After reading this post by Ali Goldfield, I felt obliged to reply to her writing. She hit upon an idea that I suggest might make modern day parents a little uneasy, but that I love. The idea of talking to strangers. While she emphasized the role of safety, I see it as being necessary as simply being helpful in raising capable, communicative, and independent adults.
I work with college students. That means I also work with college students' parents. I just commented to my own mother last month simply this: "Thank you for teaching us to talk to strangers."
She always taught us to talk to the waiter. To make conversation upon a new meeting. To learn about a person's story, despite that person's role in our lives (crossing guard, neighbor, teacher, priest). To help someone who appears sto need help. When she needed something at a store, she would encourage us, even at the age of 5 or 6, to ask the store clerk. And she taught us to smile, shake hands, use "Mr." or "Ms.", and say "please" or "thank you."
Working with college students, and with a history of working with high schoolers, I'm increasingly disappointed and worried at how few are able to talk with strangers.
One student just told me she might need a room change because her shy roommate isn't the friend she was looking for. A week into school, I asked her what her roommate is majoring in, and she said she didn't know.
Each year, we have most disagreements arise amongst students simply because they don't want to talk to one another. Parents call offices in their stead. They complete their forms for them, they answer questions on their behalf, and they "protect" their child (at ages 18-23) of never encountering an uncomfortable situation. Heaven forbid their adult child needs to learn to walk to an office, make an appointment, and inquire about a policy, a fine, a rule, a decision, a question, an answer, etc.
I went on a trip to the Yellowstone, where people are commonly standing side-by-side getting a glimpse of wildlife. I was shocked how often my very kind counterparts would be surprised at the fact that I'd offer to take another group's photo for them, ask where someone was from, or ask what they were using a telescopic lens to view.
I'm told that I'm quite friendly (maybe reference the other article about birth order, as I am the youngest?), but really, this was a taught skill. All of my siblings have this characteristic, and our significant others love to point it out as a common trait. And while it may make others blush or frazzled to see us talking to a stranger, it is this skill that I've used to befriend best friends, connect some who are disenfranchised, and more simply, found much more quickly what I'm looking for in a store.
The article mentioned the notion of safety. Yes, let children know what is safe information to share with anyone. Teach them to hone a gut intuition about people. Teach them to have manners with encounters with any person. But please, teach them to communicate, regardless if the person if familiar or new.