On free-range parenting sites (or, as we used to call it, just plain ol’ parenting), you hear a lot about teaching kids to listen to their guts, rather than across-the-board stranger danger.

Because after all, you teach kids to be scared of every stranger, then tell them to be more sociable at a party full of strangers–How is that going to work?

And what about when they need help from the actual predator, and need to speak to a policeman (stranger) or an adult (stranger) walking along the street?

(This has happened to me: A couple of girls came up to me one day as I walked home from work.  They said a man was following them home from school and they needed my protection, so I walked with them until they were safe.)

Instead, the free-rangers say, you teach your child basic safety rules (because you’re not stupid), but also how to listen to his or her gut.  Across-the-board stranger danger just feeds into shyness and anxiety, and keeps a child from getting help when they need it.

From Free Range Kids:

Freely translated from Dutch, the spokesperson of Child Focus says:

“If you teach your children not to talk to strangers, you create a fearful child. They will think that the world is generally a dangerous place with few safe havens.

A child must above all develop self-confidence and inner strength, and it does not happen by repeatedly hearing how dangerous strangers are.

Besides, there are many examples showing that “strange people” do good deeds to children. Just think of those who bring lost children back to their mom and dad on the beach or in a busy shopping center.”

For more on what Free Range Kids writes about stranger danger, see here.

I can see that.  If I didn’t let that old man help me find my way home one day in Kindergarten, I could’ve been hopelessly lost.

Or the time when I really was lost in the city at night, having slipped out while my brother was watching me.  Two people in a car found me and brought me home.  These were neighbors sent by my mother, but I didn’t know them.  If I didn’t trust them, I could’ve fallen prey to somebody far worse.

These were two times when listening to my gut, saved my life.  Safety rules are well and good, but we need more than just rules to keep us safe.

I just read an article about teaching your kids about sexual predators grooming them by gaining their trust.  I can see that, and I have spoken to my son about predators.

But at the same time, the article seemed to heighten anxiety about ANYONE who wants to hug your child.  Is my child supposed to be scared now if a harmless youth leader gains his trust?

Sure predators act kind and caring and gain trust, but so do perfectly innocent people who truly care.  I’ve had plenty of teachers and youth leaders who cared about me, who gained my trust, and became trusted mentors.  They NEVER harmed me.

There has to be a balance.  Our kids need to be able to tell the difference between a predator and an innocent person.  Along with telling them basic safety rules, and to not be scared of telling on a violator, we need to encourage them to listen to their guts.

But we also need this as adults.  As adults, we seem to go the opposite direction: telling ourselves not to be judgmental, so we don’t listen to our guts.

It also reminded me of Richard, when he stayed in my house by himself while homeless: I was never much of a hugger or into physical touch with most people, though I would give hugs when asked for.  But Richard began breaking down my reserve with little touches here and there, until finally he was giving me long, affectionate hugs.

Meanwhile, he also gained my trust, overwhelmed me with attention, made me feel I had finally found a best friend for life.  I was shy, quiet, and desperately lonely for friendship, because I was far from family and college friends, and have NVLD.  I was easily led.  He gained my husband’s trust, too.

If I hadn’t finally confronted him about it one evening, I wonder how far he would’ve taken this.  But he assured me that it was all meant purely in friendship, nothing more, and made me believe that people do this where he came from.

But if that’s true, then why did his wife, Tracy, become so furious when she found out about it?  She came from the same place he did!

Meanwhile, I know another guy who does the same thing, but in full view of his wife, who laughs.  Richard did this when he and I were all alone.

The more I thought about it over the past five years, the more it seemed that Richard was grooming me in the same fashion as a predator.  The same as the person who runs this website, who writes that her former pastor tried to groom her into adultery.  You’ll also note that Richard weaseled his way into my pocketbook as well, yet his financial situation never seemed to improve the entire time I knew him.

I can give another example of NOT listening to my gut, and the trouble it caused: Richard’s wife Tracy, who is very abusive and most likely has borderline and/or narcissistic personality disorder.  (I’m told that her mother has borderline and split-personality disorders.)

I got little hints before I met her–just knowing her from a web forum–that she was not the kind of person I should spend much time around.  She was very volatile and would go off on people on the forum.  Then she moved into my house, and I got to see firsthand what kind of person she is: Screaming tirades at people online, her ex, her kids, her husband….

My gut was SCREAMING at me that I should not be friends with her.  Yet she and Richard both tried to force me–through shaming, punishment, withholding, all sorts of things–to be not just friendly, but best buds with her.

Well, it all ended in tears, after years of her emotional abuse and mean-girl snarks, and then finally all-out verbal abuse and even stalking.  It has taken me years to recover from this trauma.

But then I can tell you another time when I DID listen to my gut, and things turned out well: As I told my son, when I was a little girl, a middle-aged man at my church kept wanting to hug me.

I didn’t even know him, which is probably why I felt weird about this, did not like him, did not want to be near him.  Eventually, he and his wife stopped going to my church.

To this day I don’t know if he really was a predator.  But you know why that is?  Because I listened to my gut and didn’t get too close.  So he never had a chance to DO anything.

But I also hugged and cuddled with Richard’s little girls all the time.  But then, they knew me.

Also, just last night I read about an archbishop who often visited little children at an African mission school; he’d open his arms and they’d rush for his hugs.  The writer saw this as an example of his huge heart.

So just wanting to hug a child, doesn’t make you a predator.  But I had a feeling about that guy at church.

I knew that neighbor was harmless.  I knew that old man was harmless.  I did not know if that guy at church was harmless.

I knew Tracy was harmful, but was forced to ignore my gut, so horrible things happened.

The gut is our friend, whether dealing with sexual predators or domestic abusers or con men or whatever the case may be.  It tells us things even when we try to rationalize them away.

People can argue over stranger danger and safety rules, or whether we should be suspicious of everyone who hugs children and gains their trust, but one thing is for sure:

We need to respect the gut.