Don't talk to strangers. It's one of the first things we're taught as children. But is it actually good advice?
This is what mom Annie Nolan was wondering when she and her husband Liam watched from inside the house, as a stranger approached their 5-year-old son Malachy and 2-year-old twins Delphi and Cheska who were playing outside.
Instead of rushing outside right away, the couple decided to hang back for a minute to see how their kids would react.
"Malachy is sensitive, a people pleaser and pretty often he is polite," Annie wrote in a blog post about the incident. "So he moved forward to the gate and started talking to the person. Then Cheska, who is often a show off, ran straight over too and started telling her name, her age and singing silly songs. Then surprisingly, Delphi walked over too. I was surprised by this as Delphi is shy and not very trusting of anyone outside those she knows well but because Malachy and Cheska were already there she also felt comfortable to approach the fence. That was when my heart sank. They were all smiling and talking to this person they had never met. I don't want to be a paranoid mother. I don't want my children to fear the world and generally my children are extremely 'free range.' But this scene worried me greatly."
I don't blame her. It would have worried me too. And it was that moment, Nolan said, that she realized just how quickly and easily her children could be taken from her. "I wanted to grab my kids by the shoulders and say, 'don't ever do that again!'," she wrote. "But I didn't want to frighten them. I just said, 'please don't ever talk to a stranger without mum, dad or a teacher being there.'"
Seems like solid advice to me. And to be honest, I probably would have reacted the same way. But Annie's warning to her kids has somehow managed to spark a debate on both her blog and on Facebook, where some judgmental parents are now taking her to task for oversimplifying the definition of the word "stranger."
"A police officer is a stranger," wrote one. "If they ever got lost, they need to ask a stranger for help. Not all strangers are bad."
True story. But still, to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to. I'm with Annie on this one.
"Get a grip," added another. "This kind of hysteria is one reason why modern children have no communication skills."
After reading some of the comments, Annie caved and updated her original post: "My advice to my children was extremely basic and not well thought through, but it was a knee jerk response to what I had seen and that I was trying [to] simplify the message for two 3-year-olds," she wrote. "In hindsight, the issue is more complex and this one sentence of course doesn't really address enough. I am in no way an expert in this field. I am just another parent who is feeling my way as things like this arise. I welcome advice [sic], expertise and personal experiences to my blog."
OK, so here's mine. You are an amazing mama bear whose instinct to protect her brood kicked in big time in the heat of the moment, so mad props. Those little cubs of yours are lucky to have you.