My oldest is an extremely friendly kid.
She will be out in public and happily start discussing almost anything with anyone. She'll yell out from inside the cart to random people - asking them their name, telling them hers, telling them mine.
On Saturday, we were at WalMart (otherwise known as the holiday epicenter of hell) and she selected this sandwich lunch pack thing with a sandwich, cheese stick, apple, juice, and animal crackers. And she was sooooooooo proud of it. So proud that she felt the need to show EVERYONE that came within 5 feet of our cart.
We pass by a middle aged lady.
Rhi: "Hi! I'm Rhiannon. What's your name?"
Lady: looks at her like she's lost her mind, turns and walks quickly in the opposite direction
Rhi: "Wait! You didn't see my lunch!" holds up box and waves it.
Shane LOATHES this. I caught him lecturing her about it. "Stop showing people that! You're not supposed to talk to strangers!!!!"
I hate that shit.
I talked to strangers as a kid. I remember being just as friendly as Rhi. I remember not really being concerned with things like kidnapping or pedophiles or drug dealers. Somehow, I managed to get to a whopping 28 years old without being axe murdered and raped after I ran off with a stranger.
I know that sounds flippant, and, trust me, I don't mean for it to be. Yes, kids get kidnapped. Yes, they get molested. Yes, it's tragic. Yes, I, like every other parent, worry about it happening to my kids.
But I see a big difference in the boundaries I try to instill. Call me a bad parent, I don't stop my kids from talking to people. Especially since my kid is three, and I'm right there, parenting her. Is someone going to snatch her from my cart and run off while I'm right next to her because she said hi? I guarantee you they will be beaten, possibly to death, with some frozen chicken if they try. Rhi knows damn well not to go off with a stranger. But I refuse to stop her from being nice. I refuse to instill the suspicion that all people are bad and that she should trust no one. I'd love for her to be at least 5 before she's that jaded.
I also think about it this way. If, god forbid, my kid was lost, what are the chances that the nearest adult would be a pedo/kidnapper/murderer? Probably unlikely. So she'd probably be in more danger by wandering around alone, looking for me and refusing to get help from someone (who is likely completely benign.) I want her, if we're separated at WalMart or something, to TELL someone.
Also, stranger danger discounts the fact that most children are harmed by people they know. My kid is more likely to be abused by somebody that I know right now than by some random person. Statistically, she's most likely to be kidnapped by her dad than a stranger (not that I think he would ever do so.)
I think it's sad that people turn away from my perky, cheerful child in the store. And I'm sure that part of it is the concern that somehow I'll take offense to them being friendly to my child. But I won't discourage her from being a happy, amiable soul.