Don’t talk to strangers? Ha!

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I never taught my kids not to talk to strangers.

Am I a bad mom? Isn’t the golden rule of parenting to warn your children against the evil that awaits them? To alert them to the lurkers among us who want to…

Disgusting. I don’t want to think about such things, and I certainly don’t want to talk about them to my children.

Statistically speaking, children getting abducted by strangers is, according to the Washington Post, one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children. Sure, a missing child is a terrible thing, but using my few small moments of teaching time on encouraging fear of strangers when it’s so unlikely anything would ever happen does not seem wise. It actually seems kind of dumb.

I have other things to talk to them about, like how amazing people are. I have other things to show them, like how kind it is to meet the gaze of people wherever they are. And they see what kinds of friends I make of strangers wherever I go, with whomever I encounter.

Don’t talk to strangers. What terrible advice.

We are a global world now. The long-distance phone call is dead. We are just a click away from people all over the globe. Of course there are random Facebook people I don’t feel the need to FaceTime with, and every once in a while there is a wild card who spoils the fun with some strange missive driven — I imagine — out of loneliness, but on the regular I find people to be pretty amazing.

I am glad in so many ways that I have raised my children in New York City. There are so many kinds of people here, all bunched up in this space, packed side by side like sardines. Now, to some, that doesn’t sound great, but I get giddy at the thought of all the different languages my kids hear and all the foreign countries their friends have been from. We’d almost never have to leave Brooklyn to meet people from every spot on Earth. Almost.

No. I think that advice, whoever came up with it, was wrong. William Butler Yeats said it much better: “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” Yep. He had it right. In fact, the better advice to our kids, the advice I’ve begun to make my mantra is, “Talk to someone! Ask someone!”

This fear kids have of using their voice to speak to someone they don’t know — in part due to our paranoid parenting and in part due to technology —seems to be holding them back from opportunities.

“Pick up the phone!” my exuberant mother-in-law used to say to her kids. But she’d be hard-pressed to give that same advice now.

My 17-year-old son, on calling: “You don’t just pick up the phone and call someone without asking first. Geez. [Head shake to signify I’m an idiot.] That’s rude!”

Rude. To call someone. Someone you know, let alone a stranger.

I would have been sunk as a reporter back in the day. Now, it’s true, you are often forced to resort to e-mail as many companies don’t even have phone numbers. But still. The way you got something from someone was by using your voice! You coaxed, and cajoled. You were kind and friendly to strangers, and they gave you what you wanted.

I can’t imagine human nature has changed, despite the gajillion forms of technology we now employ to “connect.” I do believe we will always find what we want by talking to strangers, especially because we don’t know what we want all the time, do we?

That’s the magic. Those people you don’t know, those weird and wonderful people (especially the weird ones!) have the answers. You just have to say “Hi!”

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on
Posted 12:00 am, September 13, 2018
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