Effects on stranger danger messages on children

There is currently a horrible trial going on about a little 8 year old girl who was brutally murdered. Her name was Tori and even though I didn’t know her, I feel like I do every time I look at my own daughter.

I cannot bring myself to follow the gruesome details of this girl’s tragic end to her life. I do know that the last time she was seen alive she was with another woman and from what the video cameras displayed, the girl was walking with this woman in a way that did not evoke fear, or struggle. If I remember correctly (please do not quote me on the facts here) there was either a dog with them, or a promise to see a dog in a nearby car.

This is the part that I struggle with. An 8 year old girl walking without fear, probably happily chattering away, excited at the potential of seeing a dog.

My own daughter is only 4 years old. But I have no doubt in my mind that she could, would potentially find herself in such a situation at any time during her childhood. My Bubblebee with her bubbly personality, with he love for animals, with her incessant need for social situations, she would easily and readily go with someone at the promise to look at a puppy in a nearby parked car.

I can see it clearly.

I can also see something else clearly. The stranger danger messages propelled out to the kids, at school, through the media, via parents and other people, are confusing. Confusing to the child, especially.

How is it that my child remains silent when an elderly lady walking a dog says hello in passing?
How is it that my Bumblebee cannot make eye contact with the lady who complemented the sticks she was carrying, and offered for her to pet her dog, while I was standing directly beside her?
How is it that the stranger danger message affects her at that particular moment?

Yet just the other day, at the local baseball diamond, a similar situation occurred with a so-called stranger, and the exact opposite reaction happened. We were whacking a ball around for the dog when the kids started arguing over whose turn it is. Hockeyboy brought the heavier baseball bat and he was trying to demonstrate something to her. Bumblebee refused to listen and they argued.

Meanwhile a man parked up at the road in a red van, and walked past us with a key in hand. I looked up and said hello, which caused Bumblebee to stop yelling and glance in our direction. The man responded, opened the shed, and walked back to the van to get some equipment out.

Bumblebee decided that this was the prefect opportunity to skip over to the van, a distance long enough to make me nervous, and start chattering away to the man about god knows what.

My own reactions were muddled. On the one hand I thought ‘crap, she’s talking to a stranger next to an open van, theoretically he could pick her up and throw her in and drive off without a second thought’.

On the other hand I thought ‘he has a key for a shed with baseball equipment, he’s not going to kidnap a kid now’.

While feeling disgusted at my prejudice, I simultaneously picked up my blackberry and scrolled around to have the camera ready just in case I needed to snap a picture of a license plate. I also moved away from the diamond and closer to the open shed.

By this time the man had handed Bumblebee a package to carry to the shed which she happily schlepped, endlessly chattering with him, and he followed her, smiling to himself. We made eye contact and I worried momentarily that he might notice I had moved from my spot on the field, or that I might look a tad tense.

I didn’t feel tense, though. My instincts somehow told me that it was all good; still, what kind of a mother would I be if I wasn’t prepared for a turn of events? My internal struggles took up a lot of emotional energy, frankly.

Finally we started talking, and he introduces himself as the president of the local baseball league. Hockeyboy played T-ball for his league last year at a different park, and we compared notes and chatted like normal people do under these circumstances.

But that moment of worry, it will never leave me again. And selfish, murderous creep who took the life of little Tori is the reason why parents like me feel a prejudice toward a perfectly nice, normal, ordinary man, even just for a fraction of a moment.

Stranger danger messages will preoccupy me for many years to come.

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