School Sends 5 Year Old Home With a 'Stranger'

Jeanne Sager

walking home from schoolSo picture this. Your 5-year-old child has just been signed out of school by a total stranger. You're hyperventilating right now, right? Hold on there partner, it's about to get worse. That stranger is 8 years old. And the school says your kid didn't think that 8-year-old was a stranger at all.

OK, I don't know about you, but I'd be having a supersized fit with a double order of "OMFG, I'm gonna scream" on the side. But Mary Allen, a mom who has actually had this happen to her with her little boy, Maurice, in a New Jersey school district, actually made me laugh. When the school told her the kids knew each other, her response was:

I said, "Maurice knows the guy from McDonald's! He calls him his brother! He's five!"

Yup. Sounds like a 5-year-old! You can teach them all about stranger danger, but they still don't know the difference between acquaintance and friend.

My child knows a lot of people. The nice lady who gives her pretzel sticks at the post office. The guy at the movie theater who chats me up while he sells me our tickets because we used to work together. The guy who makes the "best grilled cheese ever" at our favorite deli.

All very nice people. But if they picked her up from school, I would be ... weirded out? To say the least?

The fact is, there are very nice people who we meet every day. But that doesn't make them "spend time with my kid material." Some just have no experience with kids. Some have no sense of what it takes to hang out with our particular kids. And some are just ... a wee bit odd for whatever reason or another. They're the type you invite to the summer barbecue, but you keep an eye on just in case.

In Mary Allen's son's case, there were plenty of red flags. The person signing her out wasn't on Mary's approved list (most schools have one these days), and she was, um, 8 years old! But I could see a school secretary, completely frazzled, who sees a little kid clinging to Auntie So and So saying, "OK, yeah, just let it pass." But I'm going to say something that may make a lot of parents cringe: you just can't trust little kids. They think everyone is their friend.

In fact, I have a recurring nightmare that my 5-year-old goes to college (don't ask) and is paired up with a horror of a roommate. We're talking Single White Female type. But my 5-year-old just goes along, hunky dory, thinking the roommate is her best friend. Because my 5-year-old is still young enough to see the good in people. A girl told her, "I'll be your best friend if you give me your Silly Bandz" a few months ago, and she came home on top of the world that she'd made a new best friend. I almost didn't have the heart to break the truth.

I still think the school was dead wrong here, and I feel for Mary Allen. But schools need to listen to what she's saying -- everyone your 5-year-old meets is a potential friend. It's a blessing -- what a friendly kid! -- and a curse.

Do your kids tend to claim "semi-strangers" as friends?


Image via Elizabeth/Table4Five/Flickr

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