They tell you to teach your kids not to talk to strangers, but it’s my two kids’ favorite thing to do.
Parents they don’t know at the park. Neighbors whose names we aren’t sure of. Other kids at the beach.
My kids, who are 5 and 9, talk and talk until I find myself saying things like, “I’m so sorry about my kids. They just won’t shut up”.
They talk to people we do know, too. They talk to everyone.
I know kids are taught not to talk to strangers. Windowless vans and kittens and candy. All out there to snatch little children. Sure, there are bad people in the world but If I’m being honest, I think we don’t talk to strangers enough in our society. I support my kids talking to strangers with supervision.
It’s become a thing for some to act like they have social anxiety even when they don’t. Antisocial is the new little black dress. Text don’t call.
There were jokes during the pandemic about people relishing not having to leave the house. And sometimes they meant it. Anything you wanted could be delivered. Restaurant food, groceries, prescriptions. Home offices and virtual school for kids became the norm. Sweatpants became the daily wardrobe. Where there used to be a warm smile and a handshake, now there was a Zoom call with the camera turned off.
During the height of the pandemic, it was hard to escape these lifestyle changes. Some parts were necessary.
But my kids. Oh, my kids. They are social creatures.
When my husband and I let our kids run loose in the yard or watched them in the green area behind our house, our kids would call out to anyone who passed within shouting distance. We admonished them. “Ask us before talking to people you don’t know,” we’d tell them.
“But that’s the nanny of the baby down the street,” my 9-year-old son would tell us. “That’s Freddy (a yappy little dog) and his owner,” my daughter would explain. My kids are hard-pressed to consider someone a stranger.
They are apples that don’t fall far from the tree. Both my husband and I are social people who bloom in the company of others. My husband, raised an only child, also thrives being alone for stretches of time. But I wilt when left alone too long away from the sunshine of people.
Often, when I apologize to people for my kids being a bother, I realize they are in fact the opposite. Sure, sometimes someone in the neighborhood will excuse themselves to go back inside when my kids get to gabbing. But more frequently, the person’s eyes light up and they engage right back. They talk about comics. About animals. About the best way to skip.
This pandemic has shown us just how badly we need each other. We crave the sound of a human voice checking in even if it’s a chatty 5 year old.
The other day my 5-year-old daughter approached a military veteran in the park with a dog, who explained the animal was her companion to help with her post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After inviting my daughter to pet the friendly dog and having a brief chat, they began to head their separate ways with new pep in their steps when the woman turned back to wave goodbye again to my spirited little girl. The meeting was clearly uplifting to both of them.
A few years back while at Disneyland my daughter eyed a stranger’s ice cream bar so intently while in line for a ride that the woman cheerfully broke off a piece and gave it to my then-toddler. My daughter was beside herself with joy. In a post-pandemic world, this exchange sounds admittedly crazy. But at the time it felt right.
My son loves nothing better than writing his own comic books and setting up a street stand to sell them at the park. He will stop anyone and ask them to buy one. I’m proud of him for his willingness to put himself out there.
Some people are bad but most are good. I’m glad my kids know that and I want them to hold on to that belief. I’m teaching my kids to use good judgement and to be aware when interacting with others but that it’s OK to trust people.
So, I’m going to let my kids talk to strangers with my supervision. I’m going to teach them to be careful, but be kind. And maybe a little chit-chat and reaching out is the medicine our society needs to start healing right now.