DON’T TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER. We all know this important message and have drilled it into our children’s heads. We have sat our kids down and educated them about “Stranger Danger” and about the creepy white van, back from when we were kids. Bravo for us for being on top of things, but have we discussed what, or rather who, a “stranger” actually is?
If you ask your kids what their image of a “stranger” is, they might say “a weirdo or someone who is scary”. In fact, that is exactly what mine said when I asked them for this article.
What exactly is the definition of a stranger? According to Google, it is “a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar”. Hmmm, to a child, that can be a bit confusing. I am confused myself.
So… would the check-out lady who always tells my kids she loves their hair be considered a stranger? We don’t know her personally but we are familiar with her because she works at our local grocery store we frequent. Would I question her handing my kids a lollipop as I am paying the bill? No, I wouldn’t. If we ran into her at our local diner and she offered a lollipop from her purse, would I still feel that way? Probably not. Would my kids feel the same hesitation? According to my kids, she would not fall into the “stranger danger” category.
We have been taught to believe that an eerie and unkempt older man is whom we are supposed to fear and avoid. Not a familiar and friendly older woman who works in our local supermarket we see week after week.
It is still the same lady so why does her location and the setting change our answer?
When she is not behind the counter in her uniform, we no longer feel like we “know” her or feel safe with her. That is the adult perspective but to a child, they may not be able to distinguish between the two.
If someone passing by asks us for the time and we answer, our kids might question why we are talking to a stranger. If someone at a store compliments us on our leggings and starts a conversation about where we both work out, our kids might question why we are talking to a stranger. We have taught them not to talk to people they don’t know and not to give out personal information.
Why do we do it and how do we explain it? Aren’t we just being friendly? What if we were looking to make a new friend? As adults, are we capable of telling the difference between good manners and knowing when to walk away? Do we have a gut instinct our kids have yet to develop? Maybe we have to be more cautious around our children.
Maybe the man who asked for the time is an actual serial killer. Perhaps the woman at the clothing store steals people’s wallets while pretending to talk to them. Could it be true? Yes, of course, but we hope not. Do we want to teach our children to live in fear and view the world as evil with malicious intentions? Is that the only true way to keep them safe?
Recently, we were all at Lacrosse practice and as I was watching my oldest son play, my two younger boys were running around an adjacent field with a bunch of other kids they have known for a while.
All of the sudden, every kid was holding an ice-pop. One by one, you could hear parents ask, “Where did you get that?”
It was disappointing that all of our kids took the ice pops. Aside from the “Stranger Danger” issue, how about getting permission from us? There was no, “Mom, can I have an ice pop?” No, “Hey Mom, this lady is giving out a treat…can I have some”? NO and NO would have been my answer and would have also led me to get out of my seat and investigate who this person was.
You could hear all of the parents lecturing their kids, demanding the sugary delight be thrown away, me included.
There are many reasons they all faltered. For one, all of us, the adults, were nearby. We were “watching” them even though we were on our phones, cheering on practice and flipping through magazines. I didn’t see any woman with popsicles and I don’t believe any other parent did as well.
Kids tend to think if their mommy or daddy is around, they are safe. Another reason is there were a ton of moms all over the field so it is easy to assume this particular woman handing out snacks was also a mom. To them, Moms are safe and trustworthy. A woman who looks like a mom does not fall into the “stranger danger” definition. Lastly, the kids figured if their friends were all accepting the ice pop, then it must be okay for them to do the same.
This is not a scenario we all covered in our children’s training. We did talk about the ever popular, “If your friend jumped off a bridge would you do it”, but a sports field surrounded by parents…not a bridge. In our kid’s eyes, there was nothing creepy about this situation. To a parent, it is just creepy wrapped in a nice bow.
When I talked to my kids about what happened, they looked as if this all came out of left field, literally. What if this woman said she had a new puppy in the car and wanted them to check it out. Would they have gone? What if she sent a child over, that they didn’t know, to ask the same question? Would they have gone then?
Recently, there have been warnings all over social media about kids disappearing in well-known stores, where many of us recurrently shop. We have been cautioned about not taking our eyes off our kids for a second, for fear they could be lured by another child, only to live the rest of their life in a sick and twisted sex ring. OMG!!! We have been educated to be very aware of our surroundings as someone could be following us, stalking our every move, waiting for the right time to strike.
It is all extremely terrifying and makes us want to put one of those backpack leashes on our kids, even the older ones. There is no more hiding in the clothing racks for our kids or “Mom, I’m going to check out that toy in the next aisle”. The days of “go to the bathroom and I’ll meet you back here” are over. There are people out there who have bad intentions…very bad.
While we don’t want our kids to fear life, we need to properly educate them about the real definition of “Stranger Danger”. Teaching your kids about “Stranger Danger” is a step in the right direction, but we have to go a few steps further.
We need to discuss a lot of different scenarios with our kids and be cognizant of who we talk to since we set the example. Strangers come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, all ages and all genders. Our kids need to learn this fact! Are all strangers dangerous? Of course not but if we can educate our children properly and avoid them coming into contact with those that are dangerous, then it can make all the difference in the world.
They need to know that a stranger, with the potential of being harmful, could actually be a six year old child, the teenage girl who lives down the street, a teacher at their school and yes…the “mom” handing out icy treats at a local sports practice.
Together We Can Master Motherhood™…and strangers!