It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. You’re sitting in your living room, waiting for your child to come home. They’re 5 minutes late. Then 15. Then the panic sets in.

As parents, we wanted to do everything we could to protect our kids from our own imagined fears. If we could have surrounded them in bubble-wrap and assigned them bodyguards, we would have. But, since our kids would never let us get away with that, we did the next best thing. We nagged, bribed, threatened and cajoled them. We told them, in a hundred different ways, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Then, we hoped for the best.

Telling our kids to be cautious is a good idea. The problem comes when we carry our childhood habits into adulthood.

“Don’t Talk to Strangers” is Horrible Advice for Adults

Do you ever feel like you are surrounded by people, but, still feel alone? Part of the reason could be that you have forgotten how to talk to strangers.

Take public transportation, for example. How often do you talk to your fellow passengers on the bus? If someone looks at you and smiles, do you recoil instinctively and shift your body away from them? Or, do you smile back and perhaps say “Good morning?”

Well, according to a report that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the way that you react to strangers in public could have a big impact on your happiness.

In the study, scientists looked at how commuters interact with each other. They asked some commuters to reach out and connect with someone, some commuters to stick to themselves and the rest to behave normally.

They found that the commuters who were asked to reach out to someone and start a conversation rated their experience more positively than people in the other groups.

People were not built for solitude. Our ancestors lived in small communities, where everyone knew the other members of the group. Can the world be a dangerous place? Yes, but, most of the time our fears are much worse than the reality.

We’re not 5-year-olds any more. We can take care of ourselves. Maybe it’s time to thank our parents for their thoughtful advice, but, respectfully decline to follow it. Maybe it’s time to remember how to talk to strangers.

Do you talk to strangers? What is the most interesting experience that you have had by reaching out to someone on a bus, train or plane? Please join the conversation.

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Here is a short video that I recorded about making friends as an adult.

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