Talk to Strangers: Teach Children Confidence, Not Fear

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Teaching children to be afraid is counterproductive when the fear is irrational, according to Lee Grotte, M.D. He cites the example of bad advice that everyone has heard so much that they believe it is the truth: “Don’t talk to strangers”. In reality, strangers are much more likely to be helpful than dangerous. In this installment of his series on our “Culture of Fear”, Grotte says we should start talking to strangers ourselves, and then we can teach our children not to be afraid.

L.B. Grotte, M.D., believes that irrational levels of fear are creating real problems of trust and confidence in our society, and creating emotional cripples out of our children. He recommends that both adults and their children learn to talk to strangers as a first step to overcoming the alienation which he thinks characterizes life in the United States.

“Second only to pain, fear is the most common ‘disorder’ that I see in my office,” says Grotte, who practices general medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. “Both physical and psychological disorders are increasing as our society becomes a culture obsessed with fear. Fear is also easily transformed into anger, which is also harmful to health. There is also a close relationship between chronic fearfulness and depression.”

Grotte treats many of the manifestations of excessive fear in his daily practice: anxiety, palpitations, sleep disorders, and irrational worry all take a toll on emotional and physical wellbeing. Parents who are afraid create fearfulness in their children, according to Grotte, and he believes that children who are frightened at a young age will have a harder time developing trusting relationships. “These children will be deficient in recognizing real danger, as they have been prevented from having normal social interactions by their frightened parents.”

“Most of these parents were actually able to grow up in times when they could play in the woods, ride their bicycles around town, and walk to the store. Somehow they survived without constant supervision. Yet, as a result of a steady diet of fearful messages from the media, from the medical establishment, and from the government, even these parents have become neurotic to the point of developing actual mental and physical symptoms, and they have infected their children with this same nonsense.”

He cites the example of a recent situation in Utah where a boy lost in the Uinta Mountains of Utah hid from search-and-rescue volunteers. “Not only is this an example of ignorant behavior created by a culture of fear, the rescuers were exposed to extra danger and expense because this child had been so frightened by his parents that he couldn’t recognize the real danger of being lost."

Grotte asserts that talking to strangers is not a dangerous activity: “When strangers commit violence against children, talking has nothing to do with it. In these situations, children are not talked into trouble, they are physically overpowered.”

According to 2005 Department of Justice statistics, less than 5% of the violence suffered by children under thirteen is caused by strangers. In fact, almost all children injured by adults are hurt by adults they know well and who they have been taught to trust and respect. It must also be pointed out that most abused children are injured by a family member.

“By sending the message that strangers are dangerous to children, we are also sending the message that they can always trust the people they know, and this message is wrong. We need to teach children how to recognize real dangers and stop scaring them. People who are 'strangers' grow and transport our food, operate our utilities, build our houses, and teach us much of what we learn in life."

"Without the help of strangers every day of our lives, we would not even be able to survive. When we begin to interact with other people in a more realistic fashion and start rejecting irrational fears, we will become a stronger, healthier, and more secure society.”

See also:

Talk to Strangers! Doctor Challenges Common Myth
Doctors Study Magic to Transform Fear into Confidence


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Lee Grotte, M.D.

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