My phone rang this afternoon and after I life-coached myself into answering it (phone phobia, man), I about had a goddamned heart attack when the man on the other end of the line identified himself as the Dean of Students at Riley’s school.

I mean, maybe some people’s first thought upon being called by the Dean of Students is to assume that their child has been honored with the little-known but much-revered Most Incredible Kindergartener in the History of Ever award, but that wasn’t my reaction. In fact, despite the fact that Riley’s never once been in trouble at school, my immediate concern was that he’d been caught repeating something awful that I’d accidentally said in front of him. You know: like referring to one of his classmates’ chocolate milk mustaches as a Dirty Sanchez.

As it turned out, the dean was calling to investigate something that had happened yesterday when I was picking Riley up from school. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but he’s certainly treating it like a big deal, so I thought I’d ask you guys about it.

A little backstory: when I get Riley from school, I go to the side entrance where the kids line up for the buses. Parents hardly ever come to that side, so there’s plenty of nearby street parking, which makes it easier for me to herd Dylan. Lately, when Riley comes out, he waits for his BFF Samantha, and he and Sam hang out in front of the school for a couple minutes, giggling about whatever, while I stand nearby whistling casually and trying not to bark at Riley to hurry the hell up already, it’s freezing out here.

So yesterday he and Sam were marveling over a stuffed raccoon she’d brought to school, and I was maybe twenty feet away with Dylan. I noticed an older man walking towards the doors, and he stopped to talk to Sam. This is when I turned around and gave them my full attention, because it seemed … weird, you know? I heard him ask Sam how old she was, and I heard Riley chime in that he was also six. Then both kids walked towards me, and I watched the man head to the entrance—where a door was being held open for him by a woman (not a teacher). I generally assumed that he was somebody’s grandfather, that the woman was the kid’s mom, and that they were picking someone up as a family.

Once Sam and Riley joined me, though, I asked Sam if she knew the guy. She said no, and I went on to ask both Riley and Sam if they knew not to ever go anywhere with strangers (I was careful not to say that it wasn’t okay not to talk to strangers, since I didn’t know if this was Sam’s family’s rule). They said yes, Sam left to get on her bus, and I continued the conversation with Riley for quite a while after that — you know, I just figured it was a good time to have a refresher on stranger danger. Teachable moment! Etc.

And that was that. Until the dean called me, that is, because apparently Sam had gone home and said something about the interaction that concerned her mother enough to talk with the school.

So, you know, I feel a little weird about it. I certainly didn’t mean to worry Sam, or scare her mom. I also didn’t mean to cast any suspicion on a perfectly innocent man who was just being friendly.

On the other hand, the way he approached Sam in particular definitely raised my antennae, if only because it’s become so taboo in our culture for adults to walk up to kids like that.

The dean was, I think, just following what must surely be a rigorous procedure these days to look into Potential Stranger Weirdness, which included calling both kids to the office to discuss it (I asked Riley about it this afternoon to make sure he wasn’t freaked out, but he was all, whatevs, they asked what the man was wearing and I said I thought it was brown hey can I have crackers for my snack today?). A potential positive outcome is that the dean didn’t know there are no school employees available on that side of the building, which I have always sort of wondered about — it’s teeming with kids getting on various buses and lining up for afterschool program vehicles, you’d think someone would be around to generally make sure nothing goes awry — so maybe that will change.

But anyway, what would you have done? Was it overstepping for me to say anything at all to Sam about it? Was it creepy of me to even think the man was doing anything other than being nice to a kid? Or was it too complacent of me to just walk away and not really think twice about it?

Comments

107 Responses to “Stranger danger”

  1. Pete on March 13th, 2012 3:59 pm

    As far as I’m concerned you did the right thing.

  2. Elaine on March 13th, 2012 4:00 pm

    I don’t think you overstepped at all. I’m a pretty strong believer in the “mom gut” and it something feels weird it’s worth saying something. That’s just me though. I’d rather be overly cautious than sorry in a situation like that.

  3. Eric's Mommy on March 13th, 2012 4:03 pm

    I would have done the same thing. You NEVER know these days, which is very scary.

  4. Brooke on March 13th, 2012 4:10 pm

    I would have done the same thing as well. In my town. which is really white and pretty well-off and really boring, at least twice while my daughter was in grade school (she’s now in 7th grade, so not too long ago), children were approached by a stranger as they walked to or from school and both these kids felt unsafe enough to run to the nearest *stranger’s* home and ring the bell, hoping the men would go away. The kids were OK and the schools always notified and provided as good a description as they could, but just because it never happens doesn’t mean it won’t. If I were Sam’s mom, I would thank you for snapping your attention to her when the man started talking to her and also being there until she got on the bus and I’d start thinking about maybe making other arrangements for my daughter after school. Not that she should, just that I would. Anyway. I think you did a great thing.

  5. Denise V. on March 13th, 2012 4:10 pm

    I think you handled this the right way. I don’t have kids, but it seems like a good thing to watch out for the friends of your children in those situations.

  6. Alli on March 13th, 2012 4:12 pm

    Yup, “Mom gut” wins. I totally would have done something similar and maybe I would have overstepped by even telling Sam’s mom about it before Sam did (I’m an overstepper).

  7. Christine on March 13th, 2012 4:16 pm

    There should *definitely* be a teacher or several there where the kids come out to get on the buses. If that’s the only thing to come out of this, it’s a good one.

    But no, I don’t think you did anything other than the right thing.

    As far as I know, the thinking these days is always to tell your kids to check with you or the adult in charge of them (e.g. teacher) before they go anywhere with anyone. This removes the ambiguous “stranger” from the equation and includes people who might say they know you, for instance, to get a kid to go with them. Or other kids, for that matter. I think it’s a good idea.

  8. Kdub on March 13th, 2012 4:16 pm

    I think you did the right thing. I’m a little surprised Sam’s mom didn’t email or phone you with her concern (since you have had them over for a playdate before). Schools are serious about this stuff today. The one my son goes to, you have to be buzzed into the office and then buzzed again to get out of the office into the school.

  9. Anonymous on March 13th, 2012 4:20 pm

    He was probably a child’s relative, and it was probably innocent. Probably, probably. Still, it’s never appropriate for an adult to approach an unsupervised child they don’t know. I work in an elementary school and my radar is always up for these situations, and I think it’s smart that your dean is handling it seriously. If there ends up being more teacher presence at that entrance, then that’s a great outcome. I know that when I’m on recess duty and notice an adult approaching to talk to a kid through the fence, I’m over there in a heartbeat, even though it usually turns out to be someone the child knows.

    Maybe it’s unfair, maybe we’re conditioned to think the worst now, or maybe an older woman wouldn’t have necessarily caused any alarm. But I think you should always trust your gut, as a parent or otherwise.

  10. Ashley on March 13th, 2012 4:27 pm

    I think you did the right thing. I would have wanted you to say something to my kid too, had he been there.

  11. whoorl on March 13th, 2012 4:27 pm

    I would have done the exact same thing. Stranger danger.

  12. g~ on March 13th, 2012 4:31 pm

    If I were Sam’s mom, I’d be pretty damn glad you cared enough to watch out. Of course, hating to be alarmist about some other kindergartener’s grandpa but what if he had been scoping out an unsupervised kid?
    Also, I guess supervision at buses is a little less supervised than at my school. We have to literally walk each student to the bus and make sure he or she gets on.

  13. Serror on March 13th, 2012 4:32 pm

    Not overstepping at all. You were looking out for Sam’s best interests, even if he wasn’t a creepy dude. And sounds like a positive that there will likely be a staff member out there now.

  14. Amber Lena on March 13th, 2012 4:38 pm

    Better to be safe than sorry. You did the right thing. Have you talked to Sam’s mom yet? I’m all kinds of paranoid with my kids. This morning when I dropped them off at pre-school, there was a guy across the street without a shirt pulling stuff out of his car. He was in his own driveway, but, as you know, it snowed here today, so it totally stood out as being out of the ordinary. I mentioned it to the pre-school mom and she thought it was weird too. Honestly, these are our kids here. You can NEVER be too safe.

  15. mlegreenberg on March 13th, 2012 4:41 pm

    Always better safe than sorry I say. Also – Sam’s mom may not have felt the need to report it too the school had she been there, but since she wasn’t, all she had to go on was the report of a kindergerdener. I can only imagine how scetchy and non-detailed that re-telling of events was. I definately would have appreciated your actions if that was my kid.

  16. aly on March 13th, 2012 4:42 pm

    frankly, if that man was family he’d be grateful you stepped in and talked to sam. you absolutely did the right thing. i’m a little nutty about weird people (this is what happens when you work in law enforcement for any period of time) and i would have probably gone further and demanded his name and reported him to a teacher/principal.

    as one commenter above said, you can NEVER be too safe.

  17. SK3 on March 13th, 2012 4:48 pm

    Be really careful about explaining to your kiddos what a stranger is. There is lots of research that shows that if a stranger tells the kid his name, the kid doesn’t view him as a stranger anymore.

  18. Jen on March 13th, 2012 4:57 pm

    Ok, I’m probably going to sound annoying, but I don’t care I guess. As someone who works in the field of missing and exploited children, I can tell you that more than 70% of the time that a child is taken or abused it is NOT by a stranger, but by someone he or she knows. I think you did the right thing talking to the kids…but always make sure you are doing more to emphasize that NO ONE has a right to hurt or otherwise upset the child…not just strangers. Also that they can always tell you no matter what. The best way to protect kids is to empower them and make sure they are aware of their rights as people. *steps off soapbox

  19. heatherj on March 13th, 2012 5:00 pm

    You did the right thing. Absolutely.

  20. melanie on March 13th, 2012 5:04 pm

    I agree that I wouldn’t have necessarily called the school myself, but i do think a refresher was a good idea, and I also agree with Jen above, we teach our kids to worry about strangers, but something happened in my own extended family that reinforced that you need to be diligent even when you think its completely safe.

  21. Melissa on March 13th, 2012 5:12 pm

    If you had done the opposite – said nothing and the next day Sam wandered off with that guy, you would have serious, crushing regret, right? Even if you are over informing, it’s better than under informing.

    Also, mom gut is so important.

    I think you absolutely did the right thing. I would have done the same.

  22. Kylydia on March 13th, 2012 5:15 pm

    I’m not a mom, but I think you handled everything well. I’m always wary about talking to kids I don’t know and am always paranoid that someone will think I’m being inappropriate. Kids are awesome, though, and I usually want to tell little girls at the grocery that their crazy, obviously-their-own-idea outfits are cool! Is there ever a right way to engage them without being skeevy?

  23. Jess on March 13th, 2012 5:21 pm

    NOOOOO doubt you did the right thing BIG TIME. BIG. TIME. If it were my little girl I would hope hope hope someone would do the same thing. And yeah, they need an employee over there. Hopefully they get on that. Mom gut. Don’t question it.

  24. Jess @ Dude and Sweets on March 13th, 2012 5:24 pm

    Two thoughts.

    First. Mom instinct? Spot on 99% of the time. If your gut told you it was weird, then it was weird. And he probably was up to no good, because MAN that mom instinct is an amazing radar. Don’t ever discount it.

    Second thing. Had the dude kidnapped the kid, and you HADN’T said anything, you’d be beating yourself about the same interaction, except the opposite. As a mom, I’d rather another mom be safe with my kids than tread lightly.

  25. Kelly on March 13th, 2012 5:31 pm

    I think you have to trust your instincts and, if something seems a little weird to you,then that’s enough excuse to have a talk with your kid (and your kid’s friend). I don’t think you blew it out of proportion at all, just made a teachable moment out of it which is entirely appropriate.

  26. Donna on March 13th, 2012 5:35 pm

    ALWAYS trust your gut. ALWAYS! (Read the book the Gift of Fear, I recommend it to everyone).
    As far as this guy? I’d be watching for him from now on because my gut is telling me that he was scoping the place out to see how hard it would be to talk a little one out of the area, and even if there is a teacher there, he needs to be brought to someone’s attention.
    Where I live, there has been 1 kid that was taken and held overnight, raped repeatedly, and then let go, and 3 others that managed to get away after being approached. Last fall, there was a kid picked up in front of her home, a neighbor saw the guy put her in his van, chased him until he wrecked and he got her away.
    Bottom line is always trust yourself, be aware of your surroundings, and a healthy dose of cover your ass is a good thing.

  27. Kris on March 13th, 2012 5:46 pm

    Trust your instincts. Always, always, always.

    Is it too late to call Sam’s mom, just to reassure her & make sure she’s not out on the ledge?

  28. MichelleH on March 13th, 2012 5:53 pm

    You did the right thing! Definitely! Sorry, I try to be an idealist in this life but all that goes out the window if I see an adult around kids that has no reason to be there. If you are an adult hanging around the playground childless expect that you will get major suspicious stink-eye from me and be watched like a hawk at the very least. Better safe than sorry. Most people will understand. It’s not worth the risk to keep quiet.

  29. JennB on March 13th, 2012 5:58 pm

    I think you did the right thing, but WTF is the guy doing GOING INTO THE SCHOOL? That would be more of a “dear dean, what are you doing to keep our kids safe” kind of question for me.

    I think that being aware of your surroundings – and teaching your kids to do the same – is critical. But I am also not advocating the worst-first thinking. Everyone should read this blog:
    http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/

    and take a deep breath.

    After all, if we’re teaching our kids NEVER TO TALK TO STRANGERS, think about what we’re keeping them from doing: making friends, reaching out when they really do need help, etc. etc. If they can only trust mom & dad (and I’m sure there’s a random statistic out there that shows that more moms & dads do greater harm to their kids than random strangers out there), then we have hamstrung our children before they even begin.

  30. ste on March 13th, 2012 6:08 pm

    When my daughter has friends, I hope they have moms like you. I’d have done the same thing.

  31. Janet on March 13th, 2012 6:22 pm

    I am amazed that there was no school employee posted at that door. I’m a retired teacher and where I worked last all doors were locked all the time. Parents could only enter at the main entrance after they were buzzed in. This was normal at all schools in the district (suburban/country).
    I can’t get over the fact that anybody could enter your child’s school at any time.

  32. oregongurl on March 13th, 2012 6:28 pm

    You did EXACTLY the right thing. This is not the same world Linda that you and I grew up in. Little girls end up in suit cases that are thrown into neighboring ponds when they walk 25 feet from their house to their best friends house.

    I am really blown away there was no duty person manning the the side doors. Ever since we lost little Kyron Horman things haven’t ever been in my little sleepy Oregon town.

    I can only hope all of my kid’s friends Mom’s are like you . I mean that.

  33. cagey (Kelli Oliver George) on March 13th, 2012 6:29 pm

    Stranger Danger is totally overblown — “kids actually in danger” is usually at the hands of folks they already know. I encourage my kids to talk to strangers, only if they are comfortable. I want them to learn good instincts and how to handle themselves. At some point, I will need to let them go.

    It makes me sad that the simple act of a man going into a school is cause for suspicion.

  34. Linda on March 13th, 2012 6:34 pm

    Janet: the doors aren’t always open — they automatically unlock right before the bell. But once they’re unlocked, no one’s staffing the entrance/exits.

  35. Judy on March 13th, 2012 6:40 pm

    While kids who are harmed are usually harmed by people they know, enough strangers come into the mix that you have to be careful of that too. In the city I live in, little Somer Thompson didn’t know the man with the dog that day she was walking home from school, and she ended up in a landfill. It’s a big scary world and I am forever glad my kids are grown and I don’t have to worry over them as much.

  36. Käthe on March 13th, 2012 6:46 pm

    Nooooo, your gut said it was weird, IT WAS WEIRD. Women pick up on all sorts of small, indescribable things. He may have been *just* a grandpa, but that doesn’t mean he’s also not *just* a pedophile. (NOT THAT I’M IMPLYING HE IS, AT ALL, but that’s the thing, you just never know. How many times on the news have you seen neighbors interviewed and they’re all, I HAD NO IDEA, HE WAS SUCH A NICE MAN.)
    And I’m impressed that both the mom and the dean followed up. I’m not paranoid, but I am also all for protecting children to our fullest capabilities.

  37. Sarah on March 13th, 2012 7:01 pm

    Linda you did the right thing. I’m shocked the whole area isn’t monitored by several staff people. Not just to monitor for strangers, but buses and small children unsupervised seems like a bad mix. Even my junior high had teachers monitoring buses!
    Sure stranger danger own the end all and be all of keeping our kids safe, but pretending it doesn’t matter seems foolish.

  38. Kristen on March 13th, 2012 7:08 pm

    I think you did exactly the right thing. You listened to your “mom gut” and used what was probably a harmless situation as a teachable moment. And if because of that, there is going to be staff at that door, even better.

  39. Katharine on March 13th, 2012 7:17 pm

    I don’t have kids, but I think your reaction was a perfect mix of mild and mom-gut: react, re-teach, then let it go.

    But I also think that you’d have to be a seriously bold pedophile to go walking into a school where you had no business. Don’t guys like that either beckon kids from behind the hedge or victimize their relatives? If it weren’t for mom-gut, which YES TRUST, I’d say he was just a nice older man who doesn’t know the new rules about talking to kids in this culture.

  40. Caroline on March 13th, 2012 7:25 pm

    I would have done the same thing.

    I just read something this week that addresses the whole stranger danger thing. Basically, tricky people are the new strangers. http://www.checklistmommy.com/2012/02/09/tricky-people-are-the-new-strangers/

    Btw I’m TOTALLY phone phobic, too.

  41. Lori on March 13th, 2012 7:35 pm

    You handled it well. If you are really concerned, I’d just give Sam’s mom a call to touch base. It can’t hurt.

    I did especially like how you didn’t tell them not to talk to strangers. I think people take stranger danger too far. I’ve witnessed kids refuse to talk to the lonely, elderly woman at the grocery store b/c she is a “stranger,” and that’s just sad. I think it’s important for my kids to speak to adults when they are spoken to, regardless of whether they are strangers, or not. I think it’s possible to be polite, respectful AND safe, which I HOPE is the message I’m conveying to my kids.

  42. JudithNYC on March 13th, 2012 7:47 pm

    My comment is to address this statement made above by a reader:

    “In my town. which is really white and pretty well-off…”

    How did race enter into this equation? And for that matter family income?

  43. Julie on March 13th, 2012 7:50 pm

    I think you handled it perfectly. I teach at an elementary school and I do think the students are most vulnerable during the pick-up/drop-off times-a little extra awareness on everyones part will help make sure that all the children go home with the right person. I was a little confused/saddened reading Brooke’s comment about her “really white” town. What does that have to do with anything?

  44. Meagan on March 13th, 2012 8:30 pm

    It sounds like you did exactly the right thing, on exactly the right scale. The guy probably WAS harmless, and, like you said, you turned it into a teachable moment. If he isn’t harmless, you are teaching your kids to be careful of strangers the way everyone should be careful of strangers.

  45. Erratic on March 13th, 2012 8:42 pm

    As a non-parent, I have to say I totally agree with what you did. If he was harmless, and worst case scenario played out and the police questioned him, he would obviously be proven to be a relative of a child and said child’s family would feel safer.

    But…if there was reason for the suspicion, who knows what you could have stopped.

    Sam’s parents obviously shared your concern or they would not have called the school.

    When it comes to your children, is there ever a moment when “better safe than sorry” doesn’t apply?

  46. sooboo on March 13th, 2012 8:49 pm

    Maybe no one could identify him/place him in relation to a child and that’s why it became a big deal. Sounds like you did the right thing.

  47. Omu on March 13th, 2012 9:00 pm

    I work with predatory offenders and read files every day on my job that have children who have been victimized by both known offenders and unknown offenders.

    The bottom line is trust your gut, and don’t be afraid to seem “paranoid” by reporting something you think “isn’t really that important” to the authorities. You never know what else is happening in the neighborhood or whether the police are looking for someone that’s been doing that very same thing until you make the report.

    I often call the police to let them know things that I see or hear that seem out of place. I have never once been told by a cop, “Gee, I wish you wouldn’t have called.” More often than not they are grateful to have the information and follow up on things.

  48. Mico on March 13th, 2012 10:06 pm

    One comment above said “it’s never appropriate for an adult to approach an unsupervised child they don’t know.”

    Is that really true? Is that what it’s like to be a parent in the U.S.? I’m American, with a child, but she was born abroad and we haven’t yet repatriated.

    You say he was an older guy. I picture someone maybe my dad’s age, around 68. Someone from his generation probably wouldn’t think twice about talking to some kids he doesn’t know, and since when is asking a kid his or her age a weird question? It’s in the top 5 for any new kid acquaintance, isn’t it? What are old dudes supposed to talk to kids about, anyway?

    I’m not knocking your gut instinct, I definitely think that’s important. But the comments to the post make me feel like everyone walks around in suspicion and fear of everyone else all the time. How will that affect our kids?

  49. Meg on March 14th, 2012 12:23 am

    I agree with Mico!

    Linda I totally think it was fine to remind the kids not to go with strangers. Also I usd to have phone phobia – sucks!! And that was really funny about worrying Riley repeated something you’d said! I have that same concern.

  50. Jo on March 14th, 2012 2:57 am

    I agree with Mico, but I also think you did the right thing. I cringe because my dad always talks to kids, he’s 65 and just a sweet Bill Cosby type, but people don’t always know that. But at the same time he doesn’t usually randomly approach them, that’s a little weird.

    I agree that the school entrances should always be manned when the doors are unlocked. Hope it did raise a red flag to the dean.

    (Also, phone phobia. What’s up with that? I HATE answering unknown numbers, they always give me butterflies in my stomach.)

  51. cakeburnette on March 14th, 2012 4:12 am

    You did EXACTLY right. We can NEVER be too careful with our babies.

  52. Sarah on March 14th, 2012 5:08 am

    I think you did the right thing and I would have done the same.

  53. Molly on March 14th, 2012 5:22 am

    You absolutely did the right thing. No, it is no creepy for you to jump right to “this guy has ulterior motives” because the sad reality is that many people DO have ulterior motives and as Cakeburnette said above, “we can never be too careful with out babies.”

  54. kim hartman on March 14th, 2012 5:44 am

    Kudos. I would have reacted the same way you did.

  55. Lisa on March 14th, 2012 5:55 am

    Oh my god, this is So timely for me! I am reading a book (’Protecting the Gift’)and I am rethinking all kinds of things about Stranger Danger and how to talk to my 5 and 3 year old about personal safety, etc.
    Basically, the author of this book teaches that your gut is your most valuable and important tool when it comes to your kids and you should ALWAYS trust it, even at the expense of making a seemingly innocent encounter awkward. You did the right thing. And, I totally recommend this book for any parent to read: “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker.

  56. Amanda on March 14th, 2012 6:01 am

    I would have been all over that. And then I would have been all over the Dean because who lets Kindergartners outside of the school without some sort of procedure? I’m glad Sam is the type of kid who tells her parents when something is unusual and I’m glad you were there.

  57. Amanda on March 14th, 2012 6:30 am

    You did alright, in my book, though it is good that Sam’s mom called to inform the school. Lax security like that seems like the kind of opportunity creepers look for.

    The guy might have been just a nice man from a time before we had to worry about strangers approaching our children, but why take the chance? In every self-defense lesson I’ve ever experienced, it is stressed that you should trust your gut. Even if you feel foolish, you are better off looking paranoid than dead.

  58. Amanda on March 14th, 2012 6:32 am

    Also, thanks to Caroline for the link to Checklistmommy’s post. “Tricky people”! *facepalm* Of course!

  59. Jill on March 14th, 2012 6:41 am

    I didn’t read thru all the comments… but I have to ask *who* was the guy and the lady holding the door? Were they parents/grandparents? Did the school try to figure that out?

  60. Stacy on March 14th, 2012 6:56 am

    I don’t think you can ever be TOO careful… “mom gut-instincts” happen for a reason. I think having an open dialogue with children about strangers is extremely positive.

    If you ever have doubts, or questions about how to talk with children about strangers, check out this website: http://www.jwrc.org/

    It was founded by the Wetterling family after their 11 yo was abducted in small-town MN. Sure, this is an extreme case, but the truth in the matter is IT HAPPENS (as sad as it seems…).

    Pat yourself on the back. You did a great thing.

  61. wealhtheow on March 14th, 2012 7:11 am

    It was probably nothing. But if your gut says it was weird, then you definitely did the right thing by speaking up. FOR SURE. And I think kids always need a little refresher on how to deal with the “outside world,” in terms of not going places without permission or checking in with a trusted adult. I like the rule one commenter mentioned up above saying to always tell a parent or teacher or other adult in charge before you go off with anyone, especially since most of the time children are in more danger from Creepy Cousin Charlie than the stranger.

  62. Redbecca on March 14th, 2012 7:15 am

    Trust the gut! You did good. Be sure to circle the wagons with Sam’s mom, as you obviously made an impression on Sam!

  63. Linda on March 14th, 2012 7:36 am

    Update! I talked with Sam’s mom (who is awesome) last night and she totally put my mind at ease — apparently S. just casually mentioned it in passing, like oh btw a strange man asked me my name and age, no big. She wasn’t scared and her mom wasn’t freaked, but she did mention it to Riley and Sam’s teacher yesterday morning at dropoff. So at least I didn’t inadvertently cause a shitstorm out of paranoia, sounds like the school is just doing due diligence and like some of you mentioned, it’s probably good that they’re focusing on providing supervision for that side entrance.

    WHEW. Thanks for all the comments, friends.

  64. Trina on March 14th, 2012 7:37 am

    You did the right thing. I see my son (also in Ktg) without an ounce of stranger awareness and it scares the daylights out of me. No matter how often we talk about strangers he still does not seem to have an ounce of concern. It is likely that what you said stuck with Sam and that is great! Can you come talk to my son now?

  65. Aubrey on March 14th, 2012 8:06 am

    I also think you did the right thing. If your gut says something, you’ve gotta go with it. Besides, like you said, teachable moment.

  66. Gina on March 14th, 2012 8:09 am

    I think you did the right thing – you are right – it was a teachable moment. And while I do think that it’s sad that as a society we have to be suspicious, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.

  67. SJ on March 14th, 2012 8:21 am

    I’m going to chime in along with the many others prior to me and agree that yes, you did the right thing. Always, always, always go with your gut, and even if it’s something innocent? It’s always better to be safe, than sorry.

  68. Anonymous on March 14th, 2012 8:40 am

    Nope, totally did the right thing. And I would bet if you were Sam’s mom, ie watching a non-familiar man approach your daughter and ask her age etc, you wouldn’t be questioning your reaction at all. Always go with your gut, mom gut is rarely off-course.

  69. Kate on March 14th, 2012 8:43 am

    I agree with all – it never hurts to say something but you didn’t go nuts over it causing panic for the drama of it all.

  70. Gretchen in HB on March 14th, 2012 8:50 am

    I’m glad you and Sam’s mother touched base! That would have been my first phone call I made after speaking with the Dean. After you give the kids the Stranger Danger talk, be sure to give them the Don’t Say Dirty Sanchez At School talk. ;-)

  71. Becky on March 14th, 2012 8:53 am

    Better safe than sorry. You absolutely did the right thing – and like you said, they became aware of a total lack of supervision on that side of the building. Double kudos to you.
    I know it may be sad that this is what our world has become – drills for school shootings, being paranoid about every stranger, etc. However, that IS what it has become, and we have to protect our kids. That means understanding that you don’t walk up to kids you don’t know and ask how old they are – unless you feel like they might be in danger. It means understanding that if you don’t report someone for doing that, they could make off with your kid the next day.
    I doubt we’ll ever get back to the safe, happy, run around town with your friends until it gets dark era.

  72. obabe on March 14th, 2012 9:16 am

    im be more concerned that there is an entrance that kindergartners can exit and there is no staff memeber watching them and that anyone can get into the school as well – in our school there is one main entrance that is unlocked at dismissal that everyone has to enter/exit from, and no other door is unlocked. in the mornings its unlocked as well and then ten minutes after the bell rings its locked and you have to be bussed in. additionally at dismissal the kindergartners are watched by ALL 6 teachers (from their 3 classes) because there are 300+students milling about as busses are dismissed one by one.

  73. Mary on March 14th, 2012 9:17 am

    I agree that you did exactly the right thing. If my kid were in Sam’s shoes, I would only hope that the parent in your shoes would do what you did.

  74. camille on March 14th, 2012 9:48 am

    Every parent should read “Protecting the Gift” (http://www.amazon.com/Protecting-Gift-Keeping-Children-Teenagers/dp/0440509009). Its written by the same guy who wrote “The Gift of Fear”, which was mentioned in another comment. Invaluable, but its core message is to always trust your instict/gut and that our concern about being polite/seeming paranoid results in us overlooking potentially dangerous situations/people.

  75. Amy on March 14th, 2012 10:46 am

    Ditto, ditto, ditto! Better safe than sorry when it comes to protecting our children!

  76. Rachel on March 14th, 2012 10:57 am

    I think you did just exactly the right thing.

  77. Lisa on March 14th, 2012 10:58 am

    Always trust your ‘mommy feeling’. If it struck you as weird, it probably was! I’d rather be embarrassed, than regretful.

  78. Deanna on March 14th, 2012 11:04 am

    Related funny story.
    My hi func autistic then 4th grade son was on a field trip (to see a famous building in a city an hour away) and my parents were enroute to visit us. My mom called and was like Hey, we are an hour away driving by the famous building. And I joked do you see my son? He’s there right now, wearing a grey class tshirt. And she saw him! It was too funny. So she circles the block and hands my tiny Philipino dad – who looks *nothing* like my son- the camera and says go get a picture of him.

    The ENTIRE 4th grade was milling around and there were tourists all over, too. My son greets my dad and then ALL FREAKING CHAOS erupts. Like 5 teachers and aids literally descend on them from all over the place. With more reaching for cell phones and closing ranks, counting kids, etc.

    My mom is in the car – and a teacher – so she realizes what is happening but is giggling (she cannot park and get out to explain). My dad is all what? Yeah, I’m his grandfather (remember they look NOTHING alike). My son says yes, this is my grandfather but the teachers are highly skeptical. My dad is all I just wanted a picture, would you take one of us? And it is starting to dawn on him what they must be thinking.

    I get a cell phone call from the teacher (we are pals and she has my number in her phone) asking me what my dad looks like and explaining what is happening. My dad is totally embarrassed and says goodbye and is royally pissed at my mom.

    I felt bad for the teachers and for my dad. I took him to the school the next day at pick up and I apologized to all the teachers. I also called the vice principal and told her about it and thanked the teachers and aids for noticing and acting – even in such a huge group at a famous landmark with loads of tourists.

    But my poor dad- how embarrassing.

  79. Brenna on March 14th, 2012 12:18 pm

    I think you acted perfectly appropriately. I am ALL FOR trusting your gut when it senses weirdness, and I think you did a bang up job of not overreacting. A quick “stranger danger” refresher is never a bad idea in my mind. I think the school is just doing their due diligence, making nothing gets overlooked.

    On a side note, I am appalled that there are no school employees helping kids get on the buses? Especially in an area where the public apparently has access? Seems to be asking for trouble.

  80. Christy on March 14th, 2012 12:19 pm

    Not overstepping at all, in my opinion. The thing is you just never know. I wouldn’t have called the school either, but making your presence known and moving on with the teachable moment, yes.

    And, me too with the phone phobia.

  81. katie on March 14th, 2012 12:20 pm

    I think you did what you would want some other mom to do in that situation. So, awesome. Plus you didn’t judge or make up rules that any mom would disagree with. And I’m glad she was nice when you talked to her.

  82. lumpyheadsmom on March 14th, 2012 12:40 pm

    He was your damn creepy cat, transformed into a human for just a little while, wasn’t he?

  83. Melissa on March 14th, 2012 12:59 pm

    You did precisely the right thing. And a very important point (forgive me if it’s been raised already, SO MANY COMMENTS!):

    We tend to assume that kids know what a stranger is, but they’ll think it’s someone who looks scary and creepy and gross. Someone who is dressed nicely and is walking into school and might be someone’s daddy or grandpa is still a stranger. The guy or gal in the UPS uniform is still a stranger. Etc. Etc.

    When my overly friendly eldest (why, SURE, she’ll come sit in your car and see your puppy!) was young and scaring the crap out of me with her trusting soul, I told her I don’t care if Jesus himself walks up and tries to talk to you — you get away and tell Mommy or Daddy and we will apologize to Him later.

  84. Karen on March 14th, 2012 1:24 pm

    Sounds like you did exactly the right thing, and if I was Sam’s mom I’d be forever grateful that you took advantage of the teachable moment. It’s a shame that we have to second guess ourselves, largely in the interest of wanting to appear kind, open-minded, not paranoid, etc. But then when you realize that your #1 job is to look out for those little people, you realize, screw appearances. You have to err on the side of caution. Glad to hear Sam’s mom put your mind at ease.

  85. gillian on March 14th, 2012 3:18 pm

    this is a great website with safety tips for parents and kids. i love the *very* clear and easy to understand language she uses and teaches.

    http://safelyeverafter.com/index.html

    PS: you did the right thing.

  86. Very Bloggy Beth on March 14th, 2012 3:38 pm

    You only did what I, and a lot of others I’m assuming, would also have done. It’s a fine line we walk these days: keeping kids safe from predators while not assuming every stranger is in fact a predator. It’s a tough call to make, but I think where our children are concerned, we can be a little overly cautious. Have you had a personal conversation with Sam’s mom about it? Maybe the situation also made Sam a little wary.

  87. shriek house on March 14th, 2012 4:13 pm

    I would have done the same thing. It’s maybe unfortunate, but not creepy that you wondered about the guy’s motives. Most adults today seem to get that asking a strange kid personal questions is considered inappropriate and that kids are taught to be wary. And I think talking to Sam was right – the school is a community and depends on its members to look out for each other. As a parent wouldn’t you want someone reminding Riley the same thing if you weren’t there to do it?

  88. Lydia on March 14th, 2012 8:27 pm

    You can never be too safe. You did the right thing.

  89. Victoria on March 14th, 2012 9:30 pm

    You went with your gut, nothing wrong with that.

  90. Jennifer on March 15th, 2012 6:33 am

    I think you did the right thing. If your creep antenna was up, there was probably a reason. And even if not, maybe it would be useful for the kids for another time.

  91. Lisa M. on March 15th, 2012 7:14 am

    I would have done the same thing; Sam’s parents should be happy that another parent was willing to look out for their little girl. They probably are grateful. :)

  92. RRM on March 15th, 2012 7:25 am

    A few months ago, my 2-year old and I were in the kids’ clothing department at Target. Out of nowhere an older (late-60’s) woman approached me and started asking me questions about my son. The interaction was very odd in that she didn’t smile (as one might when talking about a child), and every time I turned my back to her to see where my son was, she continued talking to me. Finally, I just grabbed my son and walked away. My “mom gut” was telling me she was trying to distract me–maybe so someone else could take my son. This interaction bothered me so much that I went back to Target the next day to tell the supervisor on duty about it. Even though the supervisor (who was about 12-years old) looked at me like I was crazy, I didn’t care. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I found out later that a child had been taken from Target. You did the right thing.

  93. Karen on March 15th, 2012 8:42 am

    Read a wonderful book some time ago (Protecting the Gift, by Gavin de Becker) which was very helpful to me as a parent of young ones — difficult to read about horrible things, but its basic premise was trusting your intuition coupled with practical advice on building that in your kids without scaring them… understanding warning signals and risks etc. Well worth it.

  94. KDA on March 15th, 2012 10:06 am

    So, should I not greet the children at my child’s day care? Do you think that bothers the parents? I never approach them or ask personal questions, but if see a child, I will greet them. Should I not? I guess I never thought about it before.

    With that said, trust your instincts although also remember that it’s not usually the stranger you need to worry about. I’m in the legal field and most of the child molestation cases I see are perpetrated by family members–usually father figures. I know, it’s sad.

  95. Carrie on March 15th, 2012 1:03 pm

    1) I think you did the right thing.

    2) I don’t think you should ever think yourself rude, hitting the panic button, or over-reacting when it comes to the safety of your own children or children who you know and care about.

    3) Why isn’t that side of the school staffed at bus time? That seems like a glaring miss-step for them, which as you point out, hopefully will be remedied following this.

    4) I also don’t think that we, as parents, should ever feel badly if our actions to protect our children cause a well-meaning stranger to feel uncomfortable. Bottom line – it’s creepy for a stranger to approach a child. Period. And if a well-meaning stranger is truly well-meaning, then they’ll probably get it sooner or later.

    5) And while, yes, the vast majority of molestation cases are perpetrated by people a child already knows, there are more than many cases of child abductions by complete strangers, so better to be safe than sorry, as it were.

  96. Tara on March 15th, 2012 1:56 pm

    Wow, lots of comments, and I will chime in with everyone else to say that you did the right thing. After all, even if the man HAD been someone’s grandpa or other relative, it does not necessarily follow that his intentions were innocent, and you never know. As a fellow parent, I’m glad you did what you did, and that the school is checking it out–though as a parent and as someone who works in risk management, I am horrified that they didn’t have a teacher or administrator at that entrance in the first place. That’s a massive fail in my book.

  97. lucidkim on March 15th, 2012 4:00 pm

    Odd to me they don’t have teachers on that side especially if that’s where the kids get on the bus. My girls have been to a couple different elementary schools – both had monitors for the kids getting on the bus – and for the kids who walked home or picked up there were teachers out there watching but very casual. At their current school no kids are allowed to walk home alone and the kids who get picked up by parents have to be walked one at a time to the parent’s car – a teacher opens the car door (which I hate when my car is a wreak with papers, etc.!). I think it’s overkill – but otoh having no supervision for kindergarteners is alarming. k

  98. Tina G on March 15th, 2012 5:14 pm

    Maybe the school needs to have a better dismissal pick/up procedure. The way you describe it- there’s no oversight and kids aren’t visually/verbally/on paper signed out by the correct adult at pick up. Our elementary school is pretty tight- teachers walk their classes to the buses,stopping at each of the 21 buses in line. Kids who are picked up are attended to and supervised in a central location (cafeteria K-2 or lobby 3-5) by aides whose sole purpose is to check kids off the master list of who is being picked up by whom (child also has a slip to give her) They make eye contact hand the kid off and you leave. They will ask for ID if they do not know you. (Small town, bug district) No kid just walks outside vulnerable to whomever is waiting there. You also cannot get your kid off the bus line without going to the office and signing them out. So although our system sounds very strict, it’s pretty darn safe. As far as the “non-stranger danger”- Non-custodial parents who are not allowed to pick up their kids by the court order or separation agreement will not be able to do so.

  99. Frannie on March 15th, 2012 6:51 pm

    Isn’t our society fearful/anxious or what? And to worry that we even piss off another parent for just watching out for our kids? My thoughts are to be aware and smart, but not scared and not live our life. That’s something I deal with as a person and a parent almost everyday. It’s smart now that there is staff at every entrance. That’s actually the most unsettling part of all this. The man might have just been trying to be friendly (is there a double standard to this?)although I definitely get the mom gut stuff. Do parents frequently enter there? Did they have a Visitor sticker? My husband tells me my mom gut is always on (I just had a baby so..). There’s protective, overprotective and being smart and logical. I’m glad it worked out for you, and that they upped the safety in your school. Good communication, and not being afraid of speaking up-between kids, parents and teachers, being involved. From my personal experience, that really works.

  100. Ali on March 17th, 2012 7:44 am

    Mom gut pretty much trumps any social faux pas you may potentially be committing. Given the world we live in: yes, it is odd that an older man detoured his route to the door specifically to stop and speak with kids he didn’t know.

    Recognizing odd behavior doesn’t make us excessively fearful; it makes us aware and keeps us alive. Instincts are powerful things, and yours told you that something was off. Sometimes we can’t even nail down WHY things feel off…they just do.

    How we handle the realization that something isn’t adding up is just as important as recognizing the gut instinct in the first place. You absolutely did the right thing. I second other readers, too–who was this guy? Did the dean ever find out? Is there a teacher at the door now? It’s not overly fearful to want to have all the information–it’s smart and safe.

  101. Val on March 17th, 2012 12:17 pm

    I think the situation was how it should have been handled. Sam was concerned enough to mention it to her parents and the school followed up on. You don’t know who the man was and neither did the kids. The man may have been just being nice, but it’s way weird to me. I will say hi to a stranger kid in passing, but never ask a question to them if an adult isn’t present. Now the school is on alert for a stranger male on the property.

  102. Veronique on March 18th, 2012 12:44 pm

    Here in Ontario, Canada, “we” are going through the murder trial of an 8-year-old girl who was picked-up while walking home from school (”come look at my puppy”) by an 18-year-old woman on behalf of her boyfriend. He raped and killed her. So can you be too careful?? I don’t think so.

  103. Kath on March 19th, 2012 10:29 am

    Veronique – I too was thinking about Victoria Stafford when I was reading this. When I heard that the murderess said she was “the first little girl I saw” my skin crawled.

    You cannot be too careful. Trust your gut.

  104. Jo on March 21st, 2012 4:58 pm

    You did the right thing & I’m glad the school is so ontop of it.

  105. Cheryl on April 7th, 2012 6:06 am

    You so did the right thing. Even here in the boonies, we get some creepazoids from time to time. When Connor was in pre-school, they had a walking field trip to the park down the street that I helped chaperone, and while we were there, some wierd old dude (most likely from “away”) started hanging around, watching the kids in a very stalkerish fashion. My radar went off immediately. I made sure he knew he was being watched, and he left after not too long.

  106. Patricia Smith on April 21st, 2012 11:49 am

    It is no safer to trust an individual you just met on the street. Watching the news on TV about stranger danger and predators made me scared, not just for my safety but for my children as well. I was so glad that last month, while reading an article on a blog, it mentioned that there was a service I could use to track my kids to be sure they were always in safe places. At the bottom it said I could follow the site anationofmoms and be entered for a drawing of 6 months free of the service. Not bad! http://anationofmoms.com/2011/08/protect-your-family-giveaway.html

  107. Colin Call on May 1st, 2012 6:26 pm

    You sound like a great mom, and my daughter Meagan Call is a great judge of character and a big fan of your blog. Sounds like you have good antennae as well, always trust your gut. And….Welcome to Eugene. It’s a great place to call home.

    Colin

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