Friday, April 30, 2010

A Stranger's Just a Friend You've Never Met

I do not teach my kids "stranger danger." I never have. In fact, I've corrected other people when they've said "stranger danger" to my kids, because we believe that teaching kids to be afraid (what else does the word "danger" imply, except that one should be afraid?) is counterproductive.

There's this attitude in this country that any man who is interested in or talking to children is a child molester. I think that this is as dangerous an idea as the idea that all women are objects/sluts/etc. It is as destructive as the idea that all Arabs are terrorists. It is not a prejudice that I think should be taken lightly.

(if you're reading this on Facebook, there's a video here - go to http://prettybabies.blogspot.com to see it.  If you don't click through, you'll probably also miss the funny pictures coming up)



The implication in the video is that only perverts talk to kids, right? And Leonard is socially aware enough to know that other people (or security cameras!), seeing Sheldon talking to Rebecca, will think he's a pervert. Sheldon, blissfully unaware of most social rules and mores (if you haven't watched the show, he is one of those brilliant scientists who is clueless when it comes to social interaction, and hilarity ensues - you should watch it, it's a good show) doesn't see anything wrong with "making friends" with a little kid.

My husband is a great father. He genuinely enjoys getting down on the floor and playing with the kids - building Lego projects and ramps for Matchbox cars all morning on a weekend. Yet I have seen him totally shut down when the neighborhood kids (mostly girls) come over. He has told me for years, since before we had kids, that he feels like he has to be very careful in his interactions with kids, because he doesn't want to be accused of anything improper. So, for example, if a kid I've never seen falls on his bike in front of my house (true story) I'll run out and help him without a second thought, I'll bring him inside and clean him up, give him a bandaid and a hug, and call his folks for him. My husband will not. (He'd probably call me to come help, honestly, or one of the other female neighbors. He's not just going to leave the kid out there bleeding).

How sad that all the kids of the world are missing out on everything they could learn from him, because our paranoid society that teaches kids that all men have uncontrollable sexual urges. How sad that he has to be so reserved, when he could really have meaningful, mutually beneficial connections with kids.

I thought we believed in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" in this country! "Oh," the helicopter parents cry, "but what about the chilllllddrrrreeennn?"

(I sent him those paragraphs for approval, because I try not to write about him without permission, and he said, That's very nice of you to say. I would not necessarily call for you or another neighbor, but I would certainly not bring a child (boy or girl that I did not know the parents well) into our house without another adult around. I would help the child up, pick up the bike, and help the kid home. If it were an emergency or if the kid lived a ways away, I'd certainly do first aid and call the parents as appropriate but that would all be done from the porch or front yard, unless another adult was right there. So there you go, I was mostly right.)

I'm glad I didn't grow up in this era. When I was a kid I fell on the way to school on my bike, and a man who lived in that neighborhood - someone I had never seen - stopped, took me to his house, patched me up, gave me a cookie, and called my mom. I was scared and hurt (I still have the scars from that accident on my knees), and he helped me. It never occurred to me that he could be a threat. He was just a nice, middle aged guy, helping a kid in need.

I had a long friendship with a middle aged, unmarried, childless man who lived in my neighborhood (I wonder whatever happened to him...).  I remember going to his house to play marbles.  He wasn't a particular friend of my parents - just someone who lived in our neighborhood and liked kids (or tolerated me, anyway).  He never hurt me.  I can only imagine what people would say if I let Mary Grace have a relationship like that with one of the men in our neighborhood.  "Well, have you run a criminal background check?" 

Oh sure, when I was a kid I heard the "stranger danger" message in school, just like we all did in the 80s, but I also saw that my mom talked to people in the store, and that my extended family did too, and that 99.999% of those interactions were between neutral and friendly, and it overwrote the message I got at school.

So, I don't teach my kids "stranger danger" because I think it's destructive to our society (quite literally). What DO I teach them?

  • I've been teaching them since they were about two and a half that they have a "private body" that is not for anyone else to touch. No one is allowed to touch them between their legs unless they're helping them in the bathroom (because they're still at the age where they need help wiping). Because they're not afraid to talk to strangers, they're not afraid to say, "NO! Don't do that!" to strangers, either. 
  • I've taught them that if something happens, they need to tell, regardless of what the person says. 
  • I've taught them that we do not keep secrets in our family (unless they're happy secrets, like presents). 
  • I've taught them that they are not to go inside neighbors' houses without permission (mainly so I know where they are when they're playing, and I don't have to go door to door looking for them). 
  • I've taught them not to take food from anyone (mainly because I don't want them to spoil their dinner, or to constantly be begging the neighbors for treats!). 
  • I've taught them to stay out of the street, no matter what (that's kind of a no brainer).

I let my kids, at ages 3 and 4.5, play alone with the other neighborhood children in the front yard on our block. We know all the neighbors nearby, and we know that parents are peeking out of doors and windows constantly to keep an eye on all the kids (mainly to keep them from doing anything stupid - not out of fear). I'm fortunate to live in one of the safest cities in Indiana, one of the safest states.

I hear you - "But even safe cities have child molesters, Amy!!!" you're screaming at your monitor. Yeah, I know. One lived directly across the street from me. And after my head initially flew off (I was pregnant with MG when I found out), I realized that everyone has to live somewhere. As long as we knew, and he knew that we knew, I didn't have any real fear that he would do anything to any of the kids in the neighborhood. (He was a flasher - he had flashed his junk at three 8 year old girls in Toys R Us).

And, as far as I know (and I know pretty well) he didn't. And he moved away after a year.

This whole post happened because of a conversation on Facebook, where a mother I know said that she ran down the street screaming "Don't talk to strangers!!!!!!!!!!" at two kids (3 and 5) in her care, because they were talking to a male forklift driver. I suggested that it might have been overkill, gave her some statistics on crime (she also lives in one of the safest cities in the country, violent crime is at an overall, nation-wide 30+ year low, and 95% of kids who are abused know their abuser - he's a family friend or a relative or a clergyman). But you can't fight hysteria with facts.  The conversation went on, and I pretty much called her a helicopter parent. I asked her how she thought the poor forklift driver felt, and how he might change the way he interacts with kids in the future as a result of that experience.  I gave her some links to Free Range Kids (one of my favorite blogs). I suggested that teaching children to be afraid of everyone as children will impede their ability to be successful adults.

She basically came back and told me that my kids weren't ever going to be successful adults because they were going to get kidnapped and molested and killed and then molested again because I'm a horrible mother. Nice. 


The competitive mothering aspect of the whole discussion was clear even before I jumped in and called 'em all a bunch of lunatics. "I yelled at these kids and scared the forklift driver, I'm such a good mother!" Another said, "Oh, I don't even let my 3 year old say hello to strangers in stores, and I don't care if people think my kids are rude, because I'm such a good mother!" It's ridiculous. Competitive mothering is the primary cause of all of this hysteria. I was just waiting for someone to jump in and say, "I don't even allow my kids to go outside - they haven't seen sunlight since we brought them home from the hospital, because I'm such a good mother!" And they don't even care that it's done at the expense of all men in this country, and at the expense of their own kids' feeling of security and safety in the world, and at the expense of kids' ability to do normal kid things, like play in the yard!


We all like to brag about our kids, and it feels good to have our opinion of ourselves as "good mothers" reinforced. I just wish people would see the larger picture - the positive interactions they deprive their children of, the erosion of respect for men in our culture ("Everybody Loves Raymond" and other bumbling dad shows, "Law and Order - SVU" which would lead you to believe that it's only a matter of time before everyone is the victim of a serial rapist) - when they teach "stranger danger."

I also blame the 24 hour news cycle. We never would have heard of Elizabeth Smart 20 years ago. But CNN and Fox News have an infinite amount of air time to fill, and they fill it with scaring the snot out of parents. Nancy Grace... Don't even get me going on Nancy Grace. I turned off the news shortly after 9/11/01, and I haven't really turned it back on since.  I will occasionally watch a bit here or there, and it'll ominously say, "What household chemical is going to kill us all? Find out at 11!" and I'll turn it back off again.  (I read the news - all the information, without the hysteria.  Oh, and I watch Jon Stewart, because he's da man).

Most kids are going to survive their childhood just fine. All of us did! I never knew anyone who was kidnapped by a stranger and killed - did you? (I knew plenty of people who were hurt by people they knew, but "stranger danger" doesn't address that!)

Let's start parenting from a point of logic and sanity, instead of parenting out of fear.

I'm particularly interested in what YOU have to say. Do you teach "Stranger Danger" in your house? Jen, am I remembering correctly that the Body Safety classes you teach have moved away from the Stranger Danger mentality? Cate, I'll bet it's a LOT different in Alaska. Rob and Rebe - how do you approach the issue in the major metropolitan areas you live in?

Let's talk about it here, because the people I was talking to on Facebook ended the conversation.  Not that I was surprised...

16 comments:

chicagogoebel said...

To be honest, Amy, we haven't really gotten to this stage yet. Marc's only 2, so his time away from us or his teachers at school is approximately nada.

I think I'm probably a little more, how shall I say it, wary of strangers and their interest in my kid than you sound to be. But I'm non-discriminating in my wariness...both women and men get equal treatment in this regard.

That being said, though, I will probably walk the middle of the road. My mom (due to a pretty messed up childhood) was super paranoid about this topic and had me at least a little afraid of, well, all the men in my life including my dad. I'd like to find the balance of letting him know what's okay and not and having him be aware with out being scared.

How am I going to do this? Beats the crap outta me. :) I'll have to follow the discussion here and pick up all the pointers I can!

Anonymous said...

I don't comment here all that much, but I'll share my thoughts. I live in a moderately sized college town in Illinois. It's not the safest place in the world, but it's okay.

I have a 3.5 year old and a 1.5 year old. I'll admit to being vaguely helicopter parenty, although I don't think I'm the extreme. I am wary of strangers. In general. Not just in their interest in my children.

My husband and I have been teaching our boys that it is okay to talk to strangers if mommy or daddy is with you. We don't know any of our neighbors. My older son is not allowed to play out of my sight. (Criticize me if you want.) And obviously my little one is not either.

My youngest is extremely friendly, so he talks to lots of strangers, but I am right there, and I am fine with that.

I think the way we are doing things is just fine. My older son is not scared of strangers. Today for example, we were at the children's museum, and my little one and I were playing ten feet or so away from my older one, who was doing water play. A male employee of the museum approached him to show him how part of the water table worked. My son looked to me for confirmation that the interaction was okay, and then he was able to be relaxed and comfortable in the situation. I feel like as he gets older he'll be well prepared to make those calls for himself, and feel comfortable doing so.

Eh, that's my two cents.
-Liz

angel0199 said...

I encourage my children to interact with people we don't really know. In fact I think it is rude to not say hello back to people we see out and thank you to the people who say how cute they are (I'm sure you get that too). We do have a rule about not going in anyone's house without telling mom (no matter how well we know them) because mom needs to know where you are and you don't go with anyone without mom's permission.

Funny story-Cabe has a co-worker that he carpools with who lives in the neighborhood behind us. Last summer my oldest two (then 6 and 8) where outside playing while I was making dinner and occasionally checking on them. The co-worker was walking by and stopped to talk to my kids and let them listen to his Ipod. I saw him, but stayed inside to finish cooking. My phone rings. It is a neighbor calling to tell me that some strange man is talking to my kids! I am glad that my neighbors look out for each other, but this man walks our neighborhood everyday and the other mom never bothered to notice him until he stopped to talk to my kids.

I still don't let my kids unsupervised more than 2 or 3 houses away. Partially for therir safety and also to supervise them. I find that the kids that age running around by us don't respect others property and such. I have good kids, but if they do get into trouble I want to know before a mad neighbor comes knocking.

Bev said...

When my daughter and her husband started raising a family, we all substituted the word "surprise" for "secret" to indicate all those wonderful, happy things we all do that we don't want the kids to share until the time is right. Another reason is so that those happy surprises are never confused in their minds with the information about "secrets" that they may hear at school and other places.

I was touched by your words about your husband. Mine is a tall, large man who is the gentlest, sweetest person I've ever known. Yet he has gotten vile glares, even from people at neighboring tables in a restaurant, if he returns smiles with a child who is looking at him and trying to engage...how terribly sad. It breaks both our hearts to see this in our culture.

Our grandkids live across the country and we are fortunate enough to spend several weeks a year with them ever since the first was born nearly eleven years ago. They are the light of our lives and simply adore us too...but how nice it would be to be able to share some of that joy with casual strangers.

Lastly, I was a victim of abuse by a very close family friend, you are right that incidents like that are actually the most prevalent. So you see, I'm not some naive pollyana who believes bad things can't happen to those I love.

Amy said...

I was touched by your words about your husband. Mine is a tall, large man who is the gentlest, sweetest person I've ever known. Yet he has gotten vile glares, even from people at neighboring tables in a restaurant, if he returns smiles with a child who is looking at him and trying to engage...how terribly sad. It breaks both our hearts to see this in our culture.

Bev, that is EXACTLY the kind of destructive power that the blanket suspicion of all men has. How sad that your husband has been glared at by strangers!

He can come play with my kids ANYTIME!

I'm not a Pollyanna, either. We've all had stuff happen, or known people that stuff has happened to. And most of us survive and are stronger for it! Not that we should go seeking it out, but I'd rather give my kids a lifetime of rich experiences (playing with the neighborhood kids, riding their bikes to school, etc.) and take a little risk of harm than wrap them up "safe" in bubble wrap and stick them in the closet until they're 18.

Angel - that's the sort of neighborhood we live in, too. We deliberately sought a neighborhood with kids and young families, where we could have that sense of community that we had growing up in Grammaland.

Liz and Rebe - your kids are still really little - mine didn't go out unsupervised at 2, or at 1.5 and 3 either!! It's definitely something to keep in mind as they grow. I really encourage you both to check out the Free Range Kids blog. Sometimes she's a little extreme, even for me, but I agree with her about 80% of the time.

Cate said...

Well, this is interesting. I guess I have never put a lot of conscious thought into this arguement before; the facebook controversy sounds a little crazy though! I like your thoughts and the way you have framed this. I like your list of things that you teach your girls. I think I probably indulge in fear and hysterical worry a little too much and I think I may have passed that down -- and I think I want to try to tone it down a little in general. I also boycott the fear-mongering media when I can. But all that being said, my reaction to the seed issue is complicated.

I doubt you know this -- but our neighborhood didn't feel as safe as it did for you -- there was a high school boy a block down and across the street who somehow got me to come to his room one time (I think I was 5 or 6?) and showed me porn and tried to convince me that it was normal and I should do something like that, and took off my shirt while I sat frozen, unable to figure out what to do. I think his mom came home or something and he let me go -- I don't really remember. I remember feeling really ashamed about it later and not wanting to tell my mom because I thought I'd be in trouble. Maybe it's wierd I'm writing about this on a blog, but I no longer feel emotional about it and it fits the discussion -- anyway, I think it formed my mistrust of people -- not just men, but women too. I hear your arguement and agree that it's sad that people are expected to not interact with children, but personally I can't shake the deep fear I have that anyone could be capable of anything, even people I have known and feel Ok about. Well, but that's back to the people you know are more dangerous issue.

And that is the case here in my village -- there are a lot of registered sex offenders, a disproportionate amount. But they're all people you know, plus the mitigating factor is alcohol. Pretty much everyone is safe if they are not drinking, and drunk people are not often out and about, especially not around the school area, so I feel fine with Esther playing out around the house. I also feel OK with her playing out or playing somewhere like in the gym with a large group of other kids -- the pack will generally protect its own and ward off predators. I do check on her often in these situations, though.

I am glad, though, that it is very acceptable here for grown men (and even teenage boys!) to pick up a child (perhaps one that he is only remotely related to, or who shares a name with a relative) and kiss that child, hug that child, tease that child. I like it that I live somewhere that men enjoy spending time with children.

It's a wierd situation, when I really think about it.

When I am away from this village, the first places we hit are busy, big airports. I have to admit that I have used a lot of fear to get Esther to stay close to me in the airport, because we go on a short plane ride and then all of a sudden, the acceptable distance she can be away from me shrinks dramatically, and that is hard for her to adjust to right away. Not that there would be a kidnapper more likely in an airport than somewhere else, but it certainly would be a terrible place for a child to be kidnapped. I have told her what to do if she gets separated from me in an airport, or if someone she doesn't know tries to get her to go with him/her.

And all that being said, I regularly do talk to strangers, engage in conversation, answer questions about our lives, and try to be polite. Esther witnessing me in this interactions and follows my lead. I explicitly tell her that all this is OK since we are all together.

I feel like I'm going to be thinking about all this stuff more now, instead of just gut-reacting. That's proably a good thing.

Amy said...

Aw, Cate. ((((hugs))))

I sent you an e-mail.

Love,
Amy

RobMonroe said...

I started to read this two days ago, but knew that I wanted to devote time to reading the whole thing and respond thoughtfully. I'm glad that I chose that route. I think I need more time to respond, especially in light of reading Cate's comment.

I might do a blog post about this tomorrow. Don't hold me to it, but it will be a goal in the coming week. In the mean time, hold me to commenting in the next 24 hours. If I don't, text me and say "Comment, damn it!" and I'll remember.

RobMonroe said...

I am in the same situation as BJ - I feel very awkward when coming into contact with other people's children if I do not know their parents really, really well. I volunteer in the church nursery every Sunday and refuse to change diapers because I just don't want to deal with the hassle when we have paid folks in there to do it. The room is often full of children and anywhere from three to seven adults, but I just won't do it. (And it's not just because poop stinks!)

I had direct experience with the “Stranger Danger” feeling on Tuesday night when I took Abby to the mall for dinner, just the two of us. When we were walking through the mall while holding hands I got smiles and “aww, how sweet” comments the whole time. When we went to the playground part of the mall, she shot in well before I did, after throwing her shoes at me. Everyone accepted the child that was running around, but nobody associated her with me.

Strange looks were shot around as soon as I walked into the playground, by myself, and started scoping things out. Every parent took time to scope out where their child was in relation to me. It was palpable, and very awkward. I got Abby’s attention and made her come over and give me a big hug and a quick tickle and all of the sudden I was in conversation with the moms and dads around me.

It was such a change that I noticed it. I guess it’s the first time in a long time that I have taken Abby out by myself to someplace like that.

I don’t have a solution for how to change the perceptions, but I can tell you that they are real, and they affect the way that I choose to do some things now, and that makes me sad.

Sarahlynn said...

Yes and no.

I don't teach my daughters about stranger danger, either. I agree about our culture of fear and the damage caused by treating all men like they're incompetent at best and perverts at worse.

But.

Amy: "Another said, 'Oh, I don't even let my 3 year old say hello to strangers in stores, and I don't care if people think my kids are rude, because I'm such a good mother!' It's ridiculous. Competitive mothering is the primary cause of all of this hysteria."

I teach my children that they don't have to talk to strangers and they don't have to shake hands and they don't have to hug people who want to hug them. Even grown-ups we know well. Even me.

Because I believe that children are often more perceptive than adults (and less caught up in observing social mores). I believe the *most* important thing is to teach my children to listen to their guts. I want them to establish their own boundaries and I want to let them know that good, healthy adults won't breach those boundaries.

I too grew up in a nice, small Midwestern town. When I was walking to kindergarten with my best friend from across the street, a man in a car slowed down and drove beside us for a while. His car stopped at a stop sign as we waited to cross the street in front of him, and I saw that he had his penis out and was playing with it, rubbing it against the steering wheel.

My sisters and I had only two male babysitters when we were little. Both of them teenagers my parents knew and trusted. And both of them . . . inappropriate with us.

So, yeah, I agree that it's a bad idea to treat all men like pedophiles. But I also know that the dangers are real and they're out there and they're not figments of some modern helicopter mom's imagination. My caution isn't a result of "competitive mothering." It's a result of me wishing to save my daughters from some of the experiences I had way too young.

"Most kids are going to survive their childhood just fine. All of us did!"

I've heard the same argument used against car seats and it doesn't quite hold true there, either. And, obviously, not all of us did grow up without scarring from abuse.

That scarring creates fear and mistrust to continue this cycle. (I certainly learned some lessons about not trusting men that my parents didn't intend for me to learn!)

And since abused kids are more likely to become abusive adults, that lends a whole different level of concern to the discussion.

"We've all had stuff happen, or known people that stuff has happened to. And most of us survive and are stronger for it!"

Stronger, perhaps. But perhaps not. And perhaps not happier or healthier, either.

Sarahlynn said...

Rob said: "I don’t have a solution for how to change the perceptions, but I can tell you that they are real, and they affect the way that I choose to do some things now, and that makes me sad."

It is real, and it makes me sad, too. It also makes me sad that I am being "careless" if I run alone at night, or in a quiet area in the middle of the day with earbuds in. I try to explain to my husband what it's like walking around with a certain amount of . . . not fear, exactly, but *awareness* all the time that he - as a big guy - is completely unaware of. Now that I point out stuff like that to him, he'll notice that if he's out running at night and comes up behind a woman, she'll sometimes cross the street or look around at him periodically.

I know what it does to me, hearing the stories on the news and watching shows like L&O: SVU. I can only imagine what it does to a good guy, being treated like a predator.

I don't teach my children to be afraid. But I do teach them to listen to their guts, set their own boundaries, and not respond to people who make them uncomfortable just to be polite.

Because as sad as it makes me when innocent men are treated with suspicion, it makes me even sadder when innocent children are harmed by adults.

And not just men. Women hurt children, too. But most sexual abusers are men. One huge step forward in this discussion will be when men take a bigger role in combating sexual violence.

We moms can continue to beat each other up about who's doing a better job protecting our children (from harm or from over-protection/excessive fear) but we're just bickering over symptoms rather than addressing root causes.

John (yes, that John) said...

A couple of different points here ...

1) Dirty cross-poster! :)

2) Let's take a look at the example you've cited of the unexpected Good Samaritan in your neighborhood when you took a spill off the bike.

a) He approached you as an adult caring for a child clearly in some degree of trouble.
b) Per your description, in very short order, he contacted your parents.

There's a world of difference between that circumstance and having an adult that's totally unfamiliar and alien deciding, out of the blue, to horse around with your kid without any regard to introducing themselves to the parents.

And you're right. Not all of the people that would do that are perverts. Just the ones that are DELIBERATELY avoiding the parents.**

(Similarly, all women are not sluts, but if you happen to know a few that haven't worn an outfit in the past 4 years that didn't involve their undergarments being visible (when present) and have a penchant for body glitter ... You have my phone number. I'm sure there's a pen and cocktail napkin handy. Help a brother out.)

Anyway, back on topic, even taking that tiny cross-section of the population out of the equation; let's go back to the folks at the park that just don't have the sense to make contact with the parents; the grown-assed adults that lack this level of social grace and courtesy; the people that aren't overtly dangerous; they're just oblivious jackasses.

Do you really want to make a case to me that MORE interaction with the Jackass Federation is the way to go?

My expectation (and constant disappointment) is that the adults of the world comport themselves as adults. If they're not able to do so; I'm allowed to look at them funny. I'm also allowed to teach my kid, 'Hey, that's not how you handle your business as a grown-up.'

** Ok, even that stipulation isn't fair. The folks looking to avoid authority figures might not be looking to touch the bathing suit area ... they could just be looking to score/sell drugs. My bad.

David Burbidge said...

I came across your blog because I'm writing a piece about the visit of our choir from Sedbergh, the small country town in the English Yorkshire Dales where I live to our twin town Zrece in Slovenia. I had the phrase which you use as your title translated into Slovenian and used it in several speeches of gratitude for their enormous hospitality saying that "We have a saying in Sedbergh that there is no such thing as a stranger, just a friend you haven't met. I've seen this to be true in Slovenia as well."

We had a visit from a Slovenian choir last year and went to visit a hall we were using later that day for our concert. Before we could go through the door a woman rushed out and physically barred the entrance to the hall saying that the three of us couldn't go in because there were children there. "Are they dangerous?"I asked. To which she panicked and said it was the law and the children must be protected.

Afterwards the married couple who were with me asked if child abuse was very common in England, imagining that if we had such precautions it must be rife.

The answer of course is that it is probably about the same as anywhere else, we just seem to have moved from a time when no one believed or would acknowledge that it happend, to a time when everyone thinks about it all the time.

When my daughter Anika was born we took her to Slovenia first when she was just 3 months old, and the thing I loved was that complete strangers would pick her up and throw her in the air (I was more worried about them dropping her!) Anika loved it and we were pleased that she was being taught that there is nothing wrong with her which might make people turn away, or avoid her - the unspoken message which children pick up when people are afraid of being accused of being child abusers.

I love the thing you say that because she is not afraid of talking to strangers she is not afraid to tell them off if they try to do anything inappropriate. This is what I want for my daughter - at 3 1/2 she certainly lets both of us parents know very loudly when we are doing something she doesn't want - even when it's good for her!

Since she was born we have flown a lot - her grandparents both live in Germany, in a village which requires two flights to get anywhere near. I have seen her on flights walking down the aisle and talking and not just talking to strangers but even sitting on their knees while they read her a story. On a plane. With us both watching.

I like it that she is learning that the world is basically a safe place and is growing in the confidence that this believe gives her - not being crippled by fear.

She goes to nursery school now and there in the playground is big sign - like a road sign - saying Sranger Danger warning children not to talk to strangers. Here in Sedbergh there are very few people who aren't known by everyone else .

When she gets older and makes journeys on her own, we will of course revise our thinking and make sure she knows how to keep herself safe and how to maintain what is private for her.

We are both vegetarians but Ankia now eats meat - she says the animals where the meat comes from aren't real animals like the ones she sees in the fields or feeds and befriends on the farms. She has some surprises coming her way and will learn some truths which will shock her. I would like her to learn those truths in a way that she can deal with them with her inate wisdom and logic - rather than be terrified into believing things just because she has been taught to be afraid.

David Burbidge said...

I came across your blog because I'm writing a piece about the visit of our choir from Sedbergh, the small country town in the English Yorkshire Dales where I live to our twin town Zrece in Slovenia. I had the phrase which you use as your title translated into Slovenian and used it in several speeches of gratitude for their enormous hospitality saying that "We have a saying in Sedbergh that there is no such thing as a stranger, just a friend you haven't met. I've seen this to be true in Slovenia as well."

We had a visit from a Slovenian choir last year and went to visit a hall we were using later that day for our concert. Before we could go through the door a woman rushed out and physically barred the entrance to the hall saying that the three of us couldn't go in because there were children there. "Are they dangerous?"I asked. To which she panicked and said it was the law and the children must be protected.

Afterwards the married couple who were with me asked if child abuse was very common in England, imagining that if we had such precautions it must be rife.

The answer of course is that it is probably about the same as anywhere else, we just seem to have moved from a time when no one believed or would acknowledge that it happend, to a time when everyone thinks about it all the time.

When my daughter Anika was born we took her to Slovenia first when she was just 3 months old, and the thing I loved was that complete strangers would pick her up and throw her in the air (I was more worried about them dropping her!) Anika loved it and we were pleased that she was being taught that there is nothing wrong with her which might make people turn away, or avoid her - the unspoken message which children pick up when people are afraid of being accused of being child abusers.

I love the thing you say that because she is not afraid of talking to strangers she is not afraid to tell them off if they try to do anything inappropriate. This is what I want for my daughter - at 3 1/2 she certainly lets both of us parents know very loudly when we are doing something she doesn't want - even when it's good for her!

Since she was born we have flown a lot - her grandparents both live in Germany, in a village which requires two flights to get anywhere near. I have seen her on flights walking down the aisle and talking and not just talking to strangers but even sitting on their knees while they read her a story. On a plane. With us both watching.

I like it that she is learning that the world is basically a safe place and is growing in the confidence that this believe gives her - not being crippled by fear.

She goes to nursery school now and there in the playground is big sign - like a road sign - saying Sranger Danger warning children not to talk to strangers. Here in Sedbergh there are very few people who aren't known by everyone else .

When she gets older and makes journeys on her own, we will of course revise our thinking and make sure she knows how to keep herself safe and how to maintain what is private for her.

We are both vegetarians but Ankia now eats meat - she says the animals where the meat comes from aren't real animals like the ones she sees in the fields or feeds and befriends on the farms. She has some surprises coming her way and will learn some truths which will shock her. I would like her to learn those truths in a way that she can deal with them with her inate wisdom and logic - rather than be terrified into believing things just because she has been taught to be afraid.

Casey said...

My problem with " Stranger Danger" is that alot of children including myself are not abused by stranger's.
My abuser was loved by the entire nieghborhood ; kid's , parent's just about everyone.
This man took away my childhood and has destroyed how I see myself.
I am 43yrs.old , going on 18yrs. of marriage this fall. A cancer survivor.
But what this man did to me is in the back of my head all the time.
Some of the knew about it like my (2) older sibling's and I know now through therapy, they did not want it to be them.
I was hurt badly by this man,threatened.
I blocked this memory for so long ,
I blurted it out one night me and mom where sitting on the deck, she said something and it just came out, and she said " Casey , repeat that and when I did " Her face went white.
To this day , I have to have my SUV with me at all time's, my Trust issue's are extremly high.And there truly is no one that I will let drive me, I have to know I can " ESCAPE" if I need too. ( how sad is that !!:(
And I lost my childhood!:( And I can never get it back, he " STOLE " that from me !!!
You don't have to teach stranger danger , you have to teach your children that you will be there for them and believe them , whatever they have to tell you.
I knew mine would, but I also knew my Dad would have killed him. and then it would be my fault he was in Jail . It just seemed like I could never win.
I tell my friend's to , not what happened to me, but about losing the stranger danger and telling their kid's they will believe them no matter what and don't believe what someone else tell's them.( By that I mean " ALL THE THREAT'S TAHT THEY WILL BE TOLD & BELIEVE!!"
AND PLEASE BELIEVE ME THEY WILL BELIEVE, SOMETIME'S , WE ARE JUST TRYING TO SURVIVE!)
Casey
Rhode Island

Amy said...

Casey, I am so, so sorry for what has happened to you. No one deserves that.

Hugs,
Amy