Lenore Skenazy on Parentdish recently wrote ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ is dangerous advice in which she suggests that rather than teaching our children not to talk to strangers, we should teach them which strangers to turn to.
Talking about a little girl whose mother rushed her away from a middle aged woman shopping for swimming costumes, she says:
Let’s say that some day that girl really does find herself in a tight spot. To jump to the ultimate nightmare, let’s even say that one day there’s a van following her — a white one, without windows (the predator’s vehicle of choice). The girl can keep walking, trusting no one and hoping to God she’s safe. Or, she can run to the stranger pruning his hedges and say, “Let me stand next to you till that guy leaves!” She can run into the store and tell a stranger, “Call 911!” She doesn’t have to wait for a policeman. She can ask for — and get! — help from any stranger because the vast majority of strangers are not predators. They’re like you and me.
This approach makes so much more sense to me, as it does to many readers, it seems.
She’s not saying my daughter should go in to the house with the man pruning his hedges. She’s not saying go in to the back office with the store clerk. She’s saying teach your child what’s safe and what’s not.
I finished school at seventeen. The day after my last official day, I walked to school at 10 am to go and collect some things I had left behind. We lived in a safe, quiet neighbourhood and I had walked to school every day of the year we lived there.
That day, a car passed me on the street and I thought nothing of it.
A few minutes later, the same car passed me on the street, slowing as it went by, but without thinking about it, I assumed that he was looking for something.
He came round a third time and stopped half way up the hill and climbed out his car. It really didn’t occur to me, naÃ¯ve as I was at the time, that he was undoing his belt. In fact, I didn’t even think anything when he hopped in his car again and took off up the road. The first I thought anything was really suspicious, was when he stopped again, got out his car again and looking at me, stuck his hand in his pants.
I don’t know what I thought would happen if I walked past him, or what I thought he would do but my gut drove me across the road to a house I had never been to where strangers lived. I knocked on the door and an African lady answered the door and without saying a word, let me in the house. The police were called, but nothing ever came of it, since I didn’t even have the license plate.
When my parents later stopped by the house to thank them, the owners said that it was all very surprising because in ten years of working for them, their cleaner had never opened the door for anyone. It had been the look on my face that had told her that, in her words ‘ a child needed help’.
I certainly don’t recommend that a child walk in to a stranger’s house on any given day, but I think it’s so important that we teach our children the difference between a stranger, and a dangerous stranger or at least a dangerous situation (judging by appearance doesn’t really work either!). I am certainly glad my parents did, or who knows how this story may have ended.