Stranger Danger … err … Danger

Except for the true fuck-ups among us, who I feel safe in assuming don’t bother to read parenting blogs, we raise our kids in a safe environment surrounded by people who love and indulge, or at least tolerate, the little tykes. That’s a warm and reassuring environment. So I have no excuse for failing to anticipate that pulling my son aside, placing a hand on his shoulder and warning him that some of the adults he encounters in his daily life may want to kidnap him, eviscerate his corpse and wear his skull for a hat might cause a bit of upset.

Tony loved Tae Kwon Do at first, but after about two weeks he started to complain that he didn’t feel well when it was time for class — the usual vague and morphing symptoms you get from a five-year-old trying to get out of doing something. My wife and I pressed him, and sure enough, he still liked Tae Kwon Do — but the brief “stranger danger” portion of the class scared the shit out of him.

We’d briefly addressed “stranger danger” at home, but I didn’t push it because I think it’s overdone. Yes, I want Tony to be cautious of strangers, but the fact is that kids are usually victimized by family and friends, not random predators on the street. So we’ve told him not to get in cars with strangers, not to let people touch him in ways that make him feel uncomfortable, and similar warnings, all handled with a light touch.

His Tae Kwon Do teacher also touches — gently and reassuringly it seemed to me — on stranger danger. He raises a few scenarios, emphasizes that most strangers are good people, and reminds the kids that the techniques they’re learning are just-in-case skills that can help them in the unlikely event that anything bad happens.

The teacher doesn’t talk about it in every class and he doesn’t beat the kids over  the head with the issue, but somehow his take on “stranger danger” triggered fears that mine didn’t.  Tony has been dreading the next warning about monsters in human form roaming the streets of his once-safe world.

Well, I can’t undo what has been done, I can’t change the Tae Kwon Do school’s curriculum, and I wouldn’t completely neglect these warnings anyway. So my wife and I found ourselves exploiting a new and unexpected teaching moment.

Fear of “stranger danger” became an opportunity to talk to Tony about the things that have scared us in the past, but which we did anyway because they were worth doing. They’re worth doing because we end up enjoying them, or because we get something out of them that’s worth enduring the jitters. It’s OK to be scared, we said, and being brave means being scared and doing something worthwhile anyway.

That seemed to do the trick. Tony is still scared of “stranger danger” but he’s on-board with the idea that Tae Kwon Do is worth the occasional moment of discomfort. Good for us for pulling a small victory out of our lack of foresight.

Someday, I’ll find a way to explain to Tony that his old man is usually too stupid to know when he should be scared.

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