Stranger Danger Wins Again

Yesterday Toronto got its collective knickers in a knot about the Doctor Who-ishly named #wanderingboy. The story is, at 8:30 am someone spotted a little blonde boy (“around 5”) alone and crying near Eglinton and Avenue. They reported the sighting to the police — two separate people called and reported the boy — and the police leapt into action, asking the media and citizenry to look out for this poor abandoned waif (who no-one had actually reported missing).

For the rest of the day there was a great deal of retweeting and clucking and concern – who is #wanderingboy, where is #wanderingboy, let’s all look out for #wanderingboy. The police canvassed local businesses for security video of the boy. Later in the day a report came out that the same boy (how could they tell?) had been seen with a man, 40-45, in a trench coat. At 8:30. So was he alone? Or not? I’m still not sure.

Later still, almost inevitably, it came to pass that the boy had been at school all day; he was never lost.

In the midst of it all I tweeted that I wasn’t sure if the #wanderingboy thing was sweet or creepy. I settled on creepy.

If you see a little kid crying on the street, for god’s sake stop and help the goddamn child. A crying child is not a matter for the police! A crying child is not like a crazy person or an unattended piece of luggage, not to be approached except by professionals. You can actually just go up to them and ask if they’re okay and if they need help finding their adult. (That’s what we’re called at school — “Do you see your adult?” “I see my adult!”)

I know, I know, stranger danger. You don’t want to approach the child because you think you’ll be accused of something, or you’ll scare the kid. You know what, fuck stranger danger. You know you’re not a creepy molester, I know you’re not a creepy molester, and the kid and the kid’s parents will in all likelihood figure out pretty quickly that you’re not a creepy molester. In fact, the odds of you being accused of being a creepy molester are probably only slighly larger than the odds that you are a creepy molester, which is really small. The sad fact is that stranger danger fear has made the world a more hostile place for run-of-the-mill miserable children who could use a hand, in the name of protecting children against the vanishingly small danger of being snatched by a stranger.

For more about how the overblown fear of everything is making life worse for kids, read Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy, and then check out the Free-Range Kids blog.