Talking to Strangers

In Beyond Fear I wrote: "Many children are taught never to talk to strangers, an extreme precaution with minimal security benefit."

In talks, I'm even more direct. I think "don't talk to strangers" is just about the worst possible advice you can give a child. Most people are friendly and helpful, and if a child is in distress, asking the help of a stranger is probably the best possible thing he can do.

This advice would have helped Brennan Hawkins, the 11-year-old boy who was lost in the Utah wilderness for four days.

The parents said Brennan had seen people searching for him on horse and ATV, but avoided them because of what he had been taught.

"He stayed on the trail, he avoided strangers," Jody Hawkins said. "His biggest fear, he told me, was that someone would steal him."

They said they hadn't talked to Brennan and his four siblings about what they should do about strangers if they were lost. "This may have come to a faster conclusion had we discussed that," Toby Hawkins said.

In a world where good guys are common and bad guys are rare, assuming a random person is a good guy is a smart security strategy. We need to help children develop their natural intuition about risk, and not give them overbroad rules.

Also in Beyond Fear, I wrote:

As both individuals and a society, we can make choices about our security. We can choose more security or less security. We can choose greater impositions on our lives and freedoms, or fewer impositions. We can choose the types of risks and security solutions we're willing to tolerate and decide that others are unacceptable.

As individuals, we can decide to buy a home alarm system to make ourselves more secure, or we can save the money because we don't consider the added security to be worth it. We can decide not to travel because we fear terrorism, or we can decide to see the world because the world is wonderful. We can fear strangers because they might be attackers, or we can talk to strangers because they might become friends.

Posted on June 23, 2005 at 2:40 PM • 68 Comments

Comments

jayhJune 23, 2005 3:10 PM

We see this in IT policies that lock down email attachments SO securely with so many restrictions that sensible people can't do sensible things.

I can't even email a .mdb file to a co-worker at the next cubicle.

DaedalaJune 23, 2005 3:13 PM

Fearing strangers is less scary than fearing friends and family members.

Alf WattJune 23, 2005 3:26 PM

As a new parent this does not supprise me at all. There is an avalanche of fear-based messages that are sent to parents as soon as your baby is born: advertisement for services from baby proofing to freezing the cord blood to preserve the stem-cells.

If childred were anywhere near as delicate as the proprieters of these services suggest the human race simply would not be fit to survive. There are unintended consequences to even the most well-intentioned advice, so always take it with a grain of salt.

Alex KruppJune 23, 2005 4:07 PM

"And friends and family members are a much greater risk."

I remember when I was a kid I was in the car with my friend and his parents, and the mom was telling my friend to not talk to strangers because there had been a couple suspected kidnappings. I remember saying that they (the parents) would be more likely to rape and murder their son than a stranger, and getting strange looks.

LisaJune 23, 2005 4:30 PM

Interesting. As a child, my mom never could teach me about strangers. I just didn't understand the concept.

MikeDJune 23, 2005 4:32 PM

The don't talk to strangers advice originated in a time when people knew their neighbors and strangers were rare. Today, there is much more flux in society and the majority of people around us out in public are strangers. The advice simpley doesn't work as well as it once did.

johncJune 23, 2005 4:55 PM

While it's true that a stranger a child picks at random is likely to be a "good guy", it's perfectly reasonable for a child to be wary around anyone who approachs them.

It's similar to picking a contractor at random out of the yellow pages, as opposed to hiring someone who calls you. Sure most contractors are honest and competent but which method is more likely to find a crooked one?

Christopher SmithJune 23, 2005 5:00 PM

Yeah, the don't talk to strangers when you're in need of help isn't such a bright idea. My parents did teach me to look for strangers who were more likely to be trustworthy (block parents, police and other uniformed public officials, etc.).

That's very different though from a situation where a kid doesn't need help and gets approached by a stranger. These days we're all kind of conditioned not to approach a child we don't know, so those that do more than likely have an agenda (good or bad). There is just too high a risk that the child has been targeted and will be tricked into a dangerous situation.

To put it in a computer security context: would you give the root password to a random sys admin that walked in off the street and offered to make your systems run better?

JPJune 23, 2005 5:16 PM

"Many children are taught never to talk to strangers, an extreme precaution with minimal security benefit."

Many parents nowadays qualify this: "If you need help, seek out a woman, and the older the better." Child-snatchers tend to be male.

Granted, most don't consider the case of a child being lost in the wilderness, but are more worried about strangers approaching their kids in malls, stores, movie theaters, etc.

anonJune 23, 2005 6:08 PM

I sub to your RSS feed and I forwarded your post to my wife to get her perspective on this subject. I think her reply is perfect.

"I doubt this guy has kids. I tell our kids about the "safest" strangers to go to if they are in need of help. A mother with kids, a store employee, a woman without kids, and last a security type person, police, etc. I have told them to seek out these people in that order.

Most of the time the "don't talk to strangers" roll applies to children being approached by adults. Adults DO NOT ask children for help or seek out unknown children for "friendship". PERIOD. That's my rule.

I just had this conversation with child A and child B the other day when we were walking and someone said hi to us and child A jumped on child B for being rude and not saying hi back. He said he wasn't supposed to talk to strangers. We talked about how it's OK to say hi to someone when you are with your parents, but if a stranger ever approaches you alone, get away and find someone "safer" to help you.

It's sort of like phone scammers, if they call you wanting personal information, it's probably not for good. Don't go there."

I think she hit the nail on the head. You can't simply say, "Don't talk to strangers". Rather, you have to teach your kids to understand what might be a threat and how to deal with it in the event you're not there to help them.

William CordisJune 23, 2005 6:26 PM

One thing to consider here is the simplicity of the message. It is relatively easy for a kid to remember "don't talk to strangers" and its relatively easy for parents to communicate the message as well. Both factors might explain why a demonstrably unsound (and possibly harmful) approach might continue to be so pervasive long after it ceased to be relevent.

Bruce SchneierJune 23, 2005 8:01 PM

"I think she hit the nail on the head. You can't simply say, 'Don't talk to strangers.' Rather, you have to teach your kids to understand what might be a threat and how to deal with it in the event you're not there to help them."

I agree, and I think I said that in my post.

Matthew ClineJune 23, 2005 9:32 PM

>> A mother with kids, a store employee, a woman without kids, and last a security type person, police, etc. I have told them to seek out these people in that order. <<

Huh? A woman without children is more trustworthy than a male police officer?

oliverJune 23, 2005 10:53 PM

This is an interesting subject. I've been noticing my own thinking pattern when walking at night in urban areas. I automatically begin to assess threat levels of various routes. Do you think that this sort of warriness would be present if children were taught a more positive message along the lines of ``look for this sort of suspicious activity.''

A parellel can be drawn between this and airport security. Does it make sense to assess every individual when most of them are perfectly harmless? Or does it make sense to have a keen sense of your surroundings to notice something awry?

I think the answer's clear in the specific case of airport security, as bruce has pointed out. Does it in this case?

oh.. and personally, I much prefer the woman without children to the male police officer.

Bruce SchneierJune 23, 2005 10:59 PM

"Huh? A woman without children is more trustworthy than a male police officer?"

More likely to go out of her way to help, I would think.

Thomas SprinkmeierJune 23, 2005 11:16 PM

@Matthew,

A 'bad guy' (they tend to be male) would find it easier to disguise himself as a police officer than as a woman.

Having said that, what are the odds that the police officer approached by a child in is actually a bad-guy in disguise?

SigJune 24, 2005 1:15 AM

"I automatically begin to assess threat levels of various routes."

So do I, but that's what they've been training us to do for the last 18 months. =) I didn't live with that much fear as a kid, and I hope my kids don't either.

Not unless they decide to enlist, anyway. Then they'll just get used to it.

AxelJune 24, 2005 2:09 AM

@jayh: "I can't even email a .mdb file to a co-worker at the next cubicle."

That's not a sensible thing to do with email anyway.

ZookoJune 24, 2005 5:55 AM

I have two children, and I worry about them all the time, but I try to worry about the biggest threats instead of the most dramatic. My children are in danger from automobiles, diseases, stairs, plastic bags. The threat to them from strangers who snatch children is so miniscule as to be nearly unmeasurable.

dmcJune 24, 2005 9:07 AM

I think security awareness is best taught on a kid-by-kid basis. My daughter has always been extremely rational and can handle fairly complex conditional reasoning. I can give her the principles, and expect her to figure it out for herself. My son doesn't think that abstractly. I will have to give him fairly broad rules which will in his particular situation probably keep him safe. And then take a lot of the security burden for him on myself -- I need to watch him like a hawk to make sure he doesn't wander off into the next county.

AnonymousJune 24, 2005 9:41 AM

Doesn't it say something for the fact that not every child go's missing in the woods. A pointless attempt at academic analysis of child education. Tosh, absolute, get a grip!

LygerJune 24, 2005 9:45 AM

When I was in third grade, a classmate and I were walking home from school about a week after a child kidnapping that had made the news. A beat-up looking car pulled around us (there was no sidewalk), and stopped in front of us. We halted immediately. A man got out of the car, and turned towards us. We ran. Right into each other. As we tumbled to the pavement in an unruly tangle, the rather bemused man continued walking around his car, and up to the house he was visiting. We both felt like fools.
As I've grown up, I don't quite feel so idoitic anymore. It seems like everyone's afraid, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. We try so hard to impose order on the rampant chaos that passes for most of our lives that we jump to equally random conclusions. I had a woman at a dinner party once remark to me that I was good with children and should consider having some of my own. Twenty minutes later, when a group of us were talking about social services, she commented that men who went into careers working with children should be regarded with suspicion, as they were likely looking to get chose to children to molest. When the conversation rolled around to me, I simply stated that in my career as a child care worker and then a social worker, I'd never come to that conclusion. Cue awkward silence.
Life is random. One day, you're the windshield, the next, you're the bug. Yes, it's possible to mitigate against threats in one's life, and the lives of those you care about. But not if you have no idea of what you're dealing with outside of vaguely threatening ideas about the world. Casting wide nets based on simplistic ideas of who might be a "bad guy" is laughably useless. If you're unable to teach children not be gullable without having to make them paranoid, there are people who can help you with this. And, random acts of idiocy notwithstanding, children are often sharper than we give them credit for. Treating them as uncapable of making intelligent decisions does just as much to supress their cognitive skills as it does to protect them from their lapses, if not more.

jayhJune 24, 2005 10:18 AM

>>Huh? A woman without children is more trustworthy than a male police officer?

and even among 'rough edged' males, the percentage that would actually harm a child looking for help is extremely small--indeed most would be downright protective.

jayhJune 24, 2005 10:21 AM

contd

But alas, in today's legal climate, it can be soooo dangerous to help a child that it's often safer to stand way clear.

jammitJune 24, 2005 11:27 AM

Unfortunately I don't have hard facts or anything to back up what I say, but from what I understand most kidnappers are relatives with very few being strangers (as has been noted on this board before me). The big difference between a person who has concern for a kid and a person who is wanting to kidnap a kid, is that a kidnapper offers "candy" (or puppies) and a good person will ask "Do you need help?". When I was a kid, my parents said if they sent anybody for me at school (or whatever), they would make sure the person getting me (cop, fireman, teacher, some person, anybody) would use a safe word.

AnonymousJune 24, 2005 1:43 PM

@jayh

This is one thing I really hate about our society. Giving a hand to a random person in need is a scary proposition. Either from a legal or criminal process (depending on the situation).

Before I was married I would pick up hitchhikers. (I have been without a car before and was very thankful for the rides.) I have picked up drunk people, people just released from prison (one for beating up another man - that one threw my mind in a loop for a few seconds), and I have picked up many people who are just in need of a ride. But, now that I am married, I cannot do this because of the fear of leaving my wife behind because of one person. I still pick people up on occasion, but not nearly as often as before. So, I leave behind many good people in need of a hand just because of a few bad people. It is really annoying.

On a similiar note (and more on topic), what would you do if you saw a kid that looked lost? You try to talk to the child to find out if you can help and, because you contacted them, it can be construed wrong. You could follow them just to make sure they stay safe until they are found. But then you are a stalker. You could just sit out in the open and hope the child comes to you. But, if they never do or keep wandering, you then either lose them or become a stalker.

As a male, I am taught to be feared (for good reason, since most of the morons in the world seem to be male). But, it means that I cannot be a temporary friend to a person who needs a friend in a time of need.

There are my 2 cents (plus some since I tend to be long-winded :) )

Jiistme

Children stay away from strangersJune 24, 2005 2:11 PM

I'm glad many people live in safe areas to children, but not all places in the US are safe though. Do you travel, or send your children to visit relatives?

Reports of children being molested, raped, and murdered are on our local news fairly regularly. I agree with anon's wife to teach who are generally considered safe helpers (women with children, or older women). I would also teach to stand away from the stranger as far as possible, even with 'safe' strangers. If they try to get closer then move so that you're still far enough away to escape if neccessary. If they still try to move closer, run.

Two teenaged girls ran into the ER of the hospital I used to work at; they were being chased by a man in a car that might have fit the description of a predator at the time. They had to run through the field to escape him. When I go to the bookstore, I drive by the place that Laura Smither's body was found:
http://www.houstonpress.com/Issues/1998-03-12/news/feature_print.html

"Huh? A woman without children is more trustworthy than a male police officer?"
http://www.ageofconsent.com/comments/eventhefamous.htm

How about a male doctor (from another country, practising as a Physician's Assistant in the US):
http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/news/print_060305_APlocal_refugee.html
(it seems he was not considered a stranger to the victims, but I'm including it since Dr/Pa's are usually 'trusted')

More 'trusted' professions busted for child porn and some have admitted to abuse:

"More than 89 persons in 20 states were arrested in the initial phase of this investigation called Operation Candyman. The suspects have already admitted to molesting at least 36 children. Some of the people arrested represent a cross-section of American society that is truly frightening. The suspects arrested included >>Little League coaches, a teacher’s aide, a school bus driver, at least one former police officer, six members of clergy, a child photographer and two Catholic priests<<. They ranged in age from 17 to 70."
http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/psychology/pedophiles/5.html?sect=2

ZookoJune 24, 2005 3:47 PM

"Reports of children being molested, raped, and murdered are on our local news fairly regularly."

That's because it sells. If you look at the actual numbers, you'll find that (a) this kind of child abuse by strangers is a vanishingly small threat compared to e.g. death by automobile, (b) the vast majority of child abusers are the parents or primary caretakers of the victim, (c) in most places, the frequency such crimes is actually declining, even while the news coverage is increasing.

KevinJune 24, 2005 5:04 PM

You make a good point Bruce, but the reason children are told "don't talk to strangers" is because they are ill equipped to differentiate between friendly and unfriendly strangers. While you or I might find it odd that the guy walking towards us is wearing an overcoat in June and is casting nervous glances over his shoulder, a young child is unlikely to notice anything besides the fact that the man said "hi" and is offering candy.

We can draw an analogy to end-user computer security. Most of us who follow your work know better than to click through the "yes" button on an Internet Explorer ActiveX dialog saying "Click Yes to speed up your computer!". However, thousands of intelligent, educated adults do just that every day, because they can't differentiate between a warning that is protecting them from unwelcome intrusion and one that impedes them from accessing some innocuous content they need to view (e.g. when they need to install Acrobat or Shockwave).

It takes a lot of relevant experience for us to be able to classify things (be they people, phone calls or websites) as friendly, unfriendly or mere annoyances. Just as the average PC user hasn't the experience to so classify security dialogs, the average child hasn't the experience to classify strange people. While we can try to identify commonalities that help to make the distinction, oftentimes it is a gut instinct that warns us against something that appears to be benign on the surface, and nothing besides real-world experience can help us to develop those instincts.

This being the case, the safest course of action is to train these individuals to defer classification to someone better equipped to do so (i.e. a parent or the corporate LAN admin), until such time as they have developed the experience to allow them to make such judgements themselves. Obviously, such instructions can have adverse effects under specific circumstances, but overall they prevent more harm than they cause, and for individuals at the extreme of naivete (e.g. very young children) the alternative is to allow them to blindly trust everybody, as they are not yet capable of remembering, much less following, such instructions as "don't talk to strangers unless you're in trouble, and then only approach mothers with children, older women, single younger women or police officers, in that order" (not that this is a bad strategy for children old enough to both remember and apply it).

Former ScoutJune 24, 2005 7:23 PM

I don't think the main problem was with the advice, but the context.

From what I've read, the kid was a Scout -- some say Cub Scout, others Boy Scout, but at age 11, he's no toddler. He should have been told what to do when lost in the woods. The Scout motto is "Be prepared", and if he wasn't prepared to be in the woods, even slightly, then his parents shouldn't have let him go. The ranges east of SLC are no picnic.

If it's necessary to test the kid on his knowledge, then do it. You get tested when you earn merit badges or advance in rank, so demonstrating knowledge to gain a privilege isn't a novel concept to Scouts.

I might think different if the kid were younger, or were just a random urban kid who wandered off, but this strikes me as a failure in the preparedness systems of the adults, too.

mud and flameJune 25, 2005 1:54 PM

@Kevin:
"Obviously, such instructions can have adverse effects under specific circumstances, but overall they prevent more harm than they cause"

Is that based on your gut feeling, or do you have evidence? It's established that stranger kidnapping of children is quite rare (you can Google "NISMART-2" for numbers). I have no idea how to find out how much harm is caused by the "don't talk to strangers" advice. *My* gut feeling is that when the large majority of abductions are by someone who's at least an acquaintance, children aren't well served by unwillingness to ask a stranger for help if someone they know is trying to harm them.

"for individuals at the extreme of naivete (e.g. very young children) the alternative is to allow them to blindly trust everybody, as they are not yet capable of remembering, much less following, such instructions as "don't talk to strangers unless you're in trouble, and then only approach mothers with children, older women, single younger women or police officers, in that order" (not that this is a bad strategy for children old enough to both remember and apply it)."

While this makes sense in principle -- you obviously have to give kids instructions that they can understand -- young children also have a lot of trouble understanding the concept of "stranger."

Dave HarmonJune 25, 2005 2:16 PM

I'm struck by the fact that most of the commenters are talking about "children" as if all children, of whatever age, were identically vulnerable (or not), and as if there should be a single rule for all of them. For a 4- or 5- year old, "don't talk to strangers" is about as much as they can handle. An 11-year-old is another story entirely. Had these parents not discussed personal security with their kid in 5 years? And yes, the Cub Scout troop leaders should *definitely* have been discussing "what to do if you get lost", they completely missed the boat there. For that matter, what happened to the buddy system?

And then of course, when those kids hit the teen years (if not before), parents need to start listening as well as talking -- or pay the consequences, when the kids look for someone else to listen to them.


CoraJune 26, 2005 8:47 PM

I have never understood the reasoning behind telling children "Don't talk to strangers!" Telling children not to go along with strangers or even with people they know unless they inform their parents first is good advice (incidentally, that's more or less what my parents told me when I was a child). But telling them never to talk to strangers, not even to respond to a greeting or ask for help when they are lost, that's just paranoid.

ProbitasJune 27, 2005 12:12 PM

It is interesting to see how many people who would normally decry profiling are advocating it here. It is true that most people who molest children are men. It is also true that some of them elist the aid of a female acomplice, adapting their approach to deal with a rigid response to prior tactics. It is also true that the vast majority of humans, both male and female, do not molest children.

As has been pointed out be some here, it is probalbly more effective to teach children about situations that can lead to danger, rather than to teach them to fear everyone and everything. A bit of practial risk assessment might be in order.

Bill McGonigleJune 29, 2005 10:12 PM

I believe the statistic is that approximately 100 children are abducted by strangers each year in the US.

Even if you assume a uniform distribution of population, that's only 2 per state. More accurately, .04 children per year in my state. My kids will be grown before 1 is abducted here. More kids are hit by lightning.

Statistically it doesn't happen. I don't mean to be callous toward the parents to whom it does happen, but you can't plan your life around something so incredibly rare.

Sure, it's probably worth mentioning not to get into a white van with a guy offering candy (and then explain the Ice Cream Man is OK), but as they say, "if it's on the news you don't need to worry about it."

mud and flameJune 29, 2005 11:38 PM

@Bill McGonigle:
"I believe the statistic is that approximately 100 children are abducted by strangers each year in the US."

It's not quite THAT low. The NISMART-2 study found a number of 115 "stereotypical kidnappings," which they defined as abductions in which a child was held overnight, transported more than 50 miles, held for ransom, or killed. But 58,200 children were abducted by nonfamily members, and 37 percent of those abductions were by strangers. So around 21,500 a year.

On the other hand, even if you leave out family members, children are still more likely to be abducted by someone they know than by a stranger.

http://www.ncjrs.org/html/ojjdp/nismart/03/ns4.html

AdamJanuary 2, 2006 1:26 AM

I'm 27 yrs. old, and was waiting
for the bus to go home a day last year..
it was snowing out, and It was freezing..
I had grocery bags in my hand...and while
I was waiting for the bus, a man pulled
up in car and asked me if I wanted a ride home--I did not know who he was..but
I had already waited in the freezing cold for twenty minutes and was not willing to wait any longer...so I said yes--
I got in his car being aware that although he sounded very nice, he could
be tricking me!!! So that was a chance
I took- but I think the reason I accepted
his offer to bring me home.. was he
sounded very kind...anyway he dropped me off, I thanked him, and even
tipped him...

Also, if we completely avoid and never talk to strangers, how will we ever
meet new people??

There is something called being stuck-up
or snobish!!

bharathJanuary 16, 2008 12:24 PM

I was always much reserved when it comes to talking with strangers.
But, of all the times i talked with strangers 99% of them were friendly

motrbotrJanuary 16, 2008 12:31 PM

I think that if someone approaches a child, that child needs to treat them as a "stranger" and get as far away as possible. If on the other hand, the child is lost or injured and needs help and they approach a "stranger" for needed help, the odds are much more in favor of getting the help they need vs picking the one child molester in the crowd.
I think it boils down on who approaches who.

janeyJanuary 16, 2008 12:36 PM

Of course you need different training as kids get older, but for the very young "If you get lost, ask a mommy for help" covers the bases pretty well.

One worrying side effect of the huge publicity in Europe for the missing 4-year-old Madeleine McCann is that many young children are terrified of being kidnapped, as the coverage leads to a belief that it is a frequent part of life.

SethJanuary 16, 2008 12:46 PM

This reminded me of this podcast called dial a stranger where people submit questions and the hosts call up random strangers and pose those questions to them.

It breaks through the sort of impression that you can get from the isolated view that people you don't know are some how big scary monsters.

http://www.dialastranger.com

polydacTalJanuary 16, 2008 1:38 PM

I'm a 26-year-old woman and was waiting at a bus stop in the freezing cold when a man in a WHITE VAN (of all things) pulled up and wanted to give me a ride. I shook my head "No" because I didn't think it was worth the risk. I would rather stand in the cold, catch a taxi or call a friend, than to risk being hurt over convenience.

I was also walking home from the subway past midnight when a man started walking next to me and talking to me. He kept telling me that I was beautiful and would I go out to dinner with him. Since I wasn't responding much, he asked me if he was the first black man I'd ever talked to. That made me crack up, but we eventually parted ways. When I told one of my black friends about it, he thought that I was crazy for talking to the man, that I should have run away, and that I should be carrying pepper spray with me at all times.

MonsterJanuary 16, 2008 3:13 PM

For every example of a kid who is lost in the woods not getting found because he was taught not to talk to strangers, there's going to be at least one example of a kid who was abducted because he wasn't taught to not talk to strangers.

I'm guessing that the kid wasn't just taught not to talk to strangers, but was taught to actually fear all strangers. Some mothers are worthless like that, and instill their own ridiculous fears into their children. I happen to know a mother who I've seen tell her kids that they're going to be abducted and killed when they start walking off from her.

Bruce SchneierJanuary 16, 2008 3:26 PM

"For every example of a kid who is lost in the woods not getting found because he was taught not to talk to strangers, there's going to be at least one example of a kid who was abducted because he wasn't taught to not talk to strangers."

I'm sure there aren't many examples of kids not getting found in the woods because they were told not to talk to strangers. Kids are smart, and when they're hungry and scared they're likely to discard their bad advice and do what they know is right.

But certainly there are far more kids lost in the woods than there are kids abducted by strangers. The whole abducted-by-strangers meme is largely a movie-plot threat. Most child abductions are perpetrated by relatives of the child.

PleyJanuary 16, 2008 4:28 PM

I think this sort of child safety measure stems from the time when we just ued blanket statements and general fear to keep children safe. "Don't talk to strangers" and things like "If you smoke pot once, you will most likely die!" Fear used to be a big method for child-rearing and sometimes this kind of blanket "safety" rules get passed down even if they aren't the greatest.

anonymoustrollJanuary 16, 2008 6:10 PM

It's all a matter of what is at stake.

For the child it is the fear of abandonment/abduction.

For the parent it is about losing their emotional, social, monetary and personal investment in having a child.

The child is a resource that can be brought and sold for a great deal of money if you know what you're doing.

So, there is risk and an extreme level of value involved.

Considering that, the advice "not to talk to strangers" shouldn't be considered "bad" in and of itself. It's all about context and context is something that is difficult to teach to a child (or anyone else who lacks experience).

Whatever you do, don't take you kids to see Deliverance, like my parents did when I was 8.

Perhaps they should have done something like provide all the searchers with a powered megaphone with a recording of their voice calling the child's name (and obvious hack to the "don't talk to strangers advice).

MilkDoesABodyGoodJanuary 16, 2008 8:19 PM

Sugar should be illegal for minors; then this terrible addictive substance couldn't be used to lure our children. Preying upon the sweetness of breast milk, sugar is the "crack" of the baby food world and child abusers have used this to their advantage. Regardless of education or maturity, sugar addiction will override reasoning and can leave one licking lollipop. If we can protect kids from sugar and the predators who use sugar to get at our kids, won't protecting kids from the internet and internet predators be like taking candy from a baby?

Seth BreidbartJanuary 16, 2008 8:55 PM

"I was always much reserved when it comes to talking with strangers.
But, of all the times i talked with strangers 99% of them were friendly."

And the other 1% killed you, right?

Amy AlkonJanuary 16, 2008 10:18 PM

Reports of children being molested, raped, and murdered are on our local news fairly regularly

Contrast that, statistically, with the number of children who are not molested, raped, or murdered. As for what you see on the news, would you watch the news if the report every night was something like "Johnny came home from school today and ate a cookie and built a Lego fortress until his mom called him for dinner"?

PS molestation is likely done by a family member.

JamesJanuary 16, 2008 10:38 PM

As a Southerner, it is disheartening to see so many people teach fear of unknown people to their children. There is safety in having many people looking out for each other, as well as in looking out for and in helping to raise all of the children in our village. It is an horrific loss of our own humanity when children are raised with little curiosity about others, but instilled with fear born of parental anxiety. Mental health requires a certain amount of trust in others.

JohnsonJanuary 16, 2008 10:46 PM

You can't generalise this. Children talking to strangers in some countries can be downright dangerous. If you are in the bad parts of Bombay or Calcutta for example, you will find children regularly being abducted and sold into slavery, or their limbs amputated and forced to beg for a 'begging syndicate' for a living. And no, I'm not making this up.

chrisnJanuary 17, 2008 1:02 AM

Our society is weird and sexist. As a male in the protective services, I'm a bit put-off by some of the statements here that a single woman would go out of her way more or be more trustworthy than myself at helping a child. Of course, as a male I am also more likely to be accused of rape, child molestation, battery or any other possible forms of violent abuse because our society has 1. skewed and sensationalized crime data to amplify the danger of men, and 2. lost touch of positive paternal trends because of the inauthentic feminist movement which has-in effect-caused male's marginalization.

So, yes, I typically avoid children for fear of being falsely implicated in some imagined plot to harm children. I am also very very careful in dating single women, because of the ease with which they may falsely accuse me of rape-after-the-fact-of-consent, because she suddenly decides she does not like me.

It's a mean world for men now. The end result is your kids wander out into the streets to be run over by drunk drivers or out in the woods to be eaten by coyotes. Because, yes, us foolish men, who are ALL Universally violent, ill-intending people are so very scared, unwilling to help them.

This is your fault, women, media, society. You want a safe world? Start with trusting and appreciating men's protective, fatherly roles again.

ScottJanuary 17, 2008 12:55 PM

When I was ~5-6 years old my mom left me in the car for ~4 minutes to go into the bank. Before she left she reminded me to not open the door for strangers. During that time a man approached me and somehow convinced me to roll down the window (they weren't power windows). My mom saw it and shooed the guy off, but I have no idea what could have happened.

Anyways, when kids are young they are less able to evaluate the most secure choice. I wasn't going to open the door, but I started opening the window. At a young age it is probably best to say "never talk to strangers." But by 7-8 I think that they should be taught how to evaluate security and make more choices.

TacticalBeetJanuary 17, 2008 3:48 PM

"Having said that, what are the odds that the police officer approached by a child in is actually a bad-guy in disguise?"

About the same odds as a police officer being approachable.

ErikJanuary 25, 2008 10:16 AM

I hope there's a more detailed argument in your book, because you can't just take what you've said as actual advice based on the scant number of facts you've presented here. I doubt you've studied all the factors involved in child safety. There is a long way between pointing out that talking to no strangers is dumb advice and actually understanding what a child should do to keep safe. Off the top of my head I can think of two problems: you have not mentioned the rate of foiled abduction ATTEMPTS (which may not even be known, but is an important factor) and you have not mentioned that there may be a sample bias in strangers who actually APPROACH children who look lost as opposed to a random person a child may seek out if in trouble.

joelkazooApril 4, 2008 11:42 PM

One of the best ways for older kids to talk to strangers is to be the dominant one in the conversation. Strangers will ask things like "Where do you go to school? Where do you live?" things of that nature. So it's a good idea to answer questions with questions, then keep it on the offensive.
Example:
Stranger: Hi.
Kid: Hello.
Stranger: What's your name?
Kid: What's yours?
Stranger: Mike
Kid: Mike What?
Mike: Mike Pendergast (older kids can take note if the name sounds funny or not. If the man says his name is "John Smith", he has a right to be weary. Mike Pendergast is such a specific name, he may be all right. But let's see where it goes.)
Kid: Hello, Mr. Pendergast. I'm Tom.
Mike: Tom what? (uh-oh! NEVER give your last name to a stranger!)
Tom: You can call me Tom the Bomb! (Clever, Tom! You got him off guard!)
Mike: Ha, ha! What school you go to, Tom?
Tom: Where do you work? (Notice how he answered with a question.)
Mike: I'm sorry? (Keep him confused, Tom!)
Tom: I said where do you work?
Mike: Where do I work?
Tom: Yeah.
Mike: Um, well......*(uh-oh, Tom! he's taking too long! Way to put him on the defense!)
Tom: Do you work at the bank, the grocery store, the post office? (See how Tom gave him a few general options, not just one. If he had asked "Do you work at the bank?", the stranger could easily of said "YES!" and be off the hook. Now the stranger has to either 1. be honest or 2. stammer some more.)
Mike: The grocery store.
Tom: Which one? (Will you look at that! All of a sudden, the stranger went from trying to scope Tom out to Tom scoping him out!)
So from here it can go one of two ways:
1. The stranger will grow tired of this and move on to easier prey, with no information to go on.
or
2. He really is Mike Pendergrast who works at the grocery store, and Tom's made yourself a new friend, and all Mike knows is his first name!

Try role-playing this with your older children sometime. It'll not only help keep them safe, it'll help their communication skills (because good people generally like to talk about themselves), and it's fun!


fcMay 11, 2008 3:45 PM

If a person speaks you speak back, not talking to strangers is not good because never know when you are going to need someone.

It is okay to speaks to strangers but not engage in conversations with them.

The problem with people is that they only wanna speak is when they need something.

naniJune 6, 2008 4:10 PM

I reckon teaching your child to /to not speak to strangers is a way of passing down some of the parent's social preferences to the child. If the parents are less social, i.e. value those closest to them far more than those that are of no consequence then they (unconsciously) expect their children to grow up being like that too, and teaching them to keep away from strangers will be one step towards that. On the other hand some grow up to be very trusting strangers and later in life become overly eager of meeting new people. I have noticed how such people move quickly through relationships, do not have much time for friends even though they have many friends but its meaningless friendships and they live shallow lives.

StefeniJuly 27, 2008 5:48 AM

This is nice but don't you think that if that child had spoken to a stranger , then ?I don;t think its always good o speak to strangers as you said.

amyAugust 2, 2008 2:05 PM

when I was 9 I was a pretty girl, my body developed fast and that didn't go unnoticed by my father's neighbor friends, age 40-65. they were not strangers, they were considered like family, nobody warned me of anything. One in particular ,and only 10 years later I realized, figured out that I liked crafts, poetry ,and fish tanks. So suddenly, he began to call me to his house, which I was normally allowed to go since there were always women there (he usually made sure the woman in the place was taking a nap) and asked me to pick things form high up shelves. That required for me to stand on a chair and he, unnecesarily, would put his hands around my legs pretending to hold me, very close to my privates ,but not yet touching them. I was very uncomfortable, but I was raised under such a tight discipline that I was not allowed to contradict or doubt the good intentions of the adult friends, disrespect them, or even point out their mistakes. I also did not have anybody to trust, my parents used to point out that I was given a great imagination, or like they put it, my ability to make things up, which was very well used by the neighbor. I had gut feelings like a human being I am ,but then switch to positive thinking right away because it was a sin to think bad things about adults. My message to you is to not over do it with the "you have to respect adults or else" because that can be and will be used by the friendly adults around you, which are the biggest threat and less odvious one.

ZekeSeptember 11, 2008 2:12 PM

I am a male that is big and rough looking. I look like a typical bad guy. But let me tell you a story. One winter day the temp was -28F with a wind chill of about -35F. Out of my window I see 2 little boys ages 6 and 8 approx. They are walking through snow that was a bit more that knee deep to me. They were carrying 3 bags of groceries. The youngest fell down in the snow and was crying and saying Joey, Joey I can't go any farther. I ran out in my tee shirt and scooped them up and carried them both home. When I got close to the house they told me to put them down and that they would be OK now. I told them that I wanted to have a word with their father. I knocked on the door and he answered it. I put the kids and the food down and asked why did he send the boys to the store several blocks away in this weather. He replied that they wanted to go out and play in the snow for a bit and that he didn't want them to. He said they kept asking and then he told them that as long as they wanted to go out they should go get stuff from the store. I told him that was nuts and I would not even send my dog out in this weather. I was very angry. I also told him that if ever hear of him abusing the boys I would kill him. I went home and thawed out. That happened 40 years ago and it still makes me mad when I think about it. Do I look like a bad guy? Yes. Am I? Nope. I have a heart of gold and 7 grand kids. There is a special place for anyone that hurts a child, and I am willing to help them get there rapidly.

Arthur BrashSeptember 16, 2013 7:20 AM

I got myself once into a dangerous situation because I developed the skill of interacting with strangers relatively late in life. While blanket warnings like "never talk to strangers" probably have the highest success rate during the child's very early years, they can become serious obstacles later in life.

Children who only understand "never talk to strangers" are like a woman on a night street, waking a brisk pace, clutching her purse, head down watching only her feet. An individual out of their element, someone off balance and appearing weak is the fear that dogs smell.

I was at a fast food place where a couple with their young daughter were eating. The girl - perhaps four years old - wanted extra ketchup and the parents sent her to talk to the worker. She stood shyly by as people took their orders, and spoke up quietly. The worker didn't hear her, and she went back to the table only to return again and try a bit louder. She got her results, and gave the impression of a child that can handle difficult situations. I'm pretty sure a child like that will fare much better in life than that whose mommy or daddy took care of it, a child that never interacted with anyone who was not introduced by the parents...

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