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

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
107 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pete
Pete
10 years ago

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

Elaine
10 years ago

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.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
10 years ago

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

Brooke
Brooke
10 years ago

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.

Denise V.
Denise V.
10 years ago

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.

Alli
10 years ago

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).

Christine
10 years ago

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.

Kdub
Kdub
10 years ago

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.

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

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.

Ashley
10 years ago

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

whoorl
10 years ago

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

g~
g~
10 years ago

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.

Serror
Serror
10 years ago

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.

Amber Lena
Amber Lena
10 years ago

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.

mlegreenberg
mlegreenberg
10 years ago

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.

aly
aly
10 years ago

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.

SK3
SK3
10 years ago

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.

Jen
Jen
10 years ago

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

heatherj
heatherj
10 years ago

You did the right thing. Absolutely.

melanie
melanie
10 years ago

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.

Melissa
Melissa
10 years ago

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.

Kylydia
10 years ago

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?

Jess
10 years ago

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.

Jess @ Dude and Sweets
10 years ago

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.

Kelly
Kelly
10 years ago

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.

Donna
Donna
10 years ago

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.

Kris
10 years ago

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?

MichelleH
MichelleH
10 years ago

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.

JennB
JennB
10 years ago

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.

ste
ste
10 years ago

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

Janet
Janet
10 years ago

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.

oregongurl
10 years ago

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.

cagey (Kelli Oliver George)

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.

Judy
Judy
10 years ago

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.

Käthe
10 years ago

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.

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

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.

Kristen
Kristen
10 years ago

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.

Katharine
10 years ago

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.

Caroline
Caroline
10 years ago

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.

Lori
Lori
10 years ago

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.

JudithNYC
JudithNYC
10 years ago

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?

Julie
Julie
10 years ago

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?

Meagan
10 years ago

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.

Erratic
10 years ago

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?

sooboo
10 years ago

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.

Omu
Omu
10 years ago

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.

Mico
Mico
10 years ago

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?

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

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.

Jo
Jo
10 years ago

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.)

1 2 3