Remember When We Fingerprinted CRIMINALS? Now We Fingerprint Coaches

Hi Readers: Two words — Jerry Sandusky — will be invoked for the next umpteen years to justify background checking every male who interacts with children. Let’s remind those folks that if anyone HAD background checked Jerry Sandusky he’d  have looked as trustworthy as a golden retriever. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: My hubby who has been coaching our boys hockey for 16 years just received a letter from our police to come in and submit fingerprints in order for him to continue coaching.  The new policy requires this. Fingerprinting!! Never mind that we already have ‘safeguards’ in place.  Each team has at least 3 coaches and there must always be 2 coaches present with the players at all times if parents aren’t there.  Now they have to submit to not only a background check but be fingerprinted in order to ascertain that you haven’t changed your name after a conviction.  What can you do? If you want to keep involved in your child’s sport you don’t have a choice.
Sad that volunteers are under constant suspicion and offensive to have to be treated this way. — Nathalie Delage

If you are male, you’re guilty till fingerprinted innocent.

Girl Missing from State Park! Mustached Man Seen! Massive Search Party! And a Stranger Danger Lesson

Folks — Here’s a story that manages to encapsulate exactly why “stranger danger” is such a stupid — no, HARMFUL —  concept to preach. On Saturday afternoon, a little girl named Jackie was reported missing in a state park in Rhode Island.  As The Westerly Sun reported:

At 3:50 p.m., Charlestown police received a report of a child missing at the 3,100-acre campground. The child, a 7-year-old girl from Connecticut named Jackie with shoulder-length blonde hair, had been last seen wearing a tie-dyed bathing suit and pink Croc clogs, riding her bicycle. The bike was found on the park’s yellow-dot trail near the 700 section of the 730-site campground, but not Jackie.

Initially, a report of a suspicious vehicle spotted earlier in the day at the Charlestown Breachway — a 1996 green Subaru station wagon with a bike rack, with Vermont license plates, driven by a man with dark hair and a mustache — was linked to the case.

Okay, so now we have a missing girl and a man with a mustache. Think the worst! The state police arrive and a massive search party is organized, including soldiers, fire fighters and a K-9 unit. They fan out, even checking car trunks.  But the police tell private citizens NOT to join in the search, for fear they’d get lost, too. (Does it sometimes seem like we bend over backwards NOT to create a cohesive, helpful society?)

Anyway, a mom named Lisa Blair and her much older daughters defy the order and go yelling the little girl’s name. And the girl yells back, “Mommy and Daddy!” Blair has the girl keep yelling, so she can locate her in the dense woods. And she does! Case solved! As it might have been much earlier, except —

Blair said that Jackie told her she had heard men yelling for her earlier, but was scared to approach them. When she heard the women calling out her name, she yelled back.

As it turns out, the girl was lost, not abducted. So…considering that child abductions by strangers are very rare. Considering that we WANT our kids to have the biggest safety net possible. And considering that most people are NOT predators, doesn’t it make sense to teach your children TO talk to strangers? After all, if your children are ever in danger you WANT them to be able to ask for help from the nearest person, and you want them to accept help! Teach them to distrust all strangers, or at least all MALE strangers, and you have cut off almost all the help they could possibly get.

Which inevitably calls to mind the Utah Boy Scout, Brennan Hawkins, who was lost in the mountains for far longer than Jackie: for four days.  People Magazine interviewed his mom after the ordeal and she said:

Brennan told us he thought that he was going to die three times, and he said a prayer asking God for directions. His biggest fear was being abducted, so when he spotted rescuers on horseback, he stayed hidden.

Can we PLEASE STOP TEACHING STRANGER DANGER? PLEASE? — L.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But not everyone in there is a creep.

50 Shades of Grey or Goofy Grammar School Principal?

Hey Readers — Here’s a really wacky story from Iowa. An elementary school principal, Terry Eisenbarth, was investigated for “whapping”  kids as part of their birthday celebrations at school — that is, hitting the kids lightly with a super-padded paddle.
Sounds like one of those things that just becomes a goofy tradition, but in our abuse-crazed culture, I’m sure you can guess what happened next: Even though only the kids who WANTED a whapping got one, two families objected to the practice as if the principal was practicing bondage and discipline (in plain sight of the other kids, and teachers, and possibly a pinata).  An investigation began, the principal resigned, and a year later,  here’s what the judge decided:

In a ruling dated June 14, administrative law Judge Robert Wheeler dismissed the charges of physical abuse against a student, failure to protect students’ health and safety and exposing students to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement.

Whether those “whaps” were harmless fun or psychologically damaging formed the bulk of the complaint, with several parents alleging the birthday ritual was an attempt by Eisenbarth to “establish his dominance and cause the children to act submissively.”

But more parents came out to support the former principal, testifying that the experience was harmless and optional, enjoyed by those who opted in and witnessed by other students and staff.

Principals Steve Brand of Mount Vernon High and Noreen Colbeck-Bush of Mount Vernon Middle School testified on Eisenbarth’s behalf, saying their own children had participated in the birthday ritual and neither of them considered the practice abusive.

Colbeck-Bush said parents who objected did so because the birthday “whaps” appeared to resemble disciplinary “spankings,” but that she easily distinguished between the two behaviors. Brand said he’d observed Eisenbarth at work as part of professional rounds of Washington Elementary and found him to be a good administrator.

… After conducting a criminal investigation, Sergeant Harvey Hall of the Linn County Sheriff’s Office determined no children were traumatized by the “whappings,” and no crime had taken place.

Hey, I’ll bet SOMEONE was traumatized — the principal! To have his public, offbeat ritual called a psychologically damaging form of child abuse is like  calling a high five “hand-to-hand combat,” or a backslap a “beating.” But during a year of investigation, that’s the soul-crushing cloud he was under. Kudos to a sergeant and judge who were able to distinguish between silliness and sadism.  You’d think that would be pretty easy, but in a culture beloved of Worst-First thinking (a man, a kid, a pat — SEX ABUSE!), it takes guts to stand up for what’s right.  Whap on! — L.
 
(Only picture of a principal I could find.)

Beware The Ice Cream Man (Because He’s Male)?

Hey Readers — So I’m starting to “vlog.” Be gentle! Meantime, here’s the piece about the town that just voted to require background checks for those nefarious ice cream men, and here’s a note from the post about “If You are Male You are Under Suspicion” that shows how background check mania is spreading:

My hubby who has been coaching our boys hockey for 16 years just received a letter from our police to come in and submit fingerprints in order for him to continue coaching.  The new policy requires this. Fingerprinting!! Never mind that we already have ‘safeguards’ in place.  Each team has at least 3 coaches and there must always be 2 coaches present with the players at all times if parents aren’t there.  Now they have to submit to not only a background check but be fingerprinted in order to ascertain that you haven’t changed your name after a conviction.  What can you do? If you want to keep involved in your child’s sport you don’t have a choice.
Sad that volunteers are under constant suspicion and offensive to have to be treated this way.

Sad and offensive it is. All because our culture LOVES its “worst-first” thinking: A man who likes being around kids? Think the worst. – L. (who asks you to  forgive me for the ads that run before my video. I have no say over what they are, but I do hope they bring in a little revenue.)

If You Are Male, You Are Under Suspicion

Hi Folks — Two letters I got, two days apart:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have always wanted to have something to share about my experience as a Free-Range Kid parent, but today I don’t get to do that. My story is of how the 9 or 10-year-old girl from down the street came over and said she can only play if my wife is at home. I said “Oh, really?” and marched her home and confronted her mom and sure enough, it’s not acceptable for me to be the only parent in the house when she over. “It’s to protect both her and you” she says. I guess we live in a world where all men are perps. – T.F.

And here’s Letter #2, from Nicholas Martin, executive director of the Consumer Health Education Council, who was at the beach with his 9-year-old daughter and two of her friends.

Dear Free- Range Kids: I took my 9-year-old daughter and two of her friends to  swim today at Brookville Lake, an Indiana state park. I was shooting them from the beach with a telephoto lens when I was approached by two park guides who asked if I was photographing my own kids or other people’s. I responded that I had the legal and constitutional right to photograph anyone. I asked if there was a complaint and a female guide responded that one beachgoer had motioned them over to question my picture taking.

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The guide said that she was just ensuring the safety of the children. I said that it was ridiculous to think that a man shooting with a large camera and lens on an open beach was a potential threat to kids, and pointed out that probably hundreds of people on the beach had cell phone cameras that could take pictures without being noticed. The guides were unfailingly cordial and respectful and we bid each other a friendly goodbye.

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Minutes later the ladies next to our beach tent pointed out the woman nearby who had made the complaint to the guides. She was with three other women, all apparently in their thirties and with no accompanying kids. Seconds later one of the four women lifted her cell phone and began taking pictures of one of her friends standing in from of the water. Or she could have been taking pictures of the children behind her for all I know. I approached the woman who had complained and asked if we should notify the guides about her friend’s picture taking. She responded by asking me if I would want a stranger taking pictures of my child at the beach. I said it would be fine with me since it presented no threat.
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Later my kids heard some people in the water complaining about my picture taking. One of them said, “He better put that camera away.” It is not far-fetched to imagine a mob of people driven by a sufficient frenzy to inflict “justice” on a photographer at that beach. What if I hadn’t had any kids with me and was just shooting some beach scenes, with kids, adults, and lapping waves? The American mania regarding sexual predation is not to be toyed with. [NOTE FROM LENORE: Sure isn’t. A man on the sex offender list for having sex with his younger girlfriend as a teen was murdered by a vigilante last week.] 
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Though they never should have approached me, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources guides deserve credit for acknowledging my rights and being pleasant in their questioning. In my view, this is another case of “guilty of being male.”  Perhaps area photographers should show up at the beach for a Photo Freedom Day to publicize and defend the right to do photography. – N.M.
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Lenore here: I like the idea of organizing a Photo Freedom Day. I like the idea of organizing any kind of “Return to Normalcy Day” (like my “Take Our Kids to the Park…And Leave Them There Day”) and alerting the press. 

What kind of creep took this photo? I see KIDS in it!

Help! An Old Man is Giving My Daughter Sea Shells!

Readers — You’ll love the answer Dear Prudence gives to this mom who is freaked out by an elderly man — a friend of her parents — who gives her 5-year-old daughter “gifts” like shells and feathers.

Let’s hear it for Dear Prudence! She is so…prudent! And wise! As she tells the mom:

…from your description of this situation, my gut feeling is that you have overactive mommy bowels. If you see every friendly man as a potential predator, you’re going to convey unnecessary fear and anxiety to your children.

And while we’re on the subject of bowel-churning fear of old men anywhere in the vicinity of children other than their own, here is my take on the story that’s gone viral about the aged doctor kicked out of an Arizona Barnes & Noble’s children’s book section because a woman found his presence disturbing. What a disgusting pervert!

The woman, I mean. Imagining a child isn’t safe near any male, no matter how public the place, no matter how minding-his-own-business the man.

At this point B&N has apologized and the man — a doctor — wants to drop it  already. He’s tired of the hoopla. But it’s nice when the media pauses to realize how crazy our fear of men has made us.  (Even if its constant carping on kiddie danger is what made us crazy in the first place.)  – L

Yikes! Old men! Can’t we just lock them all up, for the sake of the children?

Help Needed! Your “Kids Outside” Stories for Dr. Drew TONIGHT!

Hi Readers — I’m going to be on Dr. Drew tonight discussing the idea of letting kids play outside on their own, a topic inspired by Saturday’s  “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There” Day.

If you have allowed your children to play outside, unsupervised, either on the holiday or on any other day, the Dr. Drew folks might want you to call in and talk about it on air. (Or they just might read aloud the story.) So they’d like you to do two things:

1 – Write your story here and indicate YEA or NAY if the producers can contact you. (I will forward them your email address if you say YEA.)

or

2 – Call or write to them directly.  1-855-DRDREW5 or 1-855-373-7395. Or write to them at: http://on.hln.tv/1SZ9PG

While we’re at it, if you have any great ways to open minds when parents worry, “But the risk is just not worth it!” and, “But predators will swarm the park if they know children are coming!” please pass ’em along. Always helpful! – L

“How to Spot a Predator” — Really?

Hi Readers — Still trying to figure out what part of this Circle of Moms post,  “How to Spot a Child Predator”  irks me the most. It’s by a lady who was at a cafe and heard a man asking two third grade boys questions like, “What’s your favorite subject?” and “Who do you want to marry when you grow up?” He also asked them some math problems, so the lady immediately “understood” what she was hearing:

…like a thunderbolt, it hits me! Those boys are being groomed.

How exactly did she know he was up to no good? She trusted her gut. And now she wants the rest of us to trust it, too:

I wrote this so you’d read about the types of questions a potential predator uses so you can prepare your kids.

Please don’t scare your kids, but do talk to them. Use these, or examples like the, so your kids know what bad strangers ask .

…Except that there is no evidence whatsoever that this was a “bad stranger,”  or that these are the type of questions a bad stranger would ask! It’s like saying, “I would have been raped by the man in the grocery store  today if I hadn’t realized what he was up to! So I’m alerting the rest of you: If a man ever asks, ‘Do you know what aisle the paper towels are in?’ RUN! He is a bad stranger. Don’t thank me — I’m just trying to help!”

Uh…thanks. But no thanks. – L.

How can you tell if a man is a predator? Easy! If he’s male and nice to kids — he is!

Man Rescues Drowning Boy, Mom Accuses Him of Being a Pedophile

Dear Readers — Couldn’t help but post about this story, as it reminds us of the folly, no, the insanity of Worst-First Thinking. It’s a short letter, posted on Reddit, by a guy who saved a boy from drowning. When he got the kid to shore, the mom came screaming to leave her son alone!

Imagine if he’d done as she suggested. – L.

Sad Memories, Overprotective Impulses, and Keeping Things in Perspective

Hi Readers — By now I’m sure you’ve heard of new leads in the Etan Patz case, the missing child case that may have marked the beginning of our obsession with stranger-danger. Now comes this “follow up” in Psychology Today, of all places, reminding parents to be worried all the time about abduction.

As if this fear had slipped most parents’ minds. As if it’s helpful for anyone to focus on the idea of their children being murdered. As if stranger-danger is even a valid concept, considering that the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they know.

It is SO EASY to send parents into a tailspin of terror by mentioning the Patz case. I’m one of them. That’s why I try not to think about it too much. Not out of any “denial.” Just out of emotional self-preservation, which in turn allows me to preserve my children’s freedom.

At some point I’ll address the latest iteration of this stranger-danger obsession of ours: A recent magazine show featuring a creepy ice cream man trying to lure children into his clutches. The idea that there are any non-psychopathic ice cream men in America is becoming increasingly hard to grasp.

But that’s for another post. Right now, let’s just take one quick glimpse at the Psychology Today piece, by a woman named Susan Newman, who writes:

“Yes, childhood is supposed to be a period of innocence, but as long as people who prey on children exist, parents must be watchful…. Reopening the public to the Etan Patz case hopefully will caution parents to dangers sadly still present.

Leave it to others to parse why a crime that happened 33 years ago is a good way to remind parents of dangers “still present,” I’m going to go get some ice cream. (If I don’t ever post again, alert the police. And Psychology Today.) — L.