Old Ladies Aren’t Strangers or Kidnappers (Apparently)

Dead Trees?  Easy to spot.  Adults with bad intentions?  Not so much...
Dead Trees? Easy to spot.   Adults with bad intentions? Not so much…

Last week, my eight-year old crashed on his bike. He plays drama to the hilt, so even a stubbed toe comes across as I’m-about-to-die, with a pain level of 85 on a scale of 1 to 10. I always check for broken bones and send him on his way- lingering will just encourage him to cry longer.

He’d just lost the scabs on his face from a skateboard crash a couple weeks prior, so I wasn’t surprised when he came hobbling in the house with my older son right behind him. Doubled over, my younger son announced he fell on his bike. He lifted up his shirt, and sure enough, there was a scrape. (With the way he screamed, I expected his intestines to be hanging out of the wound or something equally horrifying.) After I sent him to rest on the couch, I caught sight of a car outside.

“Um, why is there a red car in our driveway?” I asked.

“An old lady gave him a ride home,” my older son said.

My eyebrows shot up to my hairline. “What? You know you’re not supposed to get in the car with strangers!”

“She’s an old grandma,” my younger said through whimpers.

So I went outside to meet this supposed not-a-creepy-kidnapper-killer-grandma. She didn’t look familiar and I’ve not seen her around. It turns out, she dog-sits for a woman who lives down the street. She thought it was funny that after my son got inside the car, he turned to her and asked, “You’re not going to kidnap me, are you?”

It’s sweet that he had the innocence to think a kidnapper would say, “Why yes, kid, you’re never going home. I’m going to take you, do horrible things to you and leave you in the desert.” I love his innocence, but it’s a dangerous thing. After the woman left, I had a chat with the kids.

To my younger son:

Me: “You seriously asked if she was going to kidnap you- AFTER you got inside the car?”

Son: “She said she wouldn’t.”

Me: “You think a kidnapper is going to tell you the truth?”

To my older son:

Me: “And you let him get in the car?”

Son: “I didn’t want to be rude.”

Me: “You don’t have a problem with rude any other time. This morning, you told me I looked fat.”

It’s alarming to discover they didn’t get the message we thought we’d conveyed. From a kid’s point of view, I can see the confusion. We teach them to respect adults and be polite, but then if one gets too close, we expect them to push away- even if it’s rude. Reading social cues is hard. I know adults who haven’t mastered it.

Yes, we have more work to do.

Now, I’m off to make sure they understand that if someone pulls up in a car offering candy in exchange for help finding a lost a dog, they shouldn’t approach the window and ask, “What kind of candy?”

24 thoughts on “Old Ladies Aren’t Strangers or Kidnappers (Apparently)

  1. kingmidget April 3, 2014 / 6:28 AM

    Particularly with my youngest son, when my kids were that age, I wanted to set up a test. Take him to a park. Ask another parent with a child there (who my son wouldn’t know) to approach my son and ask him to help look for a lost pet … to see what he would do. My wife was offended by the idea. I still think it’s a good idea to try something like that, just to see if what you’ve told your kids as really taken hold.

  2. tinsenpup April 3, 2014 / 6:31 AM

    It’s terrifying really, isn’t it? My eldest is old enough to be left home alone (with the dog) for short periods now. I try not to overthink it, but they just have no understanding of how horrible people can be. Which is good, of course, but also bad.

  3. davestoons April 3, 2014 / 7:03 AM

    My wife and I drilled our son about strangers especially because he’s an only child and doesn’t have the “strength in numbers”. Thankfully we never had to experience what you had just endured. Unfortunately, in our moments of weakness and injury we all look for a helping hand even from perfect strangers (ie car accident) not knowing or questioning their intent and relying on the good samaritan. I’m glad the grandma turned out to be nothing more than a good samaritan and knowing more people in the neighborhood is a good thing. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Kathy Combs (@Kathy29156) April 3, 2014 / 7:16 AM

    Oh Janna, that is terrifying! How scary. I have drilled my kids about stranger danger, but I have always been so paranoid that unless they are in the backyard, I go with them. It just isn’t safe in today’s world. ♥

  5. nrhatch April 3, 2014 / 7:25 AM

    That is scary, Janna. As a parent, it’s tempting to never let kids out of eye-sight, but that’s crippling in its own way.

    I do think that kid’s are, perhaps, more tapped into intuition. So they got, “it’s just a safe grandma” vibe from the dog-sitter. If she had been a deranged lunatic, maybe that’s the vibe they would have received?

    Glad your son is OK.

  6. TheLastWord April 3, 2014 / 7:39 AM

    I think the whole thing is a very sad indictment of us today. When I was a kid back (it was a long time ago….and In India) we played outside all the time. All the neighbours knew all the kids in the neighbourhood.

    Unfortunately, as a society we’ve all become scared (me included). You don’t see too many kids playing outside anymore. We tell our kids of all the scary things that can happen outside, something I don’t remember ever being told. Certainly I was never given the instructions we hand out to our kids about safety.

    Are we too paranoid?

  7. Sarah Ann April 3, 2014 / 7:51 AM

    I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but…. Why is it kids are only ever rude to their parents and not the bogey man? Hope the nice dog-sitting grandma is around next time youngest son needs a ride home. 🙂

  8. suzicate April 3, 2014 / 8:46 AM

    Thank goodness all is well and there really are kind strangers! I guess kids hear the parts they want to hear, huh?
    Too funny about your youngest being dramatic about getting hurt. My youngest was the same way. There is hope; my son outgrew it by the time he was maybe fourteen!

  9. Bryan Ens April 3, 2014 / 9:03 AM

    your 8 yr old son and my 8 yr old son must be related as it comes to dramatizing things. We no longer exist…as I’m fairly certain, based on my son’s “drama-queen” tendencies, that the world has come to an end at least a thousand times…

  10. Debbie April 3, 2014 / 1:37 PM

    This is every parent’s dilemma, Janna — how to teach our kids to be safe in unfamiliar situations with people they don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. Domer tended to be a little skittish around strangers, so I didn’t worry about him jumping in a car with one; however, neither do you want them being rude. It’s a fine line to walk, and sometimes we as adults have a hard time walking it!

  11. Sean April 3, 2014 / 2:23 PM

    Hey Janna,
    This is a tough dilemma that parents have to deal with. As I’m sure you already know, kids just don’t think like that. I heard this explanation a couple years ago about what goes on inside a teenagers head when they do something that is usually found to be dumb after the fact. The adult would say, “What were you thinking?” and the teen would come back with a response of something like, I didn’t think that would happen. The whole thing is that when they do something they aren’t thinking at all about what may happen. Prime example was my son was standing with a dr pepper in his hand that he just managed to drop. I told him not to open it as we were in the fellowship hall of our church and I didn’t want to have a mess all over the floor. So he proceeds to open it slowly and it fizzes up and makes a little mess. When I asked him why he did that after I told him not to, he said that he thought if he opened it slow enough, it would not fizz like it did.

    The good thing is that you are now in an area where kid snatching isn’t real big. I would have hated to see that where you were before. You do a very good job with your boys and they are going to test you probably as much as they can, Hey lo0k mom, I can jump off the roof with this sheet and land safely on the ground as you are talking to him on the way to the emergency room. Anyways, thanks for the read.

  12. Carol Ann Hoel April 3, 2014 / 3:40 PM

    I’m glad that all is well. The stranger danger thing is predominant in a parent’s thoughts in these days of higher-than-ever risk. Your sons had to weigh the seriousness of the conflicting circumstances before deciding what to do. I understand their hesitation to invoke the avoidance tactics to save them from a stranger while they may have felt that they needed assistance from someone. I love it that your younger son asked her if she was going to kidnap him. Why not get to the point and find out? Hang in there, Mom. With you good training, they will be more prepared to make the right choice next time. Blessings to you, Janna…

  13. Eric Alagan April 3, 2014 / 4:58 PM

    It’s scary when kids can be so trusting of total strangers. But you related it all with such dollops of humour – it was a fun read for me 🙂

    I love that part about how kids exaggerate their injuries and it all goes away after a hug and a kiss – complete with candy, helps.

  14. Dilip April 3, 2014 / 8:47 PM

    Yes it certainly is scary but the sweet innocence of the little is something I can’t help but adore 🙂

  15. Lance April 4, 2014 / 7:14 AM

    My girls will talk to anyone. They never meet strangers. I worry about this scenario even though they are getting older. They’re smart and crafty but sweet and innocent too.

    I’m glad you hang with the right old ladies.

    • jannatwrites April 6, 2014 / 11:56 PM

      Yeah, I’m glad we haven’t found the wrong kind of people here, Lance. My kids know everyone in the neighborhood (and their pets!)

  16. Imelda April 4, 2014 / 8:31 AM

    oh-oh, Janna, this story made my heart skip a bit. I would have freaked out, too, if I were in your place. I am just happy for you and the children that the lady turned out to be nice.

    Now, I don’t know which is more scary, finding your son hurt from another spill, or finding out that your son was too polite for safety’s sake.
    Ah, mother could not afford to be wimps.

    • jannatwrites April 6, 2014 / 11:57 PM

      I tend to be overprotective, even letting them play outside alone is hard for me. I tell them they have to stay together, which I hope they do. Thanks for reading, Imelda!

  17. Widdershins April 4, 2014 / 1:42 PM

    Glad it all turned out so well … and you have a new friend in the ‘hood!’

    • jannatwrites April 7, 2014 / 12:00 AM

      Little by little we’re getting to know those around us, Widdershins… much more so than in the big city, where the houses were closer together but everyone kept to themselves!

  18. diannegray April 5, 2014 / 2:38 AM

    It’s amazing how children perceive a ‘kidnapper’ and little old ladies don’t fit the profile. I’m sure if your son had said ‘I’m not allowed to get into a car with a stranger’ the woman would have respected that. I’m so glad everything turned out okay – but I totally understand your concern xxx

    • jannatwrites April 7, 2014 / 12:05 AM

      I imagine she wouldn’t have pushed it, Dianne. It’s a fine line between teaching them to be cautious and turning them into paranoid people (like myself, haha) 🙂

  19. pattisj April 10, 2014 / 8:46 PM

    Oh, I had to laugh at the not being rude part. Glad they didn’t get kidnapped by someone’s grandma.

    • jannatwrites April 10, 2014 / 9:26 PM

      At least he think s of being polite to others, Patti 🙂

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