Excellent post over at the Free Range Kids blog which draws a great analogy for stranger danger with a possible treatment for peanut allergies.
By administering first a dust-size speck of peanuts to an allergic child, and then a slightly larger speck and so on and so on, you can sometimes train the child’s immunological system to stop violently overreacting. It is wonderful to think that for some people, this may be a cure at last. But it’s also wonderful to think of the peanut story as an analogy to, of all things, stranger danger.
If a child is allowed to explore the world – a little at first, under loving surveillance, but more and more as the years go by — that child’s chances of overreacting to small, everyday risks diminishes. The child is gradually developing street smarts.
They go on to talk about the overreaction by a mother in a waiting room when her son approached an old lady to see what she was doing with her magnifying glass she had to help her read the paper. Swooping in to carry her child away from the old lady the mother said “He’s got to learn early NOT to talk to strangers.”
Security guru Bruce Schneier has a great essay along similar lines title The Kindness of Strangers
When I was growing up, children were commonly taught: “don’t talk to strangers.” Strangers might be bad, we were told, so it’s prudent to steer clear of them.
And yet most people are honest, kind, and generous, especially when someone asks them for help. If a small child is in trouble, the smartest thing he can do is find a nice-looking stranger and talk to him.
These two pieces of advice may seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. The difference is that in the second instance, the child is choosing which stranger to talk to. Given that the overwhelming majority of people will help, the child is likely to get help if he chooses a random stranger. But if a stranger comes up to a child and talks to him or her, it’s not a random choice. It’s more likely, although still unlikely, that the stranger is up to no good.
By exposing children to strangers in a safe way you can teach them to recognise the difference to put it simply between the behaviours of good strangers and bad strangers. Teaching them to fear everybody will only hinder them in the future and could lead them to worse danger should they ever get lost or separated from their parents.