Here's how it usually happens: My wife, Ash, and I will be in line to check out at a store with our son, Harper, 4, and daughter, Emerald, 1. We'll notice the fixed gaze of the nearby stranger focus in on our children.
“Well, aren't you cute?” they ask, rhetorically.
The hair on the back of our necks immediately goes up. This stranger doesn't know it, but they just made the top of our watch list.
Then, without fail, they'll reach out. But, we've already been tracking them, so we'll move the cart or sling away from them. You would think this nonverbal cue would deter most people, but these adults without a fixed sense of boundaries have already decided on their course of action.
They are going to try to touch our children.
Sure, it might start out as a high-five or a fist-bump. But, it never ends there. Or, at least, it wouldn't without more forceful intervention.
At this point, either Ash or I will literally have to put ourselves between them, and verbally inform this bold stranger not to continue their attempts to physically interact with our children.
Once, my wife had to actually, out loud, tell a woman behind us in line, “You can't just touch people,” after a woman behind her insisted on grabbing one of their hands.
“But, they're cute!”
As if that was an acceptable answer! Do you go around touching adults you think are cute, too? I didn't think so!
Here's a tip, strangers: Don't touch children you see in public places. It's really that simple.
First, we have no idea how clean you are. You're probably covered in germs, and our young children are the last people who need to be getting sick.
Second, we have no idea what's going on between your ears. Are you a pedophile? Probably not, but how do we know that?
Even if you're nothing but proper hygiene and good intentions, there's still absolutely no reason to go pawing at human beings you aren't acquainted with. It's not all about you.
We're trying to teach our children that their bodies are their own. We don't even force them to hug or kiss people they do know, so why would we just say, “Sure, go crazy,” when some random person gets into their body bubble.
This is how you teach consent, and avoid grooming behavior used by predators later in life.
Children don't "owe" anyone a hug or affectionate squeeze from strangers. As the Girl Scouts of the USA. explain, teaching your child he or she "owes someone a hug [...because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift...] can set the stage for her questioning whether she 'owes' another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life.”
“Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection.”
Just because they are children doesn't mean they don't have agency over themselves.