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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood… or is it?

February 25, 2014

Please won't you be my neighbor?

Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Marin County, where this story takes place, has the lowest violent crime rate of all nine San Francisco Bay Area counties. It also ranks 4th lowest in violent crime amongst all 58 California counties. You’ll need this for context. When folks in Marin have an issue with someone, we hash it out over organic Genmaicha tea down at the gluten-free bakery. Get the picture? Marin is a chill place. Which is why the little girl’s reaction to my friendly “Good morning” was such a shocker. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the sunny morning in question, I strolled my neighborhood and crossed paths with a five year old and her dad. I said “Good morning” to the father who stopped, smiled warmly and said, “Hey! How’s it going?” (Which is Marin for “Hi”) The two were obviously coming from the school down the hill, so I said to the girl, “Do you go to school at Brookside?” She looked down at her shoes and tightened her grip on her dad’s hand. Dad chuckled and informed me that his daughter is “kinda shy.” I didn’t think much of it and said to him, “My kids went to Brookside. It’s a nice school.” Dad agreed and started to tell me how his daughter was enjoying kindergarten. At that point the little girl yanked her father’s hand and said, “You’re not supposed to talk to strangers.” He seemed embarrassed but continued our conversation. “Yes, Ms. Hillson is a terrific teach… ” But he couldn’t finish because his daughter frantically pulled on his arm and tried dragging him away, all the while screaming, “Don’t talk to strangers, Daddy!!Don’t talk to strangers!!!”

She kept carrying on, pulling Dad along like a bad dog. He followed (lest his arm be severed from his body), but not before glancing back and giving me a helpless look.

Wow! I thought. That kid seriously needs some green tea and a yoga class. She’s obviously been indoctrinated into the “Stranger Danger” mindset to the degree that she believes everyone she doesn’t know is a lethal threat. She also doesn’t trust her dad can a) take care of himself and b) take care of her.

Walking on, I felt so sorry for the child and wondered what kids miss when they no longer have friendly encounters with neighbors.

A moment later another five year old girl appeared walking with her mom up the hill from the school (I do write fiction, but I swear I didn’t make this up.) Undeterred, I said, “Good morning” to the mom. At which point Little Girl#2 smiled brightly and said, ‘I go to Brookside School. I’m in kindergarten. Today my teacher read us Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Do you know that story? It’s about a donkey who turns into a rock. It’s kinda sad but then his parents make a wish and he turns back into himself again. Then they have a party. Do you have kids? Do they go to Brookside?”

Her mom laughed, delighted  her little girl was so confident and friendly.

I was delighted by her too. My kind of neighbor. We stopped and chatted for a while. I told her about a few other books she and her mom might enjoy together. Then we waved goodbye.

So what do you tell your children about strangers? I get that not everyone lives in a place like Marin, but what’s the right balance to strike when you teach kids about taking care of themselves when they are on their own and around people they don’t know?

Filed under: Helicopter Parents,Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 3:53 pm
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6 Comments »

  1. It’s important to distinguish between THEM talking to strangers when they’re not w/a trusted caregiver and an adult talking to strangers. The adult has more years of experience in gauging a stranger’s risk of danger – though the adults can be wrong. But I hate when parents don’t teach kids the difference between what is appropriate for them to do vs. what’s appropriate for the kids to do. Take driving. It’s not OK for a 5 yo to get behind the wheel. Doesn’t mean no one should drive.

    Comment by mdlaslo — February 25, 2014 @ 8:10 pm

  2. I appreciate this blog article because getting the right balance between kids being too friendly to strangers and being too fearful is important.

    I believe it depends on what we’ve told our kids, how we’ve said it, and their inner tendencies.

    Annie shows us both in her article and asks us how to strike a balance.

    Thanks for helping us think about this excellent question, Annie.

    Comment by Jean Tracy, MSS — February 28, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

  3. Thanks, Jean. It is all about balance and teaching kids to “read” the situation. For this little girl not to trust that her dad could protect her (or that the same rules apply to her when she’s alone as they do to him) is sad and indicates that the “lesson” was not taught as clearly as it should have been. You know what they say, When all you have in your toolkit is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    Comment by Annie — February 28, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

  4. I appreciate your analogy, mdlaslo. “It’s not OK for a 5 year old to get behind the wheel. Doesn’t mean no one should drive.” Well said!

    Comment by Annie — February 28, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

  5. […] Reading your blog post It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, about the little girl who was afraid to greet you even though her father was at her side, a […]

    Pingback by Annie Fox: “Catch Your Child in the Act of Doing Something GOOD.” | Kars4Kids Education Blog — March 12, 2014 @ 7:33 am

  6. A great piece Annie and it is the problem with Stranger Danger. I advocate the Stranger Awareness message and ensuring they know who they can and can’t talk to when they aren’t with their carer as mdlaso stated in their post. Please read our blog if you want more information. Please keep up the good work. Regards Gavin

    Comment by Gavin Henderson — March 17, 2014 @ 2:34 am

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