Weirdness of the Day: Man Pleads Guilty to Offering Teens a Ride

Hi Readers — A bunch of you have been sending in this story, about an Illinois man who offered a lift to two 13-year-old girls. He just pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. According to The Daily Herald, the local newspaper in suburban Chicago where the incident took place:

An Arlington Heights man pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor disorderly conduct for alarming two 13-year-old girls in Barrington by offering them a ride home March 2, police said.

But Rodney T. Peterson, 33, continued to proclaim his innocence afterward, saying he agreed to a sentence of two years’ supervision and $400 fine so that legal proceedings would not hold up his family’s planned move from the Chicago area next month.

As far as I’m concerned, it should not be against the law to offer anyone a ride, otherwise we are outlawing human kindness on the assumption that any Good Samaritan is possibly a very bad Samaritan. It is the very definition of Worst First Thinking: “He’s nice to kids? PERVERT!”

On the other hand, I think the girls were very smart not to get into his car. That’s exactly the advice I give my own kids: You can talk to strangers, you cannot go off with strangers.

Did the man take the plea because he’s innocent and wanted to avoid further Kafka-esque twistings? Or was he actually guilty of evil intent and took the plea to get off light?

I really have no idea. To me, the biggest issues are the ones I stated above: Do not outlaw interactions between adults and kids, and DO teach your kids not to get into anyone’s car. – L.

64 Responses

  1. It’s rather scary to think that you can be charged with a crime for offering to do something nice.

    I could see myself offering if the weather was super crummy without even thinking about any implications.

    It reminds me of a kid in our neighborhood who was petting our dog and our dog happened to move her mouth near his hand and he started shouting that she had bit him. I was so paranoid that someone would do something to our poor dog who had been doing nothing wrong just because some kid had said something happened.

    People don’t look at the facts anymore. They only react with extreme emotion.

  2. I’ve seen this trend happening around here. Although our community is pretty free-range, we’ve started getting letters home from the school about ‘alarming incidents’ that are generally someone getting offered a ride. The most recent was a couple in a van with their dog, who offered a teen boy a ride in the dumping rain. Seems suspicious to me!

  3. Maya, haven’t you ever heard about all the predators who go out and buy dogs and then wait for rainy days just to lure kids into their vans? My mother’s uncle’s cousin’s co-worker’s chiropractor knew someone who did this.

    (If you looked long enough, you could find someone make a comment like that on some “parenting” site.)

  4. Honestly, it seems that I’d have needed to be there to judge this man’s intent. I could imagine a situation where it would make sense. I mean, suppose the guy recognized them from the neighborhood and felt they were not all that safe walking home in the dark. I agree that they were right to refuse the ride, though.

    I do not think it’s a crime to offer a “kindness,” but on the other hand, it’s somewhat of a reflection of what some men think of girls. Helpless little things! What could be safer and healthier than two competent girls walking home together, assuming they weren’t in a dangerous area? (And no, not every area is dangerous to girls.)

    The other day a popular blogger posted about seeing an elderly man, while on his way to the school door at dismissal time, briefly stop to speak to two 6yo kindergarteners (with moms watching nearby). He asked them their ages, and they told him. The blogger gave the kids a lecture, and another parent reported the “incident” to the school, which implemented additional “safety” measures. The blogger got at least 100 comments, and nearly all of them were “OMG you never know these days!” Apparently the old guy could have been grooming or scoping out the kids by asking a perfectly normal question! It’s sad to think that someday when my kids are grown, I may not be allowed to talk to any little ones except for (maybe!) my own grandkids. Sad for the kids and even sadder for the elderly.

  5. Dear Free Range community – I am writing a dissertation with a section on cases just like this, in which a man does something fairly innocuous, but it is blown all out of proportion and implies male perversion. If you know of similar cases, can you please send me a link to the news story? Thanks!

  6. If only common sense were not so rare.

  7. skl1 — we don’t need to necessarily exonerate the guy from any possibility of bad intent in order to decide that, precisely because of that kind of murkiness, merely offering a ride without any other factors (e.g. trying to grab the kids, excessive persistence, etc.) should not be a crime at all.

    That’s really what’s a issue here — not whether it’s wise to offer young teen girls rides or whether we should all assume that this guy is as honest as the day is long, but whether making the *bare act* of offering a ride to kids a crime has anything to do with justice.

    “I do not think it’s a crime to offer a “kindness,” but on the other hand, it’s somewhat of a reflection of what some men think of girls. Helpless little things!”

    I really really dislike this idea that offering kindness implies demeaning or assumption of helplessness or incompetence. What in the world happened to the idea that it’s nice to do something for someone even if they’re not in “need” of help? If you offer someone something and they actually prefer not to avail themselves of the offer, you haven’t insulted them — they’re perfectly free to say no.

  8. This is infuriating.

    Remember that 15-year old Wisconsin girl who was kept in a basement, starved by her father and stepmother, and sexually abused by her stepbrother? She ran away and was found by (gasp!) a MAN DRIVING BY who dared to offer her assistance! He even, shame of all shames, PUT HER IN HIS CAR!!! Of course, it was just to give her shelter and to get her help…

    Can you imagine if this man hadn’t stopped, if he was afraid of being seen as a pervert and perhaps prosecuted as such? The girl’s family had found her before when she had run away, and could very easily have found her again.

    So, words fail me when I hear stories like this one about the Illinois man… lord knows he will probably never ever stop to offer assistance again, and that makes me both angry and sad.

  9. One one hand, I find this an overreaction that is, sadly, all too common, but on the other hand…this motorist should have considered the way his actions, no matter how well-intentioned, would seem to others.

    It brings to mind a situation in which I was walking home from work through downtown Philadelphia and came upon a boy, who seemed around 4 or 5, by himself, weeping. (Given this was a downtown area, it’s rare to find unattended small children.) I moved to assist but was brought up short by thoughts of how that might appear to others. Feeling ashamed, I nonetheless kept my distance and pulled out my mobile phone, planning to call the police and let them handle it. (Someone else, braver than I, stepped in, so the story has a happy ending.) Later, however, I reflected on how sad it was that I did not feel safe assisting a child who obviously needed help. It is cruelly ironic that this hysterical focus on child safety has succeeded in making us all more reluctant to help children.

  10. Pentamom, yes and no. As a mom of fairly competent daughters, I bite my tongue all to often because people think they need help. Whether it’s tying their shoes or accompanying them to the bathroom or whatever. It sends the wrong message in my opinion. It encourages them to act dependent (unless they are fiercely independent to begin with). It really makes me angry actually – particularly when I’ve clearly decided that they can manage on their own.

    Now add in the teenage girl aspect. Like I said, I wasn’t there, but statistically, would this have even happened if those 13yos were boys? Probably not, unless the boys had their thumbs out.

    Yes, you can say “no thanks” to help you don’t need, but the implication that you need it is still not appropriate, ESPECIALLY for growing girls. “Do you need a ride home” triggers the thought: “should I need a ride home? Am I unsafe?” And it’s the subtle things that kids internalize, unfortunately.

    Then again, maybe the guy would have done the same upon seeing two 13yo boys. I tend to doubt it, though.

  11. skl1 — okay, I can see disliking it when the attitude is that they really do “need help” all the time. I just am leery of taking all offers of assistance as having that implication. If you go too far that way, it discourages the kind of simple civil friendliness that we don’t need less of in this world. But I do take your point.

    “this motorist should have considered the way his actions, no matter how well-intentioned, would seem to others. ”

    Yes, he should have. Unless he had substantial reason to believe that the girls were in some situation where they really needed a ride, this was nothing other than a dumb thing to do, given the climate we live in.

    But any “but” we offer in that direction of saying “one the one hand…but…” does more harm than good. No one should be charged with a crime for offering someone a ride without engaging in any kind of coercion or harassment. Doesn’t matter how poor his judgment was, there’s no “other hand” on this one. No ifs ands or buts. Period. The end. Full stop.

  12. Reminds me of an “incident” in our area. One morning woman in a minivan asked some kids at the bus stop if they had seen her dog in the area. By noon, an email had gone out to the school district regarding this suspicious activity.
    My 14 y/o daughters reaction? Why are they sending this out? Did she ask them to get in the van to look for the dog? Maybe she really did lose her dog and was actually looking for help. As has been said already, a normal interaction between an adult and a child is suddenly seen as suspicious.

  13. The thing that bothers me is that if the girls had been legal adults, there wouldn’t be a problem. Because the girls were underage, it’s suddenly “wrong” and this guy is now labeled as some sort of pervert (which he may very well be – but we don’t know that for sure).

  14. skl1, Peterson claimed that the reason he offered the girls a ride was because it was snowing and he did not feel that the girls were dressed properly for the weather. (The police dispute this, but weather reports show that there was sleet and freezing rain, and obviously whether the girls were dressed appropriately is a matter of opinion.) Personally, I would have offered them a ride, too, even if it was a couple of teenaged boys, because I’ve had to walk in inclement weather without proper protection, and it sucks. It’s not, “OMG, they shouldn’t be walking!” it’s more like, “I bet they are uncomfortable, and I could help.”

    Of course, unlike the cops and courts in Chicago, I don’t claim to know exactly what Peterson’s intentions were. He could have been thinking “poor little girls” as easily as anything else.

    Also, I have been reading through some similar stories on this site (like the 14yo boy who was arrested for kidnapping after trying to help a little girl find her mom, and the guy who tried to help a crying child and was called a pervert), and I noticed several people in the comments saying that FreeRangeKids was starting to be just like the helicopter parents, always thinking someone is out to get us (it’s just cops, CPS, and nosy neighbors instead of molesters). It made me stop and think, and while I think that’s possible, I don’t think it’s necessarily the case. In the few months that I have been reading this site, I have dealt with at least FOUR incidents of other people freaking out about my family’s free range ideas, including a cop who threatened to call CPS when I wasn’t properly horrified that my daughter was walking to her friend’s house — two houses away — all by herself.

    OTOH, in my entire life I’ve only had personal knowledge (ie, not from the news or a friend of a friend of a friend) of two incidents when an adult willfully harmed a child, and both of those adults were well known and trusted by the kids and their parents. While those two incidents were pretty awful, they simply are not *nearly* as common as the near constant interference of well-meaning people who think my children need to be sheltered 24/7 from the terrible influence of other adults.

    (The funny thing is, I homeschool, so when I’m not being accused of neglecting my kids and putting them in terrible danger by allowing them to play outside, I’m being accused of sheltering and over-protecting them just because I want to direct their education myself.)

  15. Skl1 – I agree that offering help in doing mundane tasks can SOMETIMES be a negative. I disagree that offering a teenage girl a ride is a symptom of this. I think you are being too sensitive. I am perfectly capable of walking anywhere in the world. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t occasionally LIKE a ride when I’m walking. I don’t view an offer of a ride as somehow demeaning. I don’t second guess my own ability to walk when offered a ride. Nor did I as a teen or child. A ride is just simply a nice thing to have sometimes.

    A couple weeks ago I was stuck at a kids birthday party without a car. The house was at a distance where we could have walked home and fully intended to do so. When someone offered us a ride, I took it. I didn’t feel personally afronted nor did I feel like I was being treated as a “helpless little girl.” I was simply happy not to have to walk 2 or so miles in the American Samoan heat. My daughter didn’t stop to analyze why we were suddenly riding. She was just happy not to have to walk 2 or so miles in the American Samoan heat. I still retain my belief that we could have walked the distance and I don’t think the person who offered us a ride did so because she thought we couldn’t walk. It was simply a nice gesture.

  16. Why would the guy put himself in that position? Not smart….

    One innocent brush and it’s sexual harrassment
    One innocent comment and it’s harrassment

    No way I would take the chance. You are risking your life – would it be worth it?

  17. bmax, refusing to live in fear includes not living in fear of false accusations. Even with what I said above, about my numerous experiences with people totally over-reacting, I refuse to change my behavior to accommodate them. I refuse to live in a world where children have to be hidden away and adults can’t interact with them without suspicion. I refuse to live in a world where people don’t help each other out of fear. I’m willing to risk the over-reactions to show my kids that life doesn’t have to be like that, and I think so are a lot of people here, because a life lived in fear isn’t worth it.

  18. I found this. It may be free range issue. The teacher was suspended for reading enders game to 14 years old students. Link:

    I have no idea why the teacher would read that book to students, it is not what I consider a school reading. But the book is great and definitely not pornography.

  19. I don’t know what that man’s intent was, but I think in this case he should not have offered the teens a ride. They’re just walking; they’re not in rags, bloody, or look like they’ve been running for their lives. If he truly was innocent, then I feel bad that he was wrongly accused, and hope that he will be more wary of whom he plans to help. And I find it weird that he is penalized for not doing anything (whether intending to or not), considering that there are criminals out there that we can’t place behind bars for lack of evidence.

    Either way, I think the girls did what they had to do. They didn’t know whether this man has been following them for days, or if he’ll come back. Best to get his info, and I always encourage kids to tell adults whenever they feel threatened.

  20. Sleeping Mom, I think the problem is that our overprotective society has taught kids to feel threatened by everything. And that we see threats everywhere. I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that every interaction with an adult she doesn’t know is a threat, and that anyone starting a conversation with her is out to get her. But that’s what her school, and society as a whole, is teaching her.

  21. Another thing I want to point out here. The girls reported this guy. Do we know why? Was it because he gave them scary vibes? Or was it because they have been taught that any man offering them a ride is a perv?

    If the former, then we should really be glad they reported him. No, it’s not a crime to offer a ride (I don’t think), but maybe it’s good to have a creepy guy on the cops’ radar. I absolutely believe in girls’ creep meters. I had run-ins with a creep myself around that age. I wish I had done more to him before he did what he did to me.

  22. skl1 — I agree that if they felt creeped, reporting him was correct and investigating the situation was correct.

    Where it ceases to be correct is when they cannot find any evidence of an actual crime, so they charge him with something that should not EVER be called a crime. Even if it’s a “last resort” charge because someone felt like something bad really was up, offering someone a ride SHOULD NOT be something that someone can be criminally charged with or convicted of. Ever. If you can’t convict someone of a crime, that doesn’t justify making non-crimes into crimes so you can convict the ones that get away of something.

  23. @skl1 … a reflection of what some men think of girls. Helpless little things!

    I think that you are reading too much into it. Just because a man is offering ride, does not mean that he sees them as “helpless little things”. Maybe he would offered the ride to boys too.

    When I was in USA and wanted to walk somewhere, people often offered ride to me. There was nothing sexists about it. They simply assumed that I’m in some kind of bad situation, because walking somewhere is (was?) unusual in parts of USA. Some people do not do it unless they have no choice.

    Actually, I thought it is nice to try to help complete strangers.

  24. This story happened in my town- I was surprised to see it here when I checked my blog reader this morning! Yes, we will never know the man’s true intent…but the girls knew exactly what to do (because really, 13 year olds are pretty capable…not that long ago it was practically marrying and having baby age!). So really, a non-story. Sigh…

  25. bmax… that is a pretty sad comment.

    I’ve been the kid out walking around alone dealing with some sort of trouble or another: Just walking home from school in the pouring rain, no umbrella. Locked out of the house without proper clothing. Walked off because I was mad at my folks. Sent ahead to get help after my family’s car broke down. And once fleeing an abuser.

    I have also had people think I needed help when I didn’t. I would far rather have a few unnecessary offers of help than to get no help when I actually need it. The person who pulled over and offered a cell phone when I was hiking a half mile in the dark to reach a phone, was an enormous comfort. The day I was fleeing an abuser, I would have made a car pull over to help me if I could have, but alas no help that day.

    The guy thought the girls needed help and he offered help. He seems to have misjudged the situation. But they easily could have been out (he thought, under dressed in bad weather) because something had gone very wrong. And then the offer might have meant the world to them. It is the essence of human kindness. What better reason could there be?

  26. Andy, the teacher who got suspended looks like a muddled case. Apparently the teacher was also accused of reading material printed from the internet that included “prostitutes having their faces covered with ejaculation.” The school claims the only “offending material” was Ender’s Game and two other innocuous books. The whole thing sounds very bizarre to me, but I can’t figure out which of these characters is the crazy one — the teacher, the school officials, or the parent.

  27. Never do good. It doesn’t pay off in America.

  28. I have been offered a ride (from a a neighbor I didn’t know) when walking home from work. My first thought was “Typical, no-one walks around here so I must need help!” and then “But it’s nice to know there’s a thoughtful neighbor nearby”.

    Whether or not I would have gotten in a car with him is another matter, but I don’t think people should be seen as thinking you “need” help as opposed to “I CAN help so I will offer, in case it’s appreciated”. I personally would much rather offer help and be told “Thanks, but I’m okay” than later discover I’d left someone to walk 5 miles home in the dark, alone and scared.

  29. See, that is where we would have had to be there to judge intent. If the guy saw something that caused him concern for the girls’ immediate welfare and he offered assistance for that reason, OK, but then why would the girls both get freaked out enough to report it? I’ve been that person who was having a rough time getting home, and in fact I’ve accepted a ride from a complete stranger. But then, I didn’t take his license number and call in a complaint.

    Or was it someone else who reported the guy? What do the girls have to say about this? (I guess I should do my research.)

  30. The girls called it in. But it’s hard to say whether they were freaked out because he was being creepy, or because our whole culture teaches kids that the only reason a man would offer them a ride is because he wants to hurt them.

  31. That is very sad 😦 and very weird

  32. “Whether or not I would have gotten in a car with him is another matter, but I don’t think people should be seen as thinking you “need” help as opposed to “I CAN help so I will offer, in case it’s appreciated”

    Bingo. The whole idea that you only offer help because you think the other person can’t manage without it, and that it’s actually your place to judge either people’s competence, is odd. How about just offering help because you can help, and assuming that’s what others do?

  33. Right after we became a “two-home family,” my son decided one night that my scolding of him for pushing his two-year-old sister off a chair was way too harsh so he ran away. In the dark. Alone. He was five!

    He decided to run to his dad’s house, about a mile away. He’d snuck off, had not petulantly announced, “I’m running away!” and I didn’t know where he’d gone, so I called the police. While I was on hold with them, my other phone rang, and it was a woman. She said, “I think I have something you are looking for.”

    I knew right away that my son was okay and I was so relieved. I asked where they were. In front of my ex’s house! Turns out that my little boy had indeed been on the correct route to get to his dad’s house, but he was crying and alone in the dark on a busy-ish road when this woman stopped in her car to see what was the matter.

    Apparently my son, who had taken a child-sized broom with him for “protection,” wielded his “weapon” at her when she offered him a ride. The woman, who knew my son was clearly needing assistance, didn’t let up. She gestured inside the car, showed my son that she had a child’s car seat, said, “I’m a mommy too, and I can tell you need help. Let me take you home.”

    My son did take the ride. And he told this woman his address: his dad’s house, a few blocks away, even though he knew that he was supposed to be with mom that night. They got to my ex’s house and it was dark and locked up tight. The woman knew then that something was up. My son admitted that he had two homes, and that he had run away from mom’s house, so she asked my son for mom’s phone number, and he knew it, thank God.

    I yelled at my son all the way home about leaving in the dark without telling me where he was going, then I eased up and let him know that if he wanted to talk to his dad or see his dad when he was with me, that we call his dad first! I never even thought to chastise him for taking the ride he was offered, especially since he’d initially resisted it, and had been in dire need of help. But my ex was adamant that we tell the boy he’d been wrong to take that ride.

    What I told my son was that if someone offered him a ride and he wasn’t in any need of support, to refuse the ride. If, however, he was injured or in some other way incapacitated, he would have to use his best judgement about what would be advisable in an emergency situation, just like adults need to make that call as well. It’s one thing to have someone drive up and say, “Hop in, kid, I’ll take you to the arcade and buy you some ice cream” or “Hey, your mom told me to come and get you, so you have to come with me” while you’re minding your own business in the middle of a nice day.

    It’s another thing if you’ve fallen off your bike and your arm is broken. You might want to take someone’s help if it’s offered then. I told him that being five years old, sort of lost in the dark on a busy road and crying was one of those times to take help when it was offered, and that he’d made a wise choice.

    Five years later, a woman offered him and his stepbrother a ride as they were walking out of the store with a bag of groceries to take home. They declined, and told me about it because it had sort of worried them. I said, “I doubt this woman meant you any harm at all, she was probably trying to be helpful, but you were certainly right to say you were fine and keep walking. I’m surprised anyone offers a ride to any kid anymore…”

    This story Lenore’s shared is an interesting one. Who can know what the intention of this man was, but offering someone a ride is not a crime. I told my 7-year-old daughter to say no to anyone offering her a ride as she walks home, no matter how heavy her load, no matter what the weather, no matter what they say, just don’t get in the car. People might mean well, but don’t take the ride. Simple enough, right?

  34. RIGHT ON. As usual.

  35. Well, I guess I’ll be charged next. I give rides all the time to neighborhood kids who miss the bus to school or need a ride home. I’ve even -gasp- gone into one of the kid’s houses when they had broken something in the house, needed help, and their mom was at work. It kills me that you can’t be nice without the assumption that you have some hidden agenda.

  36. As a man, I am particularly offended by this. If this was a woman offering a ride, nothing would have come of it. Yes, rape and sexual molestation are crimes predominantly perpetrated by men, but everyone seems to ignore the statistics that almost all cases of child molestation are committed by trusted family members and the “1 out of every 3 women are raped” statistic is heavily weighted by “date rape” numbers. Actual cases of strangers attacking women at random are much more rare.

    The date-rape statistics are horrible and tell us that we need to teach our sons how to respect women and our daughters how to protect themselves, but it doesn’t warrant the level of fear, distrust and over-protection that puts innocent men in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.
    Yet society has developed a sense that all men are potential sexual predators that can’t be trusted around women and children. This same mentality has created laws that forces a teenage boy to live as a registered sex offender for the rest of his life because his girlfriend sent him some racy photos. Or, as happened in my town, a teacher was charged with a sex crime for confiscating a cell phone from a girl in his class that had nude pictures on it. He turned the phone over to the principal who turned it over to local authorities. The prosecutor decided he had to charge the teacher with possession of child pornography because that was the letter of the law (I’m not sure why the principal was charged – or the prosecutor himself for that matter – or the judge or jury who may have viewed the “evidence”). He eventually beat the charge, after several years and hundreds of thousands in legal fees, but not before losing his home and all of his possessions. But at least he’s not a registered sex offender so he at least has a chance to start his life over again.

  37. I saw a little boy from my daughter’s class walking to school today (9 years old, 3rd grade), about 2 blocks away and about 30 minutes late. It was a bit cold and quite windy and he only had a hoody on. I thought for a moment about turning around and seeing if he wanted a ride, but decided he was pretty close and he’d be fine, and also that I wasn’t sure he knew me well enough to not feel weird about it. I am sure he was fine so it wasn’t a big deal but in hind-site it is pretty sad to live in a time when he might feel weird about it, even though he has met me and seen me at school several times.

  38. Andy – Ender’s Game is considered classic young adult literature in some circles and was one of the books I had to read when I was studying young adult lit in grad school (to become a librarian). I don’t recall anything pornographic about it. Perhaps the parent was upset because it is about children being trained to fight a “computerized” war? I don’t know but I enjoyed the book and its relevance to modern warfare.

    As far as today’s topic is concerned, I can envision a scenario where a person who is inclined to help a child in distress will be afraid of the repercussions and instead contact the police, who will then be afraid of helping because they aren’t trained to do so (like what happened when that poor man drowned in a lake in England because the police weren’t trained to rescue anyone in more than 2 inches of water or something ridiculous like that).

  39. I once found a young girl of about 2 to 3 years old wandering around a shopping mall. I looked around vigorously for her parents and asked everyone else nearby if she was their daughter or saw her with her parents. As I was down on my knees, trying to ask what questions I could of the girl to ascertain the situation (its hard with someone that small who barely speaks as it is, much less to a stranger), I had panicky feeling that the girl’s parents (hopefully frantically looking for her) would see me talking to her and have me arrested. At this point I needed to get to a mall security guard to alert authorities, but the only way to do this would be to take the girl by the hand, and I was too petrified to do that, knowing I would surely be charged with kidnapping if someone saw me before I was able to reach the security guard station. It is a shame that I was unable to do the right thing out of self preservation, but that’s the world we live in. Not one of “stranger danger,” but rather strangers unable to intervene to do the right thing.

    Luckily, I was able to flag down a passing mother and let her know what was happening. I asked her to stay with the girl while I went to get security and she was happy to help. No one is going to accuse another mother of trying to kidnap the girl. Despite the fact that in the very rare cases of kidnapping, women are also perpetrators, we just don’t have the same sense of sexual danger with women as we do with men.

  40. I have given rides to teenagers I didn’t know. But I’m a girl (and they were girls too) so I guess that makes it okay.

    Ugh. Ridiculous. Yes, the girls were right to refuse the ride, but offering a ride is not a crime!!! And nobody should have to stop and think about whether they’ll be accused of something when they’re trying to be helpful. I would never walk by if I saw a child alone and crying. And I hope that if one of my children were alone and crying and needed help and for some reason I wasn’t there, another adult would be kind enough to help.

  41. Horrible and dangerous precedent. This means if any man notices a teenage girl in trouble, he should walk away and NOT try to help her. This is not a good situation.

  42. If you see someone of that age (13+) who “might be” in trouble, in my opinion, the question to ask is “do you need help”? Or some variation thereof.

  43. How sad that we even have to wonder about a guy’s motives. And Mike in Virginia, I really feel for you. My husband, being of another less suspicious culture, probably wouldn’t even have thought about it (taking the child by the hand and going off to find a security guard, I mean) so he probably would have gotten in trouble….

    It is just as well, actually, that sometimes people are unaware of how their actions might be perceived. A young friend of ours, a very quiet little girl, decided about midnight while at a sleepover that she wanted to go home, and she was too shy to wake up any of her hosts, so she proceeded to walk home, a distance of some miles, through a very dark town. Fortunately an Island family were returning home from a late session at church and came across her. They insisted on giving her a lift home, and, given the time of night and the drunks wandering around, luckily she didn’t argue….

    I have had to haul a child out of the middle of a busy road before myself (turned out he was autistic) – just as well I’m a woman, I guess!

  44. Hey Mike in Virginia,

    Would you be opposed to my using your story in my dissertation? The subject is about exactly this, how our culture has changed to the degree that men cannot even do what you wanted to do for that little girl, for fear of being called a pervert, or arrested. I think this is very emasculating to men – to deny them what tends to be a male trait – to help, to make things right. That’s all you wanted to do with that little girl – make things right. But because this culture has, frankly, lost its mind, men must refrain from being the men they would otherwise be. I don’t need your name, or even your first name. I can just use this web address as my citation, but I’d like to paraphrase your story if I may.

  45. Off topic–butI was watching “The View” over lunch (here in Austalia) and was horrified to see they singing the praises of a portable GPS tag youcould use to track aperson with….even went so far as to point out that the “abducted” person could easily be found as it measures to within a couple of feet of your location. Are we meant to be happy that it is now even easier to spy on our kids/family and never trust them to grow up with some sensibilities?

  46. It is sad how many opportunities are cut off for kids when you are panicked by every adult male who is willing to interact with them.

    My daughter got to “surf” for the first time tonight thanks to a couple of guys hanging out by the apartment pool. These guys, who I’ve met in passing a couple times, had been practicing with their boards in the pool before we got there. My daughter was interested in the boards so they spent an hour at the pool with her holding the board and then pushing her across the pool once she could stand. I even, gasp, left her alone with them for a few minutes while I went to get the camera.

    These guys taking time out of their day to play with my little girl made her day. She was so proud of herself for “surfing.” And I have a video of her squeals of joy to prove it. Thankfully the “you should never play with strange kids” message didn’t make it these guys. It’s sad that we are marginalizing men so much in kid’s lives that some kids may miss out on a nice evening of pool surfing because of an irrational fear.

  47. I just had to follow and read the entire news post before commenting. My first reaction was creeped out because I saw that he followed the kids from a gas station. I red it again though and noted that there was a SNOWSTORM! So maybe it was indeed a good deed gone wrong. These days, you really can’t tell what people’s intentions really are. You just have to teach your kids to be streetsmart.

  48. I just cannot believe that that got a court’s backing.

    And it’s such a stark contrast with when I grew up. I met several exhibitionists on my way to and from school over the years. I can’t remember if I even told my mum every time, because I didn’t feel threatened and I had heard people talk about flashers and saying they were harmless. I never used their advice to point and laugh, but I do remember acting as if it was the most normal thing in the world, saying a polite goodbye and casually cycling off, to deny them the pleasure of seeing me being shocked by their actions. It’s very weird to think of that now.

    And I am not at all saying that we should let flashers harass our kids! But it is interesting just how much attitudes have changed in 3 decades.

    I do feel for men in this climate, especially those who work with kids. I have had male high school teachers tell me they made sure they were never alone with a girl in a classroom even for a minute. Very, very sad.

  49. Though I never accepted any of them I am incredibly grateful for all the offers of rides I received both growing up and as an adult. Sure, some may have had ill intent but the vast majority, if not all, were people offering kindness to someone in their community. It absolutely disgusts me that a precedent is being set that would cause any one of them to be arrested for the simple act of being a good neighbor.

    I refuse to accept that idea that “he should have thought about how it would be perceived” is acceptable. I refuse to believe that people should be arrested for things that are not crimes. Does no one else get how arresting people for non-crimes takes away law enforcement’s time, attention and resources from REAL crimes?

  50. If the driver in this story had been a woman instead of a man, it would not have been a story. I have two boys…it bothers me tremendously that when they’re older I’m going to have to teach them that being too friendly could get them in trouble.

  51. @Andy. Wow. I gave our 9-year-old Ender’s Game to read. Apart from a small amount of teen behavior, I didn’t see anything inappropriate for even that age. It looks like the reporter may have missed a few things about the story, though. It looks like there could be 2 other explanations. 1) That the teacher was reading other inappropriate things and Ender’s Game got caught in the crossfire, or 2) That she was deviating from the curriculum in a district that doesn’t allow it.

  52. Ender’s Game is pretty brutal for young children, when you think about it, even though the violence isn’t explicit. Psychologically, what they do to that kid is deeply disturbing, especially since much of it is deliberate manipulation to train him to kill without inhibition. But I’m not defending the scenario at all.

  53. I stopped to help a teenage girl with her bike a few months ago and was nervous about alarming her. I asked from across the road if she’d like some help and she accepted. My kids aren’t allowed to approach a strangers car if they stop so I made sure she didn’t have to.

    Having seen her several times I knew she was biking to work. I did get the bike fixed enough to give her at least one working gear, but I would have offered her ride if I couldn’t fix it. I’m a cyclist myself and always want to support others.

    I picked up a young man whose bike was not fixable and took him to the bus stop he was riding to. He was somewhere around 18 (and male) so I was less nervous about helping him.

    Kids who will be out on their own need to know when and how to get help on their own when things go wrong; even little things like a bike breaking. But we also need to feel safe as adults (even adult men) to offer assistance without being accused of being a pedophile.

  54. Mike in Virgina, I had a similar experience at a downtown festival. My wife took off to find a cop and that’s when it hit me she should have stayed with the little girl and I should have gone for the cop.

    Luckily I had my two young boys with me, one in a stroller. I asked the girl to just wait and I stood out of reach, but she just kept wandering. So I followed her. Every person I asked had thought I was her dad. when she reached the edge of the event I got my son (maybe 5 at the time) to try to talk to her and keep her from going farther, but he didn’t get it. He was probably thinking I would take his hand or pick him up if he kept wandering away, why didn’t I just do that?

    I was seconds from picking her up when my wife got back with a cop and he picked her up without reservation.

  55. I recently discovered Free Range Kids. I have a 7-month-old son so we are a little ways away from teaching him about strangers. I’m really appalled that our society has come to this. Apparently, it takes a village to raise a child, but unless you are that child’s parent or official caregiver, you must keep at least an arm’s distance from the child. WTH?

  56. There is nothing wrong with refusing help politely with a wave and a “No thanks, I’m good!” if you either don’t need help, or somone seems off.

    At the same time, I have been grateful for the help of strangers. I was on my way to an interview once and got a massive flat tire. This was in the pre-cell phone days. I know how to change a tire, and I proceeded to start to do so, even though I was in a skirt and a white blouse. As I was starting to pull the tire out a truck pulled up behind me and the trucker asked if I needed help. I looked at my white blouse and said, “Normally, no. Today, I’d be ever so grateful.” He changed my tire in record time and said, “I’ve got a daughter around your age. I hope that someone would stop to help her in the same situation.” It was a great experience in the kindness of strangers that I never forgot. What would I have gained by freaking out about a random stranger stopping to help?

    A few years after that I got off the train on a cold night, followed by an elderly man walking with two canes. He stopped me and asked for a ride home, because it was later than he planned and he didn’t want to make his daughter drag her young kids out of bed. I said sure, with no hesitation, and had a nice conversation to boot. Again, what would I have gained by saying “EEK! Stranger!” and leaving an elderly infirm person in the cold. I’m not going to let paranoia take the place of human kindness. I don’t want to live in that world.

  57. I was once at a crowded playground with my son, who was probably 4 at the time, when a little girl, about the same age, came up to me and asked where the bathroom was. The nearest bathroom was in a building about 300 yards away, and down a hallway, etc. I pointed her in the general direction, but I knew she would not be able to find it on her own, nor should she go on her own. I asked her where her mommy or daddy was, but she didn’t/wouldn’t answer. I looked around frantically for an adult or older child who seemed to be responsible for this little one, but no one seemed to be paying attention. The little girl wandered away, but then came back again asking me for the bathroom. I thought, sheesh, I can’t take her! Some parent will see me leading their child off and accuse me of kidnapping. I felt awful, but stuck. I told her she needed to find her mommy or sister or whoever brought her to the playground, but she didn’t seem interested in doing so, nor did she seem lost or scared. This incident has stuck with me because I felt culturally forced into being rather cruel.

  58. RedinNC, I would have let her go to the restroom on her own. If the parents felt the child was OK playing away from them for so long, at age 4, she was big enough to go alone – unless, of course, it was an unusually dangerous park. If I was worried for her safety, I might have said, “we’re going to the restroom too, do you want to follow us?

  59. I just got back from a trip and I stopped to use the bathroom at a gas station. There was a girl in front of me at the bathroom door, maybe 9 or 10 years old. She had trouble opening the door so I helped her open it and I stuck my head inside because I didn’t know if there was 1 toilet or if this was a large bathroom with stalls. There was 1 so I waited outside and then had to help her open the door to leave (it was rather heavy). But that made me think. Did she go outside to her mother and say that some weird lady had tried to follow her into the bathroom? Ten years ago I never would have worried about it.

  60. my parents came across two teenagers at a petrol station ‘debating’ how they were going to get home two suburbs away as they had missed the last bus (it was just dusk, not the middle of the night)

    my parents in their mobile home! offered them a ride after profusely promising they were not serial killers and that they actually lived in the same suburb the girls were trying to get to. My mum made sure to mention the schools and people in the area they might have known in common – the school teachers they made have had that her own kids had too… common threads to show that indeed they were telling the truth and if something were to happen that people knew my parents and would come after them 😉

    turns out the girls parents were out of town and the girls thought it would be fun to catch the bus and go shopping etc and have their own adventure! Everything turned out fine and the girls were so grateful for my parents helping them

    It is sad that noone can help people these days.

  61. I don’t like the idea of having to worry about how you will come across. How can we possibly control what everyone around us might imagine about our intent?

    I hope there is more to this case than we know. If a man simply offered a ride and that is all, then how dare a state call that “disorderly conduct”? What next, jail time for offering to do the Heimlich maneuver?

    Actually, on that note — when I worked in a public high school, I attended CPR/first aid training. The new protocol apparently was to assume that you might have to use a defibrillator, and the instructor encouraged us to rip open a shirt and/or a bra to make room for the defibrillator. I couldn’t imagine any staff member actually doing such a thing if the person needing help were a student — imagine how that would be perceived, even if it’s what the trainer said to do.

  62. @Claire53, yes, please, use my story in your dissertation. I’m happy to get the word out any way I can about the terrible affect fear for our children has had on our society.

  63. Hmm. My dad used to give rides to anyone that he saw walking, he’d slow down, pull alongside & ask “need a ride?”..but then considering it was 4 miles to town, most were glad of a ride. My mom would do the same thing, to adults & kids. I was driving one day (a 110f day) and there was a blind guy walking. I passed him when i finished at the store, he was still walking in the same direction. So I stopped & asked him if he wanted a ride to his destination. Here it seems if you walk, people will stop & ask you if you need help/a ride. My husband does his long runs down to a post office, he’s had people stop & ask him if he needed a ride. Here also if you’re pulled over on the side of the road and your flashers are on, people will stop to help you or give you a ride to pick up a part, or loan you their phone if you don’t have one. I’ve gotten pulled out of a ditch, had I don’t know how many flats, and just general transmission death, and gotten help from people. Its strange to think that just being nice nowadays is BAD.

  64. I’m a little behind on my blog reading but this made me recall an event that happend when I was about 14 or so. A couple of girlfriends and I had decided to go to the beach for the day. It was a long bus ride and an even longer walk from the bus stop to the beach. The walk alone was about an hour. We spent a great day alone at the beach being kids and, being responsible ones, packed up in time to make the long trek back in time to catch the last bus out.

    Along the way a car with two men in their late 20’s pulled up beside us. They offered us a ride. The three of us noticed it was a convertable, that we outnumbered them and that we were all tired and the ride looked pretty good. We said outloud well if anything goes wrong, the one that get’s away will call the cops with the licence number. The men laughed and said yep sounds like the right thing to do. We all jumped in and enjoyed the ride.

    When we got to the bus stop, we got out, thanked them for the ride and as we were running to catch an earlier bus they shouted at us to stay safe. Now look at that 14 y/o’s that assesed the risk factors involved AND had a plan in case something bad did happen. And this was back before every kid had cell phones.

    Btw, we had declined a ride from a youngish couple not long before. They were in a mini-van and none of us felt safe being confined like that. Maybe they were nice people too, but we trusted our guts and everything worked out fine.

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