This morning I went to a park near my parents' house to run. When I came back the kids were bursting to tell me what had happened. "Mom! Mom!" they said. "Someone called the police on Stella!"
My mother told Stella that she should go play outside. She took a walk around half of the block: up the alley and back down the street. My parents live in a quiet subdivision in the Nashville exurbs. Kids play unsupervised in their alley all the time.
This morning, however, someone saw Stella walking along the street back to my parents' house and -- without talking to her -- called the police to report a lost child. She had gone back inside when my father came looking for my mother. Three squad cars had pulled up in front of their house, and uniformed officers were telling him they needed to speak to Stella. They were nice enough, my parents said, but Stella was a little teary when she told me about it. She was afraid she had done something wrong.
I almost can't type for facepalming here. Wait, I need fingers on my elbows. People of America, put away your damn phones. Roll down your windows and open your mouths. You could say, "Hi, are you okay?" You could say, "Hi, is your mom around? or another grownup?" You could say, "Hi, do you need any help?" You could take SIXTY SECONDS and observe the actual child you are pretending to help. Is she crying and looking perplexed, or is she walking cheerfully and confidently toward her destination? If the latter, then for heaven's sake don't go screwing that up.
Calling the authorities is not a neutral decision. (Just ask the Darwins about that.) These two responses -- striking up a conversation vs. calling 911 -- are not equivalent.