Before we moved to our new home, we lived right on the street. We had some yard area the kids enjoyed playing in, but street safety was top priority so we could let them play outdoors. Street safety is one thing (“don’t go into the street!”), but interacting with strangers is another completely.
I am of the party that believes people are generally good, and that getting to know your neighbors (and creating a safe haven for the kids to run to if they ever needed help) is one of the best ways you can protect your children from kidnappers.
Not too long before we moved, Papa was outdoors with the kids when a cargo van (yes, the superstitious cargo van) slowed down in front of our house before driving away.We had already had a discussion with Buddy about strangers, but it was time to bring it up again with Girlie and to reinforce it with her big brother.
Papa set them down on the couch, and in very basic terms we told them they should never, ever, get in the car with someone unless they ask us first, and if someone they don’t know offers them a gift or asks to take them somewhere, that they should turn around and run, screaming back to us. But we also encouraged them to trust people they know, including our neighbors. “No you can’t go for a ride with them, but yes you can chat with them if they stop to say hi”.
Girlie is very flighty. We love her dearly, but it’s hard to know how much she soaks in and how much she doesn’t hear. Well, I don’t think it was more than a day later when Papa was out in the yard and one of the neighbors, an older man, stopped by. He told Papa that when he had walked by earlier, Girlie shouted to him from the backyard, saying, “I know you! You live down the street, so I can talk to you!” Needless to say, our neighbor was quite impressed that Girlie, at 2 years old, knew not to talk to strangers.
I thought we did a pretty good job laying down this balance between keeping safe and not being afraid of everyone, but I was shocked to read on Free Ranging Kids about all the first-hand stories of people who would walk down their own street and their neighbor’s kids would run inside when they walked by, kids they had walked past every day since their births years before! One guy talked about the kids in the very next house over who would run inside their own house when he came home from work. He even overheard the older brother telling his younger brother they should stay away because he might be a kidnapper!
Is that what kids are learning these days? To be afraid of everyone? Yes, there are eveil people out there, but the national crime rate continues to drop, and we’ve discovered that there are much more sane ways to keep your kids safe and allow them to have fun at the same time. Like, have a conversation with your neighborn every now and then when you see them outside, or teach your children how to recognize true danger and how to get help.
Danger is NOT lurking around every corner, why should we scare our kids into thinking there is?