Too Smart to Talk to Strangers

I was sitting alone at the bus stop and two young sisters joined me. The older one said hello and asked if she could sit down. I told her that the stuff (still warm, half-full cartons of Chinese take-out) piled on the far end of the bench wasn’t mine. Together we moved them to a nearby tree stump, not wanting to toss them away in case their owner returned.

The girl pointed at the poster of a missing person and wondered aloud how a grown up could just disappear. Then she told me a wild rumor about a man who is supposedly on this island going from school-to-school and checking kids out of their classrooms. She said after he takes them away they are found a couple of days later dead.

I told her that the story wasn’t true. I explained that it hadn’t been on the news. Besides, I said, I am a school teacher and it is very hard to just take a kid out of school. First, you have to know the kid’s name and the teacher’s name, you have to show your ID and the parents or legal guardians have to have given written permission — in person — to the school, as well. Not just anybody can walk in off the street and check a kid out of class.

I told the girl not to worry, that the office wouldn’t just give her to a stranger. The girl said she wasn’t worried for herself, but was concerned about her little sister. “I,” she said, “Am too smart for something like that to happen to me. I am very careful.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “You seem to me to be the type of kid who would talk to a stranger.”

She looked shocked and exclaimed. “I wouldn’t!”

“I think you would,” I said, “You’re talking to me.”

16 thoughts on “Too Smart to Talk to Strangers

  1. We “tested” our son once to see if he would ever talk to a stranger, or do what they would ask. Long story short, he fell for the “stranger’s” line about his parents needing him and was going to go. Needless to say, a very long lecture commenced afterward, and while our son was put out because we had tricked him, he knows now to always be leery. Be polite, but stay on guard. Excellent way of showing the child. (I’m wandering through different sites and found yours)

  2. Children’s first impressions of a person are usually right on the button. You radiate warmth and openness. The child has picked up on that and instinctively trusted you. The problems arise when a “Stranger” uses dialogue to confuse a child, making them doubt their natural instincts.

    I trust Elijah’s instincts. If he won’t go near a prospective carer I’m interviewing, I don’t want that person near my child. I hope to teach him to always trust his own instincts and to use his eyes as well as his ears.

  3. One of the problems that ‘don’t talk to strangers’ creates, is that children have a hard time grasping the concept. To a child, ‘a stranger’ is someone weird and dangerous, not every single person they see in the course of a day. Also, the notion that children are only harmed by strangers is completely false. The overwhelming majority of children are harmed by family members.

    As the other commentators pointed out though, children are able to decide who’s safe to talk to amongst the general public. It’s been shown through study after study that if a stranger shows themselves to be trustworthy to a child, that child will go along with the adult, no matter what the child has been warned not to do.

  4. Brian, I was just reading something yesterday about the mixed message that we send to kids by telling them “Don’t talk to strangers.” The piece I read suggested that it’s better to tell them, “Don’t talk to people you don’t trust, and here are some qualities you shouldn’t trust.”

  5. A stranger is a friend we haven’t met yet. This is an amusing story yet a sad commentary on the times. Children and many parents are living in fear of others I have seen children blank stare rather than smile. What ever happened to those genuine smiles that offer a ray of hope to tired adults?
    The news is oppressive and we begin to believe “no one” is safe.
    Very poignant piece.

  6. Nessa — wouldn’t it be nice if that were true?

    Nekked Liz — it was a good lesson. When I was 6 I was walking home from school. A car pulled up beside me and the man inside said he wanted to take me home. I thought that was weird since I lived pretty much across the street and we were dang near in front of my house. There was no point in getting in the car. I may have even said so, because the next thing he said really freaked me out, “Come on kid, get in the car. I’m going to take you to your mother.” My mother was dead. I started screaming. However, had the man not said all of the wrong things, I probably would have gotten in that car.

    Mumma — the older a child gets the less he/she depends on his/her instinct and the better chance there is that the child will listen to the slick talk. I’d still teacher the stranger-danger rule. Better safe than sorry.

    Brian — you are right. A child is most apt to be in danger from someone they already know and the family likely trusts or — more often still — from someone who is a member of the family. Even so,stranger abductions do occur and steps need to be taken to lessen the chances.

    Brig — I agree. Also, tell the child where to go for help — and make certain they know it is acceptable to scream if they’re frightened.

    Dr. John — I concur.

    Pauline — it is sad when a child in the company of its parent still feels threatened. That is, indeed, taking things overboard.

    Melli — I sure as heck tried. I am subversive, aren’t I?

    SN — I’m about as strange as they come.

    Sauer Kraut — looks can be deceiving — muhahahahaha!

    Polona — well, she stared at me wide-eyed through the remainder of the bus trip and watched me very carefully when we got off at the same stop. I don’t know if it’s because I frightened some sense into her, or if it was because I told her I am a teacher (equivalent to axe murderer, you know).

  7. and you make kids eat spinach. or doesn’t that kid know Kelly?

    (sorry, i’m trying to make up for lost time and/or weeks’ worth of poor commenting — which means i’m reading your posts “backwards”…)

  8. Neva — when I talked to this young lady I hadn’t yet coned Kelly into tasting the spinach. Had I already done so the young lady would have probably sensed an aura of danger around me and been more cautious.

    Please feel free to read my posts in any order you wish. As a general rule (all rules have exceptions) each of my posts stands alone.

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