We’ve been raising children for 23 years but I haven’t been up to date on parenting techniques. I never heard of the “Stranger Danger” program until my older sister told me a story. She said that her three-year-old son absorbed the “Stranger Danger” message so well he would start shrieking if an unknown person said hello to him.

So, some kids were a bit over-indoctrinated. “Stranger Danger” was well intentioned, but now the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is saying it was misguided. Their new message is that children should avoid certain situations, rather than certain people. They also acknowledge the reality that 80 percent of abductions are by a person the child knows. They go so far to say, “Most people who are going to help a kid [in a threatening situation] are strangers”.

I realize that parents are always concerned with their child’s safety but I never bought into the notion that my kid was a precious commodity that someone was itching to steal. It takes a really sick stranger to do that and thankfully they’re in short supply. Despite the hysteria surrounding abductions, the culprit is usually a relative.

When I was growing up, my parents gave us two warnings: “Don’t get into a car because someone gives you candy,” and “If you get lost, stay in one place.” Both are common sense and can apply to all ages. We should never take a bribe to get into a car, even if it’s a Corvette.

I didn’t have any fear of strangers as a child. In fact, my strongest wish was to be able to overcome my shyness to talk to them. My ultimate dream was to be able to talk to strangers on elevators: you know, those cubicles of silence where even good friends are afraid to converse.

Also, as a child, I was encouraged to be independent. When I was less than six years old, my father would send me to a busy intersection to buy him a pack of cigarettes. I’d carry the money and a little note that said, “Please sell bearer one pack of Lucky Strikes.” By first grade, I was walking to school myself and I made lone visits to the eye doctor and dentist when I was still a grade-schooler.

O.K., so my parent went a little overboard with the independence, but it paid off for me. Parents say they want independent children, but are afraid to let them take risks. I believe we have to take little leaps of faith to build their confidence and independence. I once took my three little ones on a CTA bus and my oldest insisted on sitting by herself on the backbench. She was surrounded by boom boxes, so I knew that sooner or later she’d feel uncomfortable and rejoin us. She just had to assert her independence for 15 minutes.

I can only hope that other Forest Park kids are developing street smarts without living in fear of strangers. I don’t have any use for the stranger danger message and I resent being considered a creep when I greet kids I don’t know. I’m harmless; I’m not their Uncle Ralph.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball...