Stranger Danger

The other day, while I was out to lunch with the boys, a kind elderly man approached and complimented me on my handsome, good children. When he went to pat Dylan on the head, Dylan screamed "No! You're a STRANGER!"

Guess all those talks we've been having are sinking in.

Stranger danger has been one of the trickiest things for me to teach Dylan. He is a very friendly, outgoing, social boy, and I would like him to retain those traits as he grows up. I would also like him to possess that friendly Midwestern quality of having no trouble engaging in talk with anyone that I love about people inIllinois. However, I also want him to be aware of any potentially dangerous people and to not put himself into dangerous situations.

I knew we were in for some tough training when Dylan darted out of the hotel room we were staying at for a wedding in Wisconsin and ran across the lake to chat with a couple walking their dog. If they had had any bad intentions, they could have easily grabbed Dylan and run away with him before I even got halfway to them. It was one of those heart-in-your-throat parenting moments for me, but I could tell Dylan didn’t quite understand me when I tried to explain why we don’t run away from Mami and Daddy like that and why we don’t talk to people we don’t know. So I went to the first place I always go to when I need to approach a new topic with Dylan: books.

I bought “Never, Ever Talk to Strangers” and “The Berenstein Bears Learn About Strangers” and read them to Dylan at bedtime for a few nights. In the morning, I’d casually mention the book we read and the message of the story. We discussed the fact that people we don’t know are called “strangers” and that he should never talk to one without Mami or Daddy present. After a few days, Dylan seemed to understand and started pointing people out of the street saying “He’s a stranger,” or “She’s a stranger.”

Then one day, I took him to McDonalds to play and he wouldn’t approach any other kids because they were strangers. I explained to him that it was all right to approach kids and introduce ourselves, and he did so and then looked at me and said. “We’re not strangers any more!” (true, but I don’t want him to use that same reasoning with an adult he doesn’t know).  Another day, the plumber arrived in the house and Dylan said “Don’t open the door. It’s a stranger!”

With this final scene at the restaurant, I started to get a little worried. Have I gone overboard with the whole stranger danger thing? I don’t want Dylan to grow up paranoid and afraid of anyone that comes into sight (he’s not, by the way, at least not yet). But again, I don’t want him to let down his guard and be taken in by someone with less than honorable intentions.

So I am hoping to enlist some help from you, dear readers. How did you handle the stranger danger talks? Any tips on how I can continue to approach this topic with my boy?


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  • It appears that Dylan is a sensitive little boy, and takes everything to heart. Reminds me of someone I knew: me.

    A story: I was a child --back in the 1960's (sigh!)-- the "Mr. Stranger Danger" thing was alive and threatening then, too. You can't imagine the impression the public service ads of the time on black and white TV made on a young me. And countless others of the time. It so effected me that one day, our next door neighbors, an older couple, were driving our way to school. This was back when walking to school was no big deal. It was cold, winter. Mr. Murphy pulled up in his big old '58 Chevy Impala, with the Missus in the car, and asked if we kids wanted a ride on that cold day. I said "no", and whispered to my older sister that they were "strangers", even though I had been over next door many times. She looked at me like I had grown a horn and got in the car. I was six and she was a little over seven years of age. I walked;she rode. I froze; she was sitting in class by the time I got to the school steps. To this day my sister is more straightforward than I.

    It's a hard balance, especially in today's world, but you are right in not wanting to make him paranoid. I can only suggest that he be taught that there are good and bad people, and bad people will not want you to have anybody around but them. Also, reinforcing that people you know well, perhaps like your neighbors, not be considered Mr. & Mrs. Stranger Danger, which is how I thought of the Murphy's.

    I think the entire fifty year campaign of dangerous strangers is wrong. Instead, the teaching should be on recognizing who is nice and not naughty.

  • In reply to Richard Davis:

    Thanks for your comment, Richard. I loved your story! It exemplifies exactly what I am afraid will happen with Dylan. As you said, he takes everything to heart, but he also takes everything literally, so it is indeed a very delicate balance. I like your suggestion about telling him bad people will not want anyone else around. I had never thought of that.

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