Stranger Danger

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I’m going to go into straight-up mom blogging territory here for a bit because there’s something I see a lot that bothers me. It has to do with kids talking to strange adults and why I get concerned when it happens to me. Here’s the story.

The other day I was at the park with my kids. I usually have to stick close to my toddler because she’s a climber and needs a spotter. My 6 year old, however, can roam as he likes as long as he stays within visual range. On this day, he spotted a dad playing baseball with a couple kids and slowly made his way across the park to watch. I kept one eye on him and noticed that he had gone from observer to participant in the game. At that point, I shouted across to ask him if he’d used his good manner to ask before jumping into the game.

Subtext: I was telling the adult he was playing with that I was watching.

This was not a nefarious situation in any respect. It was a sunny day at a public park and all kinds of groups of kids and adults were playing happily. I had no reason to think anything other than grateful thoughts about this dad who generously included my over-eager son in a game of catch. However, I had no way of knowing if he actually was a friendly dad. He could have been any one of a million kinds of creeps. I needed him to know that I was nearby and watching my son so he didn’t try anything weird. And also so he didn’t think I was ignoring my kid and thereby foisting him on strangers, but that’s another issue.

That same day, a girl was following me around and asking me a million questions about my toddler. She moved with us from the climbing structure to the swings without telling any adults that she was walking away. In fact, I’m not entirely sure which adult was supervising her because I didn’t see any of them interact with her at all. I think she was with one of the small cluster of women, whom I took to be nannies, who were chatting in the shade. All I know is this kid was talking to a stranger, even walked away with a stranger, and no adult responded in any way. I could have taken this girl away and been in a car with her before anyone noticed.

I know, I know. 99% of the time kids talking to a mom or dad or nanny at the park, even a stranger, is fine. There are probably good reasons to let kids have interactions like that. However, if a kid in your care is talking to someone you don’t know, it would really behoove you, be you a parent or other caretaker, to be alert while it’s happening just in case something is off.

I guess what I’m saying here is pay attention. Talk to your kids about strangers and what the rules are, of course, but also stay wise to what your kids are doing in public. Be present for them, even at a distance. Don’t get lost in a text conversation or a chat with other moms. If you employ a nanny, remind them to keep their eyes open. I say all of this because I probably have conversations with kids I’ve never met before once a week and almost never have a supervising adult step in and make their presence know to me. I’m not going to hurt any kids but you don’t know that, do you?

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