Long before Leiby Kletzky was gruesomely murdered in Brooklyn after the lost 8-year-old asked a man he didn't know for help earlier this month, I made sure my three kids knew my cell phone number my heart. Even the 4-year-old can rattle off the digits, but Leiby's death changed everything I thought I knew about stranger danger.
We teach our children not to talk to strangers, but — as in Leiby's case —sometimes they have to. After all, if they're lost, how are my kids ever going to be found unless they first approach a stranger to lend them a cell phone so they can call me?
Perhaps, I realized — even as I wincingly told my kids that a boy my oldest child's age had been killed by a stranger — that “don't talk to strangers” truism needs to be revised.
I didn't tell my kids about Leiby's fate to scare them. I used it as an excuse to talk to them about strangers and how to interact with them. Because it's inevitable that they'll have to. My children don't have their own phones, so if they were ever lost, they'd have to ask a stranger for help. Look for someone in uniform is a tough concept for a 4-year-old to grasp; to her, a uniform could be a princess outfit. In fact, when recently discussing a fire escape plan for our family, I explained to her that although generally she shouldn't leap into the arms of muscular men she doesn't know, if one comes stomping through her house in the event of a fire, she shouldn't run and hide. It was all very confusing.