I have raised my son to talk to strangers. I remember when he was about 2 and a half years old, and I was waiting at the pharmacy with him, and he just walked over and climbed into a chair next to an old man who was waiting, and said “Hi!” Then the man commented on his shoes, and he happily discussed shoes with the man for a while before wandering off to look at a sunglasses display. A woman waiting nearby gave me a very disapproving look.
Like yeah, that old man was going to molest my son ten feet away from me in the Rite-Aid pharmacy waiting area while I watched.
Teaching your children to be afraid of strangers is not going to serve them well. It is not going to help them not be molested.
For one thing, most molestation is not perpetrated by “strangers” – it’s usually by family, extended family, or friends of the family. So teaching your children that “family and friends are safe” and “strangers are dangerous” is misleading them.
For another thing, if your child IS approached in an inappropriate way by a stranger, fear and shyness are not what your child needs in his emotional toolbox – what he needs is the confidence to SPEAK UP and to CHOOSE TO DISOBEY.
He may have to speak up to another “stranger” nearby – “Hey, this man is bothering me!” He’s not going to do that if he is afraid to talk to strangers.
He needs to disobey – “No, I’m not going to do what you say” and when the offender tells him not to tell anyone, he needs to go tell someone.
I have always thought “Don’t talk to strangers” is an odd way to raise children, considering that nearly everyone in the world is a stranger to them, and over time they are going to spend more and more of their hours and days away from their family and out in the world. With all the strangers.
I think it’s great that my son meets more people than I do when I take him to a big party. That he introduces himself to people at other tables in restaurants. That he chats up the nurses at the doctor’s office. That he tells jokes in the men’s locker room at the gym. That he waves at people driving by.
The more social interaction he gets, the more I feel he knows what normal, healthy social interaction feels like. Which ought to help him recognize when someone is not interacting with him in a normal, healthy way. And because I have never scolded him for talking to strangers, I’m thinking (hoping) that he will not be afraid to tell me if anyone is acting weird to him.
I see him with a lot of different adults and older children in many different situations, and I love that he feels comfortable inviting people to play with him, singing for them, asking them for help… AND he feels comfortable telling them “Stop that, now!” or “I don’t want to play like that” or coming to me and saying “He hurt me” or “He said a bad word”.
If my son were not so used to talking to strangers, I would worry about him more. I remember being a shy kid (not so much at his age, but as an older kid), feeling awkward around strangers and afraid to talk to anyone, and I do not believe I would have had the social skills that he does to deal with any problems that do arise.
I am in no way saying that it is the parents’ fault when a child is molested, or that my son is invulnerable to abuse. I am saying that in his toolbox for dealing with the world, I think confidence and social skills will be more useful to him than fear and shyness.