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Changing the Cardinal Rule on Stranger Danger

We’ve all been faithfully teaching our children, as we’ve been taught ourselves, the rule of never talking to strangers. It’s a cardinal rule of child safety – and apparently not quite the right way to bring up your child.

People Are Strange

Let’s put things in perspective here: the moment your child is born, aside from mommy – whom the kid literally knows inside out – everyone else is a stranger, including dad. Even as adults, we continue to deal with strangers all the time, from tourists asking for directions, to people in the lift remarking how cute your kid is, to the McDonald’s counter staff taking your order. This point alone effectively makes interacting with strangers essential to a child’s social development. so it should be a norm for your child to learn to interact with strangers properly and at an early age.

Hello, may I take your child, er, order, please? (Image courtesy of brassmonkeyshow.com)

On the reverse, teaching your child not to talk to strangers has the adverse effect of instilling fear in the child. Teacher and mommy blogger Ren?e Schuls-Jacobson reflected on an incident at a department storethat gave pause for determining what a little girl might really learn when the girl’s mother yelled at her daughter for talking to strangers and yanked her away:

“That people are terrifying. That no one can be trusted. That the world is a scary place, and that her daughter is utterly ill-equipped to function in it. She taught her daughter not to speak. That even casual conversation is dangerous. That mother didn?t teach her daughter a thing about safety. She taught her daughter about fear.”

Lenore Skenazy, columnist, author of the radical parenting self-help book “Free Range Kids”, and now TV host of the TV show “World’s Worst Mom” (now airing on Starhub’s Discovery Home and Health), improves on the cardinal rule by reversing it. Her article on ParentDish ends off with this piece of advice: “Teach your children they can talk to strangers, they just cannot go off with strangers. It’s an easier lesson to learn and it will prevent your child from growing up a paranoid, freaked-out dum-dum.”

How Do the Dads Feel?

It’s easy for Lenore to say; she gained fame in 2008 for letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway alone and unsupervised. But the logic behind the seemingly reckless act of non-parenting, and the subsequent lessons that followed is built on a rather solid foundation. It’s a lesson in independence, both for the parent and child. It may be a rather drastic approach to most, but it’s an approach fathers seem to be able to relate to more easily than their wives (given that just about all the citations in this article come from the womenfolk, and they’re writing almost exclusively through their experiences in dealing with the reactions of other womenfolk).

That being said, if you are in agreement to the logic behind it all, how would you deal with your womenfolk if you were to adopt the approach? Put your two cents’ worth in the comments, and don’t worry. I’m perfectly fine with talking to strangers.


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