The Innocence of a Young Girl
As parents, we want to raise our children to have a positive mindset. We want to protect their innocence. We want them to see the wonderfulness of the world and people around them and we want them to approach life from a perspective of unlimited possibilities. But we also must protect them from potential physical and emotional harm. The cold hard truth is that pedophiles and predators exist. The question of how, when and how often you talk to your children can be perplexing.
And this is where the dilemma occurs…at least it always has for me.
Have you ever heard of the “Boston Strangler”? During his reign of terror in Massachusetts in the 60's, I was growing up in the suburbs of Boston. I was taught to walk fast with my head down and if anyone should wave, slow down or God forbid stop, I was to RUN to the nearest house and YELL! This may seem extreme, but during those days people lived in fear. Looking back, I lost part of my innocence to that fear.
And then in my junior year of high school we moved to rural Vermont. A small country town where everybody knew everyone…and waved! I clearly remember the first time I walked to town and noticed that all the passersby were waving at me. I couldn’t wait to get home and share my confusion with my mother! “They can’t ALL be perverts I told her”! She explained the difference in cultures between city life and country life!
Today, geography plays no part in the safety of our children. We must teach them to be aware of potential harm. If you are like me, distinguishing that fine line between raising their awareness and squashing their innocence and pure love for all people is challenging.
As young as 2 and 3 yrs. of age, I taught my daughter and then my grandchildren about the private nature of their bodies and the boundaries they are to enforce at all times. That seemed straight forward enough. As they got a bit older and began socializing with friends through pre-school and kindergarten I explained that unless they were with one of us, their family members, they were never to talk to strangers.
That became a bit more complicated. Standing in line at the grocery store when a seemingly kind and pleasant elderly man said hello and commented on what a well-behaved child they were raised the question, “Should I say thank-you if I don’t know them?” …again, only if you are with a family member.
In first grade my granddaughter wondered if she could respond to her friend’s parents when they would stop by the school. The topic was getting a bit muddy now. Things were not so clear cut.
I began to focus more on the physical proximity of the person talking to them…”When you are alone, don’t allow strangers to get close to you, respond from a distance and if they begin coming into your space, go to where other people are.”
I purchased videos of example scenarios of children being lured by the temptation of candy, a lost puppy and “Your parents are hurt and sent me to get you.” We went over them all in great detail and even did some role playing to be sure they understood. As suggested we established a code word that would signal the authenticity of the emergency.
And then one day, when Kaitlyn and Zach were around 10 and 11, we were driving along and saw someone on the side of the road with a flat tire. Being alone with the children in the car, I kept driving. Kaitlyn asked why we didn’t stop. I explained that we didn’t know them and needed to be careful. I assured her that most likely the next car would probably be driven by a man and he would be much better equipped to help.
And then she said, “If we get a flat tire, would people think we might be dangerous too and not stop?” Sadly, I answered “Yes.” The impact of that reality still haunts me. I don’t have the perfect answer. I wish I did.
Now my grandchildren are 13 and 14 yrs. old, without fail, when they are going to be somewhere without a family member, I always send them off with a reminder, “Be careful, stay together.. And don't talk to strangers!”
Occasionally when an incident of a child being abducted is reported on the news, I will bring it to their attention to reinforce their awareness that the potential danger is real and exists.
On the other hand, we also spend a lot of time discussing the value of keeping an open positive mindset about people we meet, expecting the only the best but allowing the passing of time to really get to know to them.
This is a picture of my grandson Zach walking his puppy, Bella! ...and what prompted me to write this article.
I watch out the window every morning when my grandson Zach walks his puppy in the front yard (house training!). This morning he was walking along the road in front of our house when a car pulled up and stopped. A woman was driving with a dog inside...she opened her door, putting one leg out as if she were getting out of her car and asked Zach if the dogs could meet...Zach immediately headed for the front porch and said, "No, I am not allowed to talk to strangers!"
She promptly got back into her car, saying “Oh, okay!” and drove away.
I was so very proud of the way Zach handled the situation. We talked afterward about the fact that she was probably a very nice lady and meant no harm, but that it was a good choice to not take a chance. I commended him for reacting as he did.
What happened with Zach in his own yard got me to thinking... I realized that today's adults are certainly aware of the need for parents to teach their children to be aware and alert…so if they are well-meaning friendly and caring people they will understand and not approach children when they are alone.