Sometimes I will ask my 9 year old if she wants to stay in the car while I run into a store for a second. Occasionally she would say ‘someone might steal me’. I don’t really know where she gets this outlook from, but it bothers me.
I have told her repeatedly that if she is ever in trouble she can feel comfortable walking up to someone, a STRANGER even, and asking for help. I don’t agree with the “don’t talk to strangers” rhetoric that is fed to north american kids. There are people out there who are capable of bad crimes face to face with someone they don’t know – but do people honestly think by bringing their kids up to be wary of all other people they will protect their kids from this small minority.
There are so many reasons that teaching our kids the general rule “strangers should be feared” is fundamentally wrong.
First of all, it is based on the feeling that we are surrounded by many terrible people – which is a direct result of the media which is skewed to report on crime, corruption and sorrow. Statistics, common sense – all point to the fact that the vast majority of people we pass in the street are law abiding citizens, and the percentage of the population that will attack a stranger is extremely small, minuscule even.
Second, it is my unproven theory that many of these ‘bad apples’ could be contributing members of society if they didn’t fall through the cracks. If people, maybe other strangers, had been there to support this person at certain turns in their life, they may of taken a different path. So the concept of avoiding contact with strangers almost perpetuates more people being ‘bad strangers’.
Third, I can’t think of many situations where, as a parent, fear mongering based on unfounded opinions actually protect children from harm. Instead of teaching your kids how to be confident and trusting with people – so they are comfortable telling a weirdo to back off , yelling to get attention or approaching a stranger for help – you teach them to avoid strangers at all costs. At its base, it will make kids, even adults, very uncomfortable if they are approached by a stranger and they won’t know how to ask for help when they really need to. At its worst, they will grow up not being able to approach people – a life of believing in stranger danger can breed bad habits.
I traveled through Europe alone at 17. A girl, with no fear and totally trusting. I shared hotel rooms with strangers all the time. I remember stories of people having their organs stolen in youth hostels – I never believed it. I never had anything stolen or anyone really trying to take advantage of me (or at least I saw it coming a mile away and I just brushed it off).
I insist that my kids talks to strangers regularly – mainly just saying thank you or asking a relevant question – but they practice nonetheless. Most people want to do the right thing, they may be different or misguided, but they are usually trying their best. True evil or insanity is very rare and we are breeding unfounded paranoia by focusing on it.