Earlier this week, I picked up my children from the library, which is their bus stop on the days they actually ride the bus. This particular branch is a stop for multiple schools and lots of kids wait for their rides for short periods of time. They do homework, read, chat with each other, play games etc while they are there. The librarians don't babysit or anything, but they do keep an eye out.
Normally, everything is fine. Earlier this week though, it wasn't. I got stuck in major traffic and instead of sitting for the usual 15-20 minutes, the kids were there almost an hour. I don't know if this made a difference or not, but by the time I got there, the herd of students had almost completely thinned out. Anyway, while they were gathering up their things and getting ready to go, Cecilia says, "some weird guy came up to my friend and was laughing all crazy." "Wow. Really", I asked. "Is everything okay?" She assured me that it was all fine and we went on about our way.
About an hour or so later, I got a text from the friend's mother and apparently the situation was much more involved than that. Through the course of some text messages and a phone conversation more details emerged. Not only did this person approach the friend, he also was hugging him around the shoulders and trying to get him to convince the concerned librarian that he was the friend's Sunday school teacher. He was immediately told to go to a different part of the library, as no one was buying this story. The friend told his mother about this (she was in the same traffic and we basically just missed each other) and she went back to the library to confront the person who became belligerent and the librarian called the police. Weird guy fled.
Once I got these details, we immediately sat our kids down to talk with them further about what happened. Through the course of my conversation with friend's mom, we are fairly certain that this individual is a mentally ill or disabled adult, which would explain the odd behavior, weird story etc. What became glaringly apparent however, is that even though we have talked to our children lots of times about never going somewhere with a stranger, shouting that this person is not my mommy, how to look for an adult that will help you, etc., they had no idea what to do when something completely off the wall and potentially very dangerous can happen.
The conversation really got interesting when Cecilia began talking about how kids are told to mind the adults, not talk back and cooperate with authority and so she didn't know what to do. Not only did this incident scare the absolute hell out of us, but it also revealed a serious gap in the safety section of our parenting strategy. It was good though, in hindsight. No lecture or conversation could have ever made the same kind of impact as a scary situation that ended up being only a scary situation for a few minutes, with no harm done. We talked to them about it being their right to stand up for themselves to anyone who was making them feel uncomfortable, even if it turns out that they are incorrect. They seemed to understand that we would much rather them make a mistake in judgement than let something ride that would endanger them.
We also made sure to clarify that this was no one's fault - that none of the kids were to blame for not knowing what to do in response to the situation. In all our conversations about strangers etc., it never occurred to us to talk to them about a situation like this. We also showed them this video, about a girl who escaped an attempted kidnapping in Walmart. Not the exact same scenario, but the child in this situation was kicking and screaming for all she was worth - defending herself. The would be kidnapper gave up, fled and was subsequently arrested. Hopefully the combination of the conversation, the experience and the visual aid will drive home the point.
I 'm sharing this post because this particular kind of scenario was not one that ever crossed my mind, and if sharing it can help even one other parent protect their child, it will be a meaningful thing. I am also so thankful for the communication among parents - it reminds me of the meerkat colonies - one starts signaling danger and they all get the message. Long story short, please reiterate to your children their right to defend themselves and that if something feels even a little bit wrong or off, it's because it probably is.