“Don’t Talk to Strangers: Rule or Suggestion?”

I apologize in advanced for this post. It’s something that was on my mind after overhearing a mother say these very words to her son on the subway yesterday, and reading Kristin Chenoweth’s book and all the strange ways we meet people made me really want to say something about it all.

We’ve all heard this rule at some point in our lives. Whether it was directed to us, or we overheard it, we all understand what it means.

Parents say this to their children in the hope that it will keep them safer. If their kids don’t talk to strangers, then it’s less likely that something bad will happen to them. If their kids don’t talk to strangers, they won’t be kidnapped.

Some parents have ingrained this into their children’s heads so much that it makes their kids seem shy. My parents were really adamant about this, for example. I’m pretty sure my mom told us (or at least me) a couple of horror stories about why you shouldn’t talk to strangers.

For years, my siblings and I have always been the quieter ones at parties, even family parties. We didn’t talk to people we didn’t know, and never bothered to break out of the shell of people we knew. Sometimes an aunt or an uncle or a cousin would introduce us to someone new, but it wasn’t something we sought out. I think this might have put some of us at a disadvantage in school and in life.

See the problem with this “rule” is that it is a “rule.” In reality, the words “don’t talk to strangers” should be taken more as advice.

Think about it. If a little kid takes this phrase as law, they will never get to know anyone. They won’t talk to their teacher. They won’t try to get to know other people at the school. They’ll be that poor loner child sitting off in the corner reading a book or playing in the sand.

In Newsies, there is a scene in Medda’s Theatre where Katherine Plumber is sitting in a box taking notes on the performance and Jack Kelly sees her and finds his way up to her. She tries to avoid his advances and curtly states: “I am not in the habit of speaking to strangers.” Jack replies, “You’re gonna make a lousy reporter.”

That’s my point. If we go through life avoiding talking to strangers because of this rule our parents once made, we will never meet anyone. If you never talked to that random girl sitting across from you in the cafeteria at summer camp, she wouldn’t be your best friend today. If you never spoke to that guy who sat next to you in that one college class, you wouldn’t have met your first great love. If you didn’t take a chance on that girl sitting at the bar with her friends, you would never have met the mother of your children.

And so, I firmly believe that it is not “Don’t talk to strangers,” but rather “You shouldn’t talk to strangers, but if you do, be aware and be careful.”

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