stand when someone wants to give your child a hug….but they don’t want one? I found myself in that position a while ago and told my daughter to reciprocate. Afterwards, however, I reaslied that I should have told her it was okay to say no and from that day on I have stuck to that and told her it is vital to both have your body and wishes respected and to respect the body / wishes of others. Anyway, to the matter in hand! I tell my daughter to say “my mummy/daddy says I mustn’t talk to strangers”. This should be enough to placate any sensible grown up. #sharewithme
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    • Fair point John and with words that say it plainly and simply. As for the hug, our little girl has always been quite sure of herself when she doesn’t want to hug back (like most children at times, I’m sure). I’ve found myself giving an apologetic, even sheepish smile back to the person – almost feeling guilty. But I know I shouldn’t feel guilty that my daughter is learning about boundaries and applying them… Whoever said parenting is easy eh?!

  5. My oldest thinks that every one is just a friend he hasn’t met yet. And at 5, it’s been interesting. He DOES know not to go anywhere without either one of or an adult he trusts, but soon he’ll be old enough to play with just friends.
    Hopefully we’ve taught him good judgement.

  6. Oh goodness it’s so hard being a parent. To be completely honest I think there is more likely to be danger from someone that is not quite a stranger – a friends parent, a neighbour, someone from church; yes it happens but it is rare that a predator is unknown to a young person. I will teach my son to say hello but to give out no personal information and never to go anywhere but I will work really hard on the point that if he ever feels uncomfortable or is asked to go somewhere and he doesn’t understand why to not feel bad about looking impolite and say no and find someone in a position of trust. #PoCoLo

    • Yes Charlene, you’re so right it’s hard being a parent and you’ve just proved it in your reply! By saying that there’s more danger from not-quite-strangers. Makes me shiver! That’s great advice to give your son though.

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