“Don’t talk to strangers” – Good rule or no?

When my children were growing up, I taught them what all parents were supposed to teach their children.  “Don’t talk to strangers” was part of the lesson plan.  As parents we heard all the horror stories about young children being absconded and/or hurt and killed by strangers.  And there is little that is stronger than the urge to protect our children so we raised the battle cry and joined in with the “no talking” set.  We were able to get our children safely to adulthood without any mean strangers whisking them off.

But is this rule the right one?  And what is the result?

I noticed when I took some recent jogs that as I passed children of various ages waiting for the bus, many of them would see me and then would either turn their back to me so they wouldn’t have to say hello as I ran by or they would just look at me with a serious untrusting face and not respond to my “hello” as I ran by.  Occasionally I would get a response but not usually.  The lesson to not talk to strangers is obviously working, but it seems to me that teaching people to be distrustful of anyone they don’t know isn’t a way to teach skills they will need as they mature. Those skills are the ones required to make new friends, to network, to reduce the number of people we view as strangers and increase those we call friend or acquaintance.  This no talking rule seems to result in people who learn to keep their distance from others, which might keep them ‘safe’ but seems to also result in more loneliness and distrust.  I don’t see this as a necessarily happy result.

I read an FBI-related statistic recently. It’s a few years old (2011), but what it basically said was that 77% of all child abductions are done by family members, 22% are by non-relatives known to the child and only .04% are by strangers.  Is that small amount because children don’t talk to strangers? Maybe. Maybe the rule is working and keeping that number down.  But I have my doubts.  I think if someone wants to take a child, they would do it, regardless or whether or not talking is involved.

Perhaps what we parents should do is to focus less on not talking to strangers, and more on not going anywhere with anyone without permission, stranger or  not.  Children waiting for a school bus shouldn’t feel they can’t respond to a “hello” when someone is running by them and shouts a friendly greeting.  But a child should be cautious when a neighbor invites them over for cookies when neither mom nor dad told them it was okay to go to their neighbor’s house for cookies. That’s teaching them to be careful and cautious, but also allowing them to gain some communications and friend-making skills.

That’s what I think; what about you?  Is the “don’t talk to strangers” rule a good one?

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