DEAR MISS MANNERS: My lovely young teenage daughter enjoys taking our two friendly dogs for rambles in our large city, but she keeps encountering the same problem. Many people stop to admire and pet the dogs -- some of them grown men who use the opportunity to ask her personal questions she's uncomfortable answering (how old are you, what's your name, where do you go to school, etc.).
When she was younger, I told her to tell people who made her uncomfortable, "My mother told me not to talk to strangers" because anyone who refuses to honor that reveals himself as someone she ought not be talking to. But she feels she's too old to say that.
I'm not afraid for her safety -- our older dog is a true gentleman, but any indication of distress on the part of my daughter would change his demeanor completely -- but I want to provide her with the right thing to say that feels polite to people who are just making conversation but also gives her a way to deflect people, or questions, that give her a bad feeling. And I do think she should trust her feelings in those instances -- that's important.
GENTLE READER: Indeed. But as you already taught her the perfect thing to say, you need only teach her a new way to say it.
When a small child solemnly invokes a parental rule, she is not considered rude because she is reciting an important lesson. Miss Manners agrees that your daughter is too old to say it -- if she says it solemnly.
But if she says it with an apologetic twinkle, it will seem charming.