DEAR ABBY: I have been happily married to "Roger" for 20 years and have two kids still at home. They are pretty independent now, but my husband was very involved in coaching and volunteering when they were younger.
Sometimes when Roger and I take walks, we run into children playing in a yard or biking up and down the block. If they initiate conversation, I'll smile at them and respond with a quick "hi" or "nice bike" and keep walking, but my husband will stop to chat or listen to what they say. I have told him not to do that regardless of whether they seem willing. My fear is that an overprotective mom (like many of us moms) glancing out the window and seeing a middle-aged stranger talking to their child may assume the worst.
I know Roger loves kids, and we both sometimes miss the younger years when kids could be more open and talk with adults, but times have changed. This used to happen more often when we'd go swimming with our kids and other kids who were bored and not closely supervised would be looking for other people playing together to join. I used to worry then that if I wasn't there it could be misconstrued, although my fears never came to pass.
Do you agree that adults (and especially male adults) have to be overly cautious about engaging in any communication with an unaccompanied child? -- CHANGING TIMES IN THE MIDWEST
DEAR CHANGING TIMES: I think (regrettably) that the answer to your question is yes. Because fears of molestation are so prevalent now, males do have to be more circumspect with minor children than they did years ago. Frankly, that's a shame, because kids gain so much confidence by knowing an adult is interested in what they have to say. Consider staying with your husband during these friendly instances as a "buffer."