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I've been trying to teach the kids about the dangers of speaking to strangers.

It's a tough topic, because on one hand, I want them to understand that there are bad people out there who don't have their best interest at heart.

But on the other hand, I don't want to scare them or make them think that every person who says "hi" is out to get them.

Of course, the whole Halloween thing this past week has been a huge contradiction to what I'm trying to teach them. Not only am I encouraging them to take candy from strangers, I'm actually sending them right up to their front doors!

Again and again and again, house after house, stranger after stranger.

Granted, trick or treating is slightly different. There are adults watching, and my children go out with their cousins.

Still, it seemed odd considering I have been drilling into their heads that this type of behavior is dangerous.

I started explaining to my children a few years ago that they should not speak to strangers, that they should run from any strangers who approach them offering snacks or asking for them to go with them somewhere. As usual, I found myself shortly afterward having to make exceptions to the rule.

We were in a grocery and my son was standing next to me when the man in line behind us said "hi." I said "hi" back.

My son looked up at me and said, for all to hear, "Mommy, isn't that man a STRANGER?"

I smiled and agreed, I did not know the man. "Why is he talking to you and why did you talk to the STRANGER?!?" he asked.

I'm sure we were making the nice stranger, er, man, feel like a criminal.

This parenting gig is full of contradictions. For every rule I make, I often follow up soon after with an amendment.

The stranger discussion seems to come back on me every now and then. When we were at the mall I explained to the children that if we get separated, they should find a security guard or policeman or a female store clerk and tell them they are lost.

But all those people are strangers, they said, and, "We're not supposed to talk to strangers."

My daughter seems to have grasped the "do not talk to strangers" idea better than my son. On occasion, I test them to see what they would do in a given situation. (They probably thought trick-or-treating was one big test; the penalty for failing is that I get all the candy.)

Recently, I asked my children what they would do if they were at the park and a nice looking man approached them and offered candy and asked them to go with him to help find his dog.

Without hesitation, my daughter said she would immediately find whoever she came to the park with and tell them what happened.

My son asked me what kind of candy the man would have.

Kym Byrnes writes from Finksburg. E-mail her at kymbyrnes@gmail.com.


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