All through life I have been told, not to talk to strangers. Since having children that rule has come into question on more than one occasion. I understand the need and reasoning behind it. In fact, I repeat this to my kids all the time. Then almost without fail, when we go out into the world and I talk to anyone and everyone that will listen. My kids in turn ask why I am talking to strangers. I hate when I get called out like that, but at least I know they are listening. Then, I have to think of a good explanation about when it is ok and why. So, I ask myself, is there a time when it is good to talk to strangers? My decision, yes. In life we must make human connections to survive. I did some soul-searching and decided that there are at least three situations in which talking to strangers is not only acceptable, but required.
Making Friends/Social Networking
Trying to make friends is a fundamental part of growing up. In order to do this, you have to meet someone who you don’t already know. This requires that you talk to strangers. Maya is starting Kindergarten at a new school, in a new state. Needless to say, she does not know anyone. All of the kids in her class will be strangers. When she enters that classroom, do I really want her to sit at her desk fearful of talking to the child sitting next to her because he or she is a stranger? Of course not. I want her to have the ability to make friends and talk to people with confidence. My husband suggests that age be the determining factor in deciding who is a safe stranger to speak with. Should I change the rule? “Don’t talk to adult strangers.” This version of the rule puts me in mind of recent “accident.”
I ask strangers for directions or information all the time. So, when you are two years old and you have to go poop, is it ok to talk to a stranger? My son Ethan, will tell you “No.” How do I know this? We recently visited the Community Center. Ethan was in the day care room for the first time. Maya was in Day Camp, so Ethan was flying solo. I signed him in and told the girls that he was fully potty trained. About an hour later, one of the young girls came frantically searching for me to inform me, that Ethan had a poop accident. When I arrived in the day care room he was sitting in the restroom, on the potty with dirty undies around his ankles looking very concerned. I got him cleaned up, apologized to the girls working in the room, and quickly went to the car to get fresh clothes. I was surprised that he had an accident. He had not had an accident in several months. I assumed that the nerves of moving had gotten to him, or that he was having so much fun that he neglected to go to the restroom. When I asked him about the accident and why he had not asked for help, he told me that the girls were strangers and he was afraid to ask the to use the restroom. I felt terrible for him. Now, I make sure to formally introduce him to the staff and show him the restroom each time we visit. But, that brings up the point, that children need to feel safe enough to ask for help from a grown-up when they need it, even if that grown-up is a stranger.
Business is another area in which talking to strangers is required. Business relationships that are made and maintained properly can be very lucrative. The network of business associates that one keeps can often determine his or her career path. Although this does not necessarily directly effect children on a daily basis, children today are put in situations where adults ask them to break the rule and talk to strangers in order to make money. In particular, I am thinking of fundraising events for school, scouts, or sports. I know most organizations like this do not advocate children going door-to-door like they did in my day. We walked all over the neighborhood and knocked on as many doors as we could. However, I have been approached more than once by adorable and excited kids selling candy, popcorn, gift wrap, and my favorite, Girl Scout cookies. The monies raised through this type of sales are critical to program survival. I am sure that when done with correct supervision and guidance this type of sales experience may even be educational.
Educating our Children
So, how do we educate our children to be savvy enough to identify those glorious moments when talking to a stranger is a blessing waiting to happen? In general, I think my own kids assume, that if “Mom” put us in a place with strangers, they (the strangers) must be ok, apparently the girls in the play room at the Community Center are the exception to this generalization. Kids count on us to determine who is safe and who is not. I think if we talk to our children about the people within their environments and teach them how to listen to their gut we are at least getting them moving in the right direction.
In a generation where Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and other various social networking sites are so common that you are almost obsolete if you do not participate (that’s me), it seems more important to monitor and mentor how to talk to strangers, rather than lay down a blanket rule that makes this practice off-limits all together.