You teach your kids to respect adults, right? And to have good manners, to sit quietly and behave, and to answer the questions that they are asked. Most of the time, it is important for your kids to have respect for grownups. But there are times, I believe, when there are exceptions to this rule and kids should be allowed to be rude.
But I should be careful about saying what “rude” really is. I don’t mean talking back, nor giving an attitude, or being spiteful. That type of behavior is typically reserved for teenagers talking to their parents and is stored up over the pre-teen & tween years so that it bursts out like a breaking damn…I mean dam.
I’m talking about kids that are pre-teen or perhaps very early teens here, and what they can be allowed to do when a stranger makes them feel uncomfortable or odd. I can’t talk to boys here as I only have daughters, three of them, all 12 and under.
We have all been taught and teach the concept of “stranger danger“. We teach our children, if someone you don’t know is talking to you and asking you odd questions, you need to know how to react. There are many websites and courses that teach you want to do. My oldest daughter took a self-defense class that taught her how to go for the eyes, the neck or the toes/feet or shins since many abductors know to protect their groin. The class taught her how to yell and what to yell (and this is something that we taught our children as well – stay away from yelling “Help” as people, for some reason, don’t seem to react to that word – use a different word like “Stop,” “No” or better yet, “Fire”).
There are plenty of tips on how to teach kids about “stranger danger”. Here are a few that you can re-enforce (from SafeChild.org):
- Don’t talk to strangers
- Don’t take anything from strangers (e.g., candy, gifts or even your own property)
- Don’t go anywhere with someone you don’t know
- Keep an arms length away from strangers
The Polly Klaas website has some good additional tips and facts/fiction points:
- Many molesters know this and purposely dress nicely so they can more easily lure children.
- Children can become confused when given rules like “don’t talk to strangers” while their parents say “hi” to people on the street and chat with the grocery clerk.
- If a child is lost or has no trusted adult nearby, everyone is a stranger to that child. How is your child going to find help without talking to strangers?
- The great majority of people who abduct or molest children are not strangers, they already know the children they harm.
The last point here is the important one and the one that I’m trying to make. If a “stranger” is actually someone who has been invited to your home or your kids have met them at another “safe place” like a friend or grandparents’ home, their defenses may not be up and their trust level may be high.
In our family, we go by our gut feeling. If there is someone or a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, we teach out kids that it is ok to go with that feeling and react appropriately. If there is a family member or friend of the family or acquaintance who makes them feel “creepy’ or “weird”, we have told our kids that they have permission to simply be rude and walk away.
We have taught our kids that you DON’T have to answer questions you don’t want to, and that it is ok to have short, curt answers like: “No” or “I don’t know”. And we have taught our daughters to watch out for each other. Luckily they can do that and actually have come to rely on each other for support. It builds closeness, inter-dependence and self-esteem.
So as the holidays continue on, remember to tell your children that it is ok to be rude, even to those people that they may have seen before or know. If they offend an adult, that is ok, in my opinion. Sure it may be a reflection on you, but you need to consider the flip side of the equation, what if the “rude” actions actually prevented something from happening. Child abductors or molesters look for the easy route (as do burglars – if presented with a house that has an alarm system sign versus one that doesn’t, they will choose the one that doesn’t). If a “dangerous stranger” gets resistance or minimal information about a possible victim, they may choose an easier route.
In my mind, I would rather my kids be overly cautious and “rude” if it will allow them to live safer lives, than be the children with the best manners at the party. Let’s hear it for a bit of appropriate rudeness!