Talk To Strangers

The saying of "Don't Talk To Strangers" is one I've held on too and say often to my kids.  The problem with this is this statement is the epitome of implicit bias. I heard something on The Kind World podcast the other day and I realized that I was missing something in my own parenting style when it comes to this statement.   A nuance when it comes to talking too and accepting strangers that I've completely misunderstood. 

Don't Talk To Strangers Changing Parenting Style

Like most parents, I have an extremely strong, innate inclination to protect my children.  My nightmares consist of my kids drowning, being molested, or being kidnapped.   Morbid, I know.  But, seriously - I have built protections around our lives and into our parenting style because these are the worst case scenarios I have built up in my head.

So, talking to strangers is HUGE no-no.  For my oldest, this is fine.  He's a bit of an introvert.  But, for my spunky (ahem - rambunctious), extroverted middle guy this is more of a challenge.  He will happily talk to anyone.  And, forget it, if they show him they know how to joke around.  Oh, he LOVES that. 

I'm constantly talking to him about NOT talking to strangers.   I'm always reminding him that strangers don't ask little kids for help.  That you don't go anywhere with a stranger.  Ever.  The thing is, I'm not sure he is hearing me.

But, the mother in this Kind World podcast said something different.  She said she encourages her seven (!) children to talk to strangers.  At first, I was like What?!?  Isn't this parenting 101? 

When trying to understand a different perspective, I do what I do best.  Listen.   And, she said something that I had never thought of before: 

“I encourage my kids to talk to strangers because I don't want them to be afraid of talking to someone that looks different than them.  I want them to help and accept others regardless of how they look. “

 I had never thought that I was closing off a part of my son that is in fact wonderfully accepting of others.  By engaging with others, he seeks to better understand them.  Or joke around with them. 

 I knew I was instilling a sense of fear of strangers, that was intentional.  But, I had not realized that at the same time I was instilling a fear of people who look different than we do.  Which in a world of implicit bias is just a reality.

When I started writing this blog and poking around on the internet, I realized that I am SUPER late to this parental dialogue around strangers.  There is so much out there on how to talk to strangers and to, in fact, stop using the word “strangers.”

The advice is instead to build an understanding of "tricky people" and to teach your kids to use their senses when talking to strangers.  And, that using the phrase "Don't talk to strangers" is a direct road to bias and unkindness.

 Oh, and the first thing that comes up when you type in "Don't Talk To Strangers" is that the iconic author (and one of my personal favorites) Malcolm Gladwell has a new book coming in September 2019 called…yes, you guessed it…Talking To Strangers

I'm nothing if not resilient, so even though I'm late to the party on this dialogue I figured I'm probably not the only one.  I'm also not going to write another blog article on the steps to follow.  Check out some of the resources from Scary Mommy, A Secure Life, or this Ted Talk.  

But, if you are in the same boat as me and feel new to this “Talk To Strangers” dynamic, I WILL write down a few things I'm going to do differently with my kids going forward.  Not surprisingly, this is going to follow pretty closely my roadmap for doing service activities with kids which directly applies to deepening children's understanding of difficult topics.  This topic definitely applies.   

  1. Prepare: I'm going to do a bit more reading and Ted Talk listening on this before I start.

  2. Introduce: I'm going to own up to my kids that I haven't done a great job of setting the standard for how and when we talk to strangers, an that we're going to dive a bit deeper on the right way to do this.

  3. Stories: I'm going to find a few relevant books to read with them.

  4. Family Discussion: We're going to have a family discussion of how and when we talk to strangers.

  5. Action: We're going to do a few role plays and discuss interactions the kids have with strangers.

  6. Track: We're going to reflect on what we've learned and how it's changed who we talk too.

 I'll write a follow-up blog post to this in a few months so that I can share how it went, what books we used and what resources.

In fact, as I prepare for this journey, I'd love to hear from you!  How do YOU talk about strangers with your kids?  Is it the same as me?  Or, have you used an alternate approach?  What resources have you found helpful?