We should be educating the strangers too.
When I was expecting my youngest son, Jack, I visited a tarot card reader
(as you do). She said, “It’s a boy” My ultrasound had
already informed that she was right about that.
“He’ll be a real talker, this one,” she said. This turned
out to be half-right. He doesn’t exactly talk my ear off at home,
but as soon as we walk out the door, or a visitor crosses our threshold,
you can’t shut this kid up.
He’s not just chatty; he’s extraordinarily friendly. He has
no fear or shyness of strangers whatsoever. I’m not sure if it was
merely his destiny, or the fact that he has two much older brothers, who
absolutely dote on him, but he has a wonderful sense of confidence that
this world is a warm and welcoming place. This past year he’s really
blossomed socially. He strides confidently into any situation, be it a
supermarket, doctor’s surgery, or a party, positively beaming as
he announces,“Hi, I’m Jack!” He does this with such
ebullience, he may as well follow up this introduction with: “Okay,
you can tell the band to start playing now.”
He’s four and a half. It’s been eight years since my next
youngest son was this age. I almost forgot what an incredibly joyful time
it can be. I’ve had some really lovely exchanges with perfect strangers
lately, courtesy of Jack’s charming antics.
But then comes that extremely difficult, even heart-breaking day, when
you have to explain to your innocent, loving little child, the grim concept
of ‘stranger danger’.
We had to have this discussion the other day, because he’d accepted
food from a stranger, when I wasn’t looking. He comes with me when
I play social tennis at Gosford. While I’m on court, he usually
plays in the little sandpit provided. On this occasion, I came off the
court and he greeted me with a cookie in his hand. Apparently one of the
older ladies from a different social group had given it to him. Knowing
him, he would have spotted the cookies first, and brazenly waltzed up
to her, saying something like “I like those biscuits, they’re
This put me in a horribly awkward position. I had to explain that it was
not all right for him to accept food from a stranger without Mummy’s
permission – even if the stranger is a nice little old lady. Of
course, this kindly woman presented no real danger, but it’s incumbent
on me to issue blanket instructions. There can be no grey area when you
are dealing with a pre-schooler. They can’t differentiate between
nice and nasty, when there’s a sugary treat involved.
This is one of the suckiest parts of parenting, telling your child that
there are people out there who would offer him lollies and then actually
try to steal him from me.
This got me thinking. We have programs to educate kids on stranger danger,
and there are strict guidelines for child-care workers and schoolteachers
in regard to appropriate physical contact with children. Maybe that’s
not enough. At the risk of sounding crazy, I think there should also be
some sort of community awareness campaign to educate friendly adult strangers
not to offer food to children without their parents’ permission.
It may seem like a pedantic point to consider, but the fact remains -
even with stranger danger education, some kids will still be lured away
by strangers promising sweets. It’s obviously not enough just to
inform our kids – we have to instruct adults also. When it comes
to protecting our kids, we shouldn’t leave any stone unturned.