Imagine a really busy day at your favorite café. There’s a long line of people flowing out the door. The crowd’s chatter creates a deafening roar, the kind of noise that gives those in the café the illusion of privacy.
Above the roar I hear it. Where’s it coming from? Does everyone hear it, or am I the only one?
Then I see him, an older male talking loudly at a table beside the open door.
My gaze moves from the man to a table on the other side of the open door. Two boys are laughing, seemingly delighted with the grown-up activity of eating alone.
Then I hear the man’s voice again. Why is he shouting above the roar of the crowd and asking the boys to solve addition problems? I decide the older man must be the one who brought the boys to lunch since this game of math is being played so effortlessly between them.
I retract my gaze and order my lunch. As I’m waiting, I feel compelled to observe the situation again.
The man asks them what grade they’re in?
“3rd grade!” the chatty one proudly says. The other boy has gone silent.
The man relentlessly continues throwing question after question at the boys.
Who do you want to marry when you grow up?
What’s your favorite subject in school?
Who is your teacher?
Do you like astronomy?
What’s your favorite planet?
My name is being called to pick up my sandwich. Then, like a thunderbolt, it hits me! Those boys are being groomed. That man may be a predator!
I don’t want to believe it. I begin looking around for any reason why this man, who appears to be a stranger, is asking so many weird “get to know you” type questions. My mind wants to believe he’s just having fun. But my body has warning bells going off.
I move very quickly to the table where the boys are and ask, “Where are your parents?” The chatty boy loudly says what his dad’s name is, not where he is. The other boy remains silent; he won’t answer my question.
I look around hoping to see a parent getting up to tell me to mind my own business. I see no one.
As I shift my gaze from the crowd back to the boys I lock eyes with the older man. I purposefully linger in the gaze sending him the strong message, I know what you’re doing! You will not succeed here!
I promptly walk to the counter and say as loudly as I can, “Miss, I’m concerned about those two boys. They don’t seem to be with any adult. There’s a man over there, the one sitting by the door, asking them questions he shouldn’t be asking! Do you see them? Do you see the man? Please look after them and call the police if they leave with anyone other than a parent!”
I leave and go to my car. My husband looks at me and says:
“You need to go back in, don’t you?”
When I return the man is gone! The boys are still eating and laughing. The waitress says, “I know his Dad, he’s on the way.”
Parents, I believe the older man was a potential predator. Am I sure? There was no way of knowing. Did I think he was a predator because he was a man? No, it could have just as easily been a woman. The questions he asked were what led me to my conclusion. Did I prevent him from harming those boys? I don’t know. I did what I could without falsely accusing someone of something that hadn’t happened yet.
I’m not writing this so we can have a debate about how to deal with predators or situations like this. I wrote this so you’d understand you can no longer just “say don’t talk to strangers” and leave it at that. Potential predators “groom” kids so they are not seen as strangers!
Please don’t scare your kids, but do talk to them. Make sure kids know what bad strangers ask so a predator can say, “Hey remember me, we had fun doing those math problems at the café didn’t we!”
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the monthly Online Skills Class. This local, national and international anytime e-class provides parents with solutions for reacting, correcting behavior, outbursts and more, to create the parenting instruction manual you always wished came with your child! Click here to receive 2 FREE tips from Sharon’s book. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.