Stranger Danger: When do we outgrow, “Don’t talk to strangers!” ?

New relationships can facilitate growth

When my twins were little, we attracted a fair amount of attention wherever we went. It turns out, people are fascinated with twins, even when the sleep deprived parents look like they are near death. This was not a big deal when they were babies, but as soon as they were old enough to walk and talk, the parental level of alertness increased, for the people who would interact with our girls. We met some really nice people this way. However, I will never forget the eerily calm request to “back away”, coming from my husband, when he observed a strange man offering our girls candy and stroking one of our daughter’s hair, in an airport. Who would imagine that someone would be so brazen with parents so close? It could have been that we didn’t look like we had the energy for any kind of fight. Regardless, so began the conversations with our children about strangers being “the enemy.”

I have been struck lately, both as I counsel and as I live life, that those who we are familiar with are not necessarily any safer or more of a beneficiary, than those who we have never seen in our life. In fact, sometimes those who we have known or those who feel like they know us, are more dangerous to us, than those who do not. They can be dangerous because when we feel safe, we often don’t acknowledge that someone we trust could knowingly or unknowingly hurt us. As statistics prove, sexual abuse of children more often occurs between a trusted adult and child, than between strangers. This is also statistically true with home invasion. Yet, as adults we live with an expectation that those we are familiar with, those who have known us a long time and those who we interact with on a regular basis, hold more standing, and we don’t always keep our internal antenna on the alert for those who may not always have our best interest at heart. While we might not be in danger of overt abuse, we may through our negligence, get stuck in a less than productive or even hurtful dynamic. More importantly, we often hide from strangers who actually might be exactly what we need for our personal or career growth.

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