You heard it growing up. Everyone did. Your parents’ voice ringing in your brain anytime someone new approached you.
Don’t talk to strangers.
It’s definitely something we’ve reminded our daughter, almost daily. But it’s a little different keeping that reminder top of mind with her.
One, she doesn’t have the same type of personality that either my wife or I did. She is about as outgoing as anyone I’ve ever met – adult or otherwise – and is constantly talking. Seriously … from the moment she wakes up until the moment she falls asleep she is moving her mouth.
I am an extreme extrovert myself, but that didn’t really come out until I was in the late stages of my adolescence. And even then, I pick my spots.
My daughter doesn’t pick any spots. Her presence on Earth is her spot.
The second factor in the whole Don’t talk to strangers mantra that influences my kiddo is how she handles each day. When I was a kid, I got in my mom’s car and was driven to school. I was protected, largely, from interacting with a lot of people that way.
My daughter rides at least two public buses with me each day, as well as a ferry full of commuters. The bubble of “protecting her” from others has popped. She is exposed to the elements – and by elements, I mean a lot of people.
Most times this is fine. Most people smile at the fact that a four-year-old is on these public forms of transportation with one of her parents. They think it’s cute that she points things out that we take for granted as she absorbs the world. They are polite and understanding.
The flip side of this is that a lot of people want to chit chat with a little human because it’s unique that these curmudgeonly commuters she a smiling, full of energy, loving-life, four-foot-tall human being all of a sudden in their line of sight.
And, for whatever reason, they decide that this is OK to just strike up a conversation with a child.
This puts me in an extremely awkward and controversial position.
On one hand, it’s trying to enforce the whole Don’t talk to strangers rules. On the other hand is the Don’t be a jerk rules that we try to instill in our child. So … do we say it’s OK to talk to a sweet old lady at church, but not on the bus? How do we tell an adult – Hey, bud, don’t talk to my kid without talking to me first?
You’d think that the whole idea of the Seattle Freeze would actually save us in these situations. But, I haven’t seen this sort of thing.
What is it about a kid that people think it’s OK to just start up a conversation? Am I the odd one who wouldn’t really want to say Are you warm in that jacket? Or Well, aren’t you having fun on the ferry?
The problem is that any sort of interaction with my child turns into a hemorrhaging of information. It’s like someone has suddenly pulled her string and she’s worse than a Suzy Talks A Lot.
I ride the ferry into school every day. I go here. I love ice cream and pizza. Did you know that I have two dogs? My dad works at Amazon. But he’s leaving for London next week. So come and rob our house. We live right here. Want his credit card number too?
I wish this were relegated to little old ladies. But it’s not. It’s anyone who happens to catch her eye. And I can’t blame my kiddo – she has a wonderful personality and wants to share it with the world. I just wish the world would sometimes respect the boundaries we, as a human race, have been establishing for the last – oh, I don’t know – 1,000 years.
To me, if I ever wanted to talk to a child – who was obviously with their parents and not lost and crying and needed help – I would probably bounce it off the adult. Kind of like asking someone if you could pet their dog.
When these interactions happen, I get tight-lipped (literally, and visibly – clenching my jaw) hoping that my body language lets these people know that I am not OK with their sudden interaction with my kid when I’m trying to teach her not to talk to strangers. Probably the same things their parents told them when they were kids.
And, because of that, I definitely look like a jackass because I don’t want to engage with this adult, or help facilitate the conversation. Fine. I can be the bad guy.
But when you live in a very small community and you’re trying to make friends, you don’t want to be recognized as That jerk over there. It’s not good for the rep.
So I’ve just decided that whenever these little interactions are over, I am going to remind my daughter about talking to strangers and the rules. It helps for the moment, but when you take a bubbly personality and combine it with a new person showing interest, it creates chaos.
At least when I’m around, it’s controlled chaos.