Stranger Danger?

When my son, now closing in on ten, was three years old, I had many intense discussions with him about strangers.

Stay away from strangers.

Don't trust strangers.

If a stranger approaches you, run away YELLING even if they know your name!

We even did some role playing; my husband or I pretended that we were the stranger and we used all the best lines on him:

"Hey, kid, wants some candy?"

"Hi, little boy, your Mommy is sick and she wanted me to drive you home."

"Hi there, your Daddy wanted me to pick you up, because he and your Mommy had to take your cat to the doctor."

"Remember me? I work with your Daddy! He wanted me to pick you up and bring you to his office so that you can hang out with him! How fun is THAT?!?!?"

"Hey! I can't find my puppy! He's probably scared; can you help me find my lost puppy?"

After a bit of work, and a few tears, he got it. He learned to be wary of strangers. I was ever so proud of my parenting.

But months after we started our indoctrination, I had a very interesting discussion with a trusted friend of mine. It was one of those moments, one where in one concise statement on her part, I realized that a lot of the "truths" I'd held dear were actually never thoroughly examined.

My friend said, "I don't believe in teaching stranger danger; it's more probable that my kids will need the help of a stranger than it is they will be approached by someone malevolent. It's a more likely a scenario that one of my kids will get lost in a grocery store and need to find an adult to help them."



When I was in preschool, I remember being very comforted by the fact that my mom or dad always picked me up early. For whatever reason, I dreaded the idea of being the last kid waiting for their parents.

And then, one day, it happened. Not only was I the last child waiting, but pick-up time came and went. The sun started setting, and I sat at the big window facing the street waiting for my ride. Eventually the teachers left me in the care of the cleaning lady who'd recently arrived.

(I know this sounds unbelievable by today's standards, but this was the early seventies...times were different.)

It was dark outside, and I continued staring out the window, willing my ride to arrive. I was over the burning shame of being the last one picked up, and starting to be afraid that I was forever forgotten. The cleaning woman was done cleaning the facility and ready to go home.

She looked at me. I looked at her. We were both confused as to how to proceed.

I don't remember much of the ride in her car to her home, other than thinking that my mom would never find me now. When we walked from her front walk into her home and directly into her kitchen, she asked me if I wanted a cookie.

"What kind?" I asked. Even then I was.

"Lorna Dunes," she answered.

Lorna Dunes were and are my favorite cookie (I know...BORING).

Once I had my Lorna stash, she asked me if I wanted to watch television.

Uuuuuummm, yeah.

Guess what was on?

MARY TYLER MOORE! Yes, my favorite show. I don't know what it says about me that I was a preschooler whose favorite cookie was (is) Lorna Dunes, and that my fave show was Mary Tyler Moore (okay, that's not true...she was (is) second to Mister Rogers).

Nevertheless, I was a happy little lost girl. I had my favorite cookie and my (second) favorite show. Not long after the show started, my mom arrived. My reaction?

Oh, no, now I can't watch MARY TYLER MOORE!

Turns out that the person who was supposed to pick me up...well, forgot. When this was discovered, a bunch of freaked out adults converged on my preschool. They found a note taped to the front door by the cleaning woman detailing what had happened, and where they could find me.

Find me, they did. They found me all happy with my Lorna Dunes and Mary Tyler Moore.


So, anyway, after the discussion with my friend, and upon some reflection, I started to wonder how much of a disservice I had done to my son over the past months, what with teaching him that the world is full of bad people that he should avoid.

After that, my stranger danger talks with him (and in more recently, with my daughter) have been far more precise. I haven't taught them that every stranger is dangerous.

I've taught them that, if they are ever in a situation where they need help, there are the strangers they should seek out first.

In my opinion, they should first look for someone in a uniform. For example: policeman, grocery bagger, postal worker, crossing guard, whatever. In all likelihood that person is working, has many eyes on them, and will readily be able to guide a child to a safe place that is set up to help lost children.

My second stringers, so to speak, are moms with kids...especially, moms with strollers and babies. Nothing is a sure bet, but I'd rather my lost child reach out to another mom (in the absence of a person in uniform) with her own passel of kids than the lone person sitting on the park bench reading a novel. For one thing, that mom is probably the safer bet. Also, they are probably more familiar with the procedures for taking care of a lost child, and will know how to comfort them as well.

But I comfort myself by knowing it is far more likely that they will experience the kindness of strangers than the worst that humankind has to offer.


  1. Anonymous10:57 AM

    What a great post, and memory.
    I tell may daughter to look for those people too. And, if we are in the city or on vacation, I have her put a business card with my cell-phone number in her pocket. Just in case we get separated.
    She's never needed it, but I feel better knowing she has it.

  2. What a great point this is. I'm not sure what I'll do when my little ones are a little older (in a few months to a year.) I'll never forget the little lost boy I saw a couple years ago at the Apple Festival we have here. I was pregnant and even more emotional as a mommy to be where these sorts of things are concerned.

    Somehow this little boy (maybe 2-3) started crying and screaming for his mommy in the middle of the fair grounds. Apparently he had gotten separated from his family and had just noticed. My heart stopped in my chest as I prepared to go help him (I get teary just thinking about it). I figured that it would be better for me to go help him than for some "bad guy" to get to him first. I did see someone closer to him help out and guide him over to the fire department's set display. I was watching though... just to make sure a "good guy" had helped out. I could even imagine what I would do if I were that mommy. It did make me wonder though what would have happened if that little boy wouldn't go with the helpful stranger.

  3. I've always found the idea of teaching that strangers are dangerous to be a bit...insufficient. I mean, after all, most abuse occurs from people who are familiar to the victim! We try to teach more of what's appropriate and what's not, regardless of who is the other party.

    Excellent article!

  4. It is hard to know, sometimes, isn't it?

    I have always tried to be one of the first in picking up my kids and I panic if I am getting late. One time I got caught behind a slow moving train in picking up my son from pre-school and I was so worried about what he would be thinking about. Luckily I called the school and told them my predicament and they were able to let him know I would be there.

    But, having resources to call in is such an important thing.

  5. My little guy starts to get panicky if he's not the first one at pick up as well. I've only been late once and he still reminds at every dropoff. Excellent point about needing help from strangers.

  6. Your lost girl story is shocking! I can't believe they just left you there!

    Anyway, I've been thinking about this and how to deal with this when it comes to my son. I really like your approach. Thanks for the idea!

  7. Adam Walsh was abducted just a few miles from where I lived at the time. Naturally, my mother flipped out. Sometimes I felt like a prisoner.

  8. Never thought about that before! Good points. I'm going to talk with my Hubby about how we should approach this issue. He tends to be on the paranoid side since he's a cop. He sees more of the bad side than the good in his line of work. Thanks for the insight!

  9. I found you thru rocksinmydryer. WOW what a fabulous post. I did the same "over" talk with my boys. My youngest is very sensitive and wouldn't play in the backyard with fear of a stranger coming near the fence.

    We too regrouped and hope that our talks and new knowledge helps. It is a scary world we live in, but we surely need to teach our munchkins that there is good too.

    Loved your blog!

  10. VERY good points. I have always thought that having my kids afraid of strangers would probably not be the best way to go, so I always focused on who to find for help. (Pretty much the list you gave).

    I was also left a preschool and ended up at a daycare workers house. It freaked me out and I have never forgotten it.

  11. Great story and great thoughts!
    I've always read to teach kids to go to a mom with kids if they are in trouble so I've tried to teach them to look for a mom with small children if they are lost.

  12. OMG!!!! What an eye opener this was. I've thought about this topic before regarding my 4 year old but reading your post makes me want to go pick him up right now and have a talk. It's all so scary. But the good thing is he is at the age where he may very understand the gray areas. Thanks for this.

    Come visit sometime.

  13. oh myyy, what a really great post! with some very good points too.

    I couldn't stop reading your blog :)

  14. Anonymous3:04 PM

    Good points! We've talked about how strangers do not look scary, they look normal. I do need to tell them about finding a mommy to go to. We have talked about uniforms, but not moms. Thanks!

  15. I've done the stranger talk with my kids many times now. In this scary world, we have to try to prepare our kids the best that we can when we're not there to protect them ourselves.

    But you're right- not every stranger is evil. I always tell my kids to look for another Mom. They say cashiers are the other good one for kids to look for, or people in a store uniform. Other uniforms or costumes have been cautioned against as many scary people know that's what kids look for, and have used that to lure kids in.

    Adam Walsh has a video that I'm thinking of getting for my kids on this very topic. Maybe I'll order that today.....

  16. I think you are on the right track. Yes there are super evil people in the world but luckily they are pretty diluted throughout the population. On the other hand many people are willing to help without evil agendas. I too have suggested the mommy with kids to my kids for help. There has been several times in public where I have been the recipient of a lost child and always felt lucky to have been there to help.

  17. Hi!
    I've found you twice in one week... this time through StumbleUpon.

    I like your blog!

    This is a powerful post, and I agree about going light on the stranger-danger. I also avoid sending my kids to folks in uniform for the same reason as Sarcasta-Mom.

    I read an interesting book that had all sorts of techniques for teaching safety in public (and lots of urging to always follow your gut). It's called The Gift of Fear.



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