The latest topic at nursery school (and will soon be a topic at playgroup, I believe) is ‘Don’t talk to strangers’.
This worries me. Perhaps because I grew up in the idealised seventies, when children would just go out to play in the street with their friends. When, at the age of six or seven, I’d pop up to the shop for my mum. The age when, if you were lost or needed help and your parents were not around, you asked an adult. Any adult. If there was an adult you knew (other child’s parents, shopkeeper, postie), you asked them first, but otherwise any adult.
You were also polite to adults. If an adult said ‘Hello,’ you said ‘Hello,’ back. You answered their questions ‘How old are you, dear?’ ‘Do you like school?’ and so on. And, somehow, you had a sense of who was dodgy and should not be spoken to. You knew that ‘Don’t take sweets from strangers,’ (which was a big advertising campaign at the time), did not include the little old lady waiting at the bus stop.
I had two flasher experiences as a child, and neither of them freaked me out, or scarred me for life. One was in the newsagent. The first thing I did was tell the newsagent and he chased the guy out of the shop, threatening to call the police. I then completed my purchase, walked home and told my mum. She was quite calm about it and said that flashers rarely do any actual harm, and I’d done the right thing. She talked to the newsagent the next time we were up there and that was that. The second time was up the beacon with my mum. She just walked past and ignored him and that was that. No trauma. Never saw them again.
Rosemary is very friendly and sociable. We walk down the street and she says ‘Hello,’ to pretty much everyone. She is quite curious and sometimes a little sad when they don’t respond. It’s lovely when you see someone sitting down or walking along looking unhappy or grumpy and their expression changes to true happiness to have a small child talk to them. Of course, there are also those who remain unhappy or grumpy and ignore her, but that’s fine.
More recently, I’ve noticed, however, that Rosemary rarely says ‘Hello,’ back to someone who says it first and I wonder if this is down to the message ‘Don’t talk to strangers.’ I wonder how they are delivering the message. Are they telling them it’s dangerous? Are they telling them nasty things could happen to them if they talk to strangers? Are they able to get across the ability to differentiate and to have that sense that we had as children of who was OK and who wasn’t?
Does this worry you too, or are you more worried about the dangers out there and feel safer if your children don’t talk to strangers? Do your children say ‘Hello,’ to random people in the street and how do you react?