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20 June 2013

Socializing Kids to Be Asocial

When I was a kid, I grew up being constantly bombarded by my parents and teachers with messages about scary strangers. We were shown movies, given lectures, and generally overwhelmed with the message. Here is a clip--just the first that showed up in my YouTube search--that represents my experience well:

According to this video, kids are supposed to fear everyone and trust no one. By watching videos like the one above and listening to teachers and other persons of authority talk, I learned very well that every adult whom I passed on the street was potentially a person who wished to do me grave harm. The "Don't Talk to Strangers" and "Stranger Danger" campaigns and their ilk have led to a series of cohorts who are predisposed to avoid contact with their neighbors and to hold others in a general sense of distrust and contempt. We shouldn't be surprised when this general sense of paranoia is carried over from childhood to adulthood. It would be one thing if all of this actually protected kids and dealt with a larger social problem, but the fears are simply disproportionate to the actual risks. Instead, socializing distrust leads to social dysfunction. An efficient and effective society requires trust, solidarity, and cohesion, even (or perhaps especially) when it is unwarranted. Without irrational trust, nothing social works.


  1. I wonder if these sorts of messages (along with gender roles, of course) are also responsible for the belief that any grown man who willingly spends time with children must be a pedophile. In my Childhood and Adolescence class in the fall every one of my students (all females) thought that it would be extremely strange for a man to want to babysit, work in a daycare, or work as an elementary school teacher, and that any men who wanted to do so must be pedophiles.

  2. You make an excellent point, Brent. Even short of occupational choices, I think that most adult men are highly aware that they need to be cautious with their otherwise-appropriate behavior around children, even those to whom they are related.