I have a problem. I read a supposedly “helpful” advice column yesterday about public bathrooms and whether children are safe from pedophiles if their mom is waiting right outside the door. The piece said no! No way! As a matter of fact, it added, slightly off tangent, “Children have been violated in a matter of seconds in the play areas of fast food restaurants with the parents RIGHT THERE!”
Now when I think about McDonald’s “ball room” it has a whole new meaning. Ick.
Signed: Newly Scared of Fast Food Playspaces That Seem Too Small For Most Grown Men to Squeeze Into, But What Do I Know in New York
Dear Newly Scared:
Oh! That was actually MY advice column you read. I’m flattered! It had a lot of tips like that. Tips based on nothing more than base fearmongering passed off as gospel. It’s a living!
In case you missed them, here are the biggest doozies I ran yesterday with nary a hint that bathrooms are, in reality, very safe places for boys to go pee. No, I made sure never to question the basic premise of my tip-givers – regular ol’ readers — that predators are lurking in pretty much every stall. What can I say? They hear scary stuff, they pass it to me, I pass it along, they hear it again. Vicious circle, but boy does it sell! Read on! — these are the wackiest reader tips that appeared yesterday:
* I have a 7-year-old son and I do not allow him to go unsupervised into a men’s room. Anyone could be behind that door and anything could happen in less than a minute’s time. We must protect our children even if it means that sometimes they have to suffer embarrassment.
A friend with two sons offered an interesting alternative. She would allow her sons to use the men’s room if they talked to her while she stood outside the door. If they stopped talking, they knew it meant she was coming in. — DONNA IN TYNER, N.C.
*When my son was 7 or 8, he, too, was embarrassed about going into the restroom with me. I gave him a whistle with instructions to blow it if anyone bothered him while I waited outside the men’s room. The whistle also came with additional instructions: “Never blow it as a joke just to see if I’ll come running, because if you do, you are in DEEP trouble!” — LORI IN TEANECK, N.J.
*Lisa should invest in a pair of two-way radios. This way, her son goes into the restroom with an additional layer of protection. She should also inform him to always use the stall so he can lock the door. — MARK IN GATOR COUNTRY
Millions of people must be thanking you for these! But I hope you don’t mind that I called Dr. Amy Baxter, a pediatrician who did a fellowship in child sexual abuse. Now she runs a sex abuse clinic once a week down in Atlanta. I wanted to confirm just how common the crime of bathroom pedophilia is.
Dr. Baxter said that she has seen about 500 children who’ve been sexually abused. Terrible!
“How many of them were abused in a public bathroom?” I asked.
She then contacted two friends in the same field. One had seen an instance of this, which is horrible. Another – a biggie in the field — had seen none.
My point is not to say there is NO danger in public bathrooms. NO place is ever 100% safe. My point is that there is no reason to make public bathrooms seem any less safe than anyplace else. Especially since 96% of child abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows (according to Dr. Baxter), not a stranger. So why whip up the fear of stranger danger any more than it is already whipped?
I think it is good advice to tell parents to teach their kids to stand up for themselves. But it is bad advice to make parents think the world is so chock-full of predators that even when we stand a few feet away from our children, they are still in mortal peril. Your job is to preach common sense, not recycle paranoia.
On the other hand, I do generally like your advice about teens, affairs and politeness. And in-laws! Love the in-law stuff. Have a good weekend.
Signed – FREE-RANGE KIDS