It's hard to be a kid these days, what with all the helicopter parenting and back-to-back private lessons and grooming for the Ivy League that begins at the same time as introduction to solid foods. You can't go to the playground anymore unless your mom is with you, you aren't allowed to talk to strangers, and you're taught that behind every decent looking man is a pervert waiting to snatch you and murder you in the woods.
This week I had to de-program Michael from the stranger-danger mantra after someone told him that he should never speak to strangers, which he took to mean that everyone he doesn't know is out to get him.
"Michael," I said, "It is always okay for you to talk to strangers. It's just not okay for you to go anywhere with someone you don't know unless you talk to me first."
"I can talk to strangers?" he asked, eyes wide. Um, yep. Permission granted. You can start with the words, "Sir," "Ma'am", "Please", and "Thank you."
Now, would y'all please stop scaring my little boy into thinking every Grandpa with a lollipop is up to no good? I don't want him looking over his shoulder in fear every time someone offers him a kind word or a hand getting out of the pool.
This doesn't mean I'm naive. We talk about what to do if someone tries to touch him inappropriately or tells him not to talk to his parents. He knows our phone numbers and that, in case of emergency, he should run to the nearest adult (stranger!) and ask them to call us. But the fact is that most people are decent. Most men are good. Most neighbors passing out Halloween candy are not looking to drug anyone. And most kids just want to be kids.
How about we quit trying to scare them out of their childhoods?