A Note from the “No Boys Can Help with Toddlers/No Men Can Change Diapers” Pastor

Hi Readers: Here you go! The dot-dot-dots are his, not mine. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am the Pastor of the church with the policy that is quoted in this blog post. [The one below this one.]  And I found you through the significant traffic to the church website through this blog.

A group that claims to appreciate helmets for their children, but sees no need to run background checks or have a Safe Haven policy is not facing reality.  I am not a fear-monger.  My children DO ride to the store on their own.  But statistics show that child abusers go to places with least resistance and are more likely to be someone with whom the child is well acquainted.  I will NOT allow my church to be a Safe Haven for sex offenders and just as in anything . . . safety and convenience are always a trade-off.  I hope you can understand how your blog came across as condescending and  offensive to someone who is doing the best they can to protect children from potential abuse as well as volunteer workers from false accusations.  The diaper and teenage thing was a stretch for me personally, but at the recommendation of my insurance company and the thought of potentially stopping abuse, I saw it as a worthwhile compromise.  Unfortunately, we have a group of 6 ladies that meet regularly in a recovery group for abuse.  I don’t know what you do for a living, but as a blogger you get to say whatever you want and have strong opinions.  As a Pastor I get to work both sides of the equation trying to protect the kids . . . while trying to provide hope and healing to those whose lives have been shredded by abuse . . . by the way,  I am not a sexist . . . but I used to play one on TV . . .

My Response:

Hi Don! Thank you for writing. I do appreciate that you are trying to keep the kids at your church safe. What worries me is that your policies go too far, without making the kids any safer. In doing so, they spread the “Worst First” thinking that is festering in our society: The idea that we should automatically think the Worst possible scenario First, no matter how unlikely, and proceed as if it’s fact. (Which is what insurance companies do.)

Thus your No Men Changing Diapers rule seems to proceed from the idea that because there are some creeps who get turned on by diaper changes — a small group, to be sure — now NO man should ever help change ANY child in church. That is overkill. It’s treating ALL men as monsters, which is terrible for the men as well as for any boys who want to grow up to be upstanding adults but now see they will never be trusted.

The same thing happens when we treat all teen boys as jerks, or worse. Older kids of both sexes have been taking care of their younger siblings since the dawn of time. It is only at this particularly terrified moment in time that we see all adolescent males as potential pervs at worst, incompetent lugs at best.

How is preventing males from changing diapers and teen boys from helping toddlers serving the best interests of anyone, including the kids, who now may have no nursery or Sunday school, due to a lack of volunteers? And similarly, how is treating two family members as if they are a cabal of kiddie molesters bettering the world?

I hate child abuse. I hate any abuse. But it seems as if a simple “two people in the room” rule would serve you very well, without these other, excessive, demeaning caveats — or so sez me. In the meantime, here are a few responses I very much endorse that came from readers when you wrote your comment in the post below. (And here the dot-dot-dots ARE mine):

  1. pentamom, on May 13, 2011 at 01:47 said: Dear Don: … Insurance companies don’t design policies to balance wisdom and risk; they design them to eliminate risk entirely, as far as possible. Churches have more concerns than that. It is good to wisely incorporate policies that protect kids; it is not good to forget that not a single decision or recommendation of an insurance company is done out of love for people or what is actually best for them overall — children included.

    Library Diva, on May 13, 2011 at 01:47 said: Don, don’t you resent that your insurance company has badgered you into policies that you don’t really support? ….  As a man, doesn’t it bother you that society seems to consider your entire gender a threat to children

    Abuse does terrible things to people’s lives, and it’s good that there’s been more awareness of it. But it seems unbalanced in the extreme, where we now treat ANYONE who has an interest in spending time with children as some sort of sick pedo. Fighting back against this “worst-first” thinking is part of what the blog’s about, so that someday insurance companies won’t be so concerned by the possibilty of false accusation lawsuits that they destroy community in the manner that’s happened to you.

  2. Uly, on May 13, 2011 at 02:18 said: Don wrote: “The diaper and teenage thing was a stretch for me personally, but at the recommendation of my insurance company and the thought of potentially stopping abuse, I saw it as a worthwhile compromise.”

    WHY is it a worthwhile compromise to do something that makes no logical sense, unfairly maligns a portion of the population (preventing them from learning useful parenting skills), and alienates members of your own church? WHO is being protected by this?

    Okay, it’s Lenore here again: I do thank you for writing in, Don. It is always good to get a dialog going. And I’m glad your kids go to the store! — L

Oh Those Nefarious Retirees, Trying to “Help” the Church Nursery

Hi Readers: Here’s a letter from the front lines of (excessive) child saftey, and how it is changing society.  — Lenore 

Dear Free-Range Kids: With your recent posts about risk adversity, I wanted to tell you about a horrendous trend that is starting to appear in churches: husbands and wives are no longer allowed to work together in children’s ministry.

One would think that a husband/wife team would be exactly what a church would want in helping to nourish youth.  But it seems that insurance companies and risk-adversity have gotten the better of people’s common sense.  Basically, the idea is that since spouses can’t testify against each other, we need someone else in the room.

This happened to a church I used to go to.  It was medium-sized — small enough that we were fairly short on nursery and children’s volunteer staff.  In one of the nurseries, a retired couple had been watching the children for a long time, and everyone was happy with them, and they enjoyed the chance to be together with children.  But under the new policy, they couldn’t be together unless there was a *third* person to watch them.  So, they were told they couldn’t watch the nursery together anymore.  And so they just stopped working there.

Here’s a link to a “Safe Haven” policy that is not from the church I mention, but is an example of the anti-family, pro-paranoia policies that are creeping in everywhere. Here’s the really bad part of the policy:

All workers in nursery through three years old shall not be from the same family.

Teenage boys will not be permitted to work in the nursery or toddler areas.

Only adult women shall change diapers and help toddlers in the restroom. When taking children to the restroom, the door shall be partially open.

Thought you might be interested. — Jon

Jon, I am. I am interested to know that teenage boys are, as a group, not allowed to work with young kids. I guess thousands of years of older siblings looking after younger siblings matters not when “Worst First” thinking creeps in. The “worst” being: He’s male, he’s young, why would he want to have anything to do with a child unless, of course, he’s a pervert? Get him away!

Then there’s the idea of only women changing diapers. Sometimes it feels like the easiest way to roll back feminism is to insist, “We DO believe in equality. But think of the children!”

As for the elderly couple leaving the church where they are no longer trusted and cherished, I don’t blame them. But it’s funny that when we “Think of the children!” we end up not…thinking of the children. — L.

I hope that there are another two adults (one unrelated) watching this man at all times!

A Question About the Toilet Down the Hall

Hi Folks! Here’s a question about bathroom break protocol at a Sunday School. Weigh in! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: What got me interested in this movement is a conversation I had at church just over a week ago. I’m my church’s Health and Safety Officer, but we also have a Child Protection Officer who is also Churchwarden.  She approached me just before the service and asked my opinion on what age a child should be allowed to go to the toilet unaccompanied.

I should explain the toilet is in a room adjoining the church which connects with the school and has a door opening onto the school yard. This is left open so the Sunday School students can go into the school hall and return to the church later. The Churchwarden seemed to be worried that a stranger might climb over the fence into the yard and attack a child using the toilet.

She was called away by someone and the service started a minute later so I didn’t get a chance to reply, but the question lingered with me. Talking to her later, I suggested a cutoff age of 12. I actually thought younger would be fine, but felt that that would probably cause outrage, knowing how paranoid people can be about child safety. To my absolute astonishment she said others had convinced her it should be 14, as this was the legal age children could be left on their own in the UK!

I have since found out that is untrue — there is no proscribed legal age its up to the judgment of the parents.

I didn’t press the issue then but I have been researching it and that’s what led me to this website. I must say it’s one of the most heartening things I’ve ever come across. I work in a secondary school as a science technician and I’ve often felt sad at how restricted children are compared to when I was growing up.

But, back to the church issue. I’m sure she’ll bring it up at the next Church Council meeting, but I intend to fight a cutoff age of 14. Just what sort of society are we creating if a young person of 12 or 13 can’t be allowed the dignity of going to the loo on their own in broad daylight?

I agree! And I’d set the age a lot younger. I actually think first graders can get themselves to and from the bathroom on their own. Didn’t most of us? I sure did. And after reading (in the comments on the post below this one) about the 4 and 5-year-olds using machetes elsewhere in the world, I have a feeling we First World denizens REALLY underestimate what our kids of capable of.

What’s more, the idea that some miscreant is going to scale a fence in the  hopes of maybe finding a kid in the bathroom on the other side is bizarre in its unlikeliness. If I were a thug, I’d certainly prefer committing a crime that did not require me to start by climbing.

The whole situation sounds safe and simple, and let’s not forget it! — L

PIN Numbers for Tiny Pre-School?

Hi Readers! This woman needs our help devising good arguments to bring to her pre-k’s PTA. Over to you! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I’m a regular reader of your blog and love to hear your input and that of your readers on Free-Range issues.

Well, my Free-Range issue came up while I was at preschool orientation for parents the other day. The orientation leader announced that all the fund-raising money this year will be used to buy a security system. I first thought I’d misunderstood. I wondered why a small co-op preschool in a church in a quiet neighborhood would need a security system. So I asked about it and the leader said every family will have a PIN number to punch in to open the one entrance door, and that this is the norm at preschools.

I was sort of stunned into silence at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. First, in the two years I’ve been a parent there, I’ve never heard of a “security breach” or any kind of threat, or even a minor incident like a confused church visitor wandering around the preschool. In fact, I’ve never even seen a parishioner or church employee in the preschool part of the building.

Second, the kids are all in classes with a teacher and two adult helpers and they don’t go anywhere alone, even the bathroom or the drinking fountain. (The kids are ages 2, 3 and 4.)

Ultimately, I think there will be more problems with people forgetting PIN numbers, or holding the door for other parents, which I’m sure will be against the rules. Plus, once this security system goes in, it just seems like it will feed the feeling that there is something to fear and that this is actually a good use of our donations and fund-raising dollars.

I am curious about your general opinion on this and also to hear from you or others in the know if this is the norm at preschools now. — A.

I don’t know if this is the norm now — I hope it isn’t, but I did just hear of another instance of this in a college town pre-K.  I totally agree it is a waste of money that could be spent on so many other things — books, blocks, art supplies. And if a school is already so well-funded that it lacks for nothing except excessive security measures, maybe (in the spirit of a church-run institution) the money should be diverted to a  school that lacks the stuff yours has.

This is like putting a five point harness on a swing: A new, unnecessary security precaution that could catch on, if and when it starts to seem just “better safe than sorry.” Even though it’s actually insane. — Lenore

A Sunday School Story (Complete, Of Course, With Predators)

Hi Readers — This seemed like the perfect companion piece to the post below this one, about our intense, almost obsessive focus on predators. Gosh, remember when “predator” was most commonly used to describe, like, a mountain lion or great horned owl? Those were the days!– L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: We belong to a very small Methodist church, about 100 people attend every week. Our Sunday School classes are small, maybe 5 to 7 kids in each. The conference came out with a Safe Sanctuary policy to help us address issues of child safety. Now all of our teachers have to have background checks, their doors have to be open or they need to have multiple teachers in the room. All of a sudden there are “dangers” lurking where there had never been any before.

This is how we perpetuate the fear that something inappropriate will happen. Nobody in our Sunday school classes changed. Same kids, same teachers. But now there’s an added level of caution.

Hugging Instructions? Yep.

Just when you thought Pedophile Panic couldn’t get any weirder comes this comment from a reader:

A training document distributed at my church a few weeks ago for people who work with children actually tried to instruct in how to hug a child. The sentence said, “Remember: Side hugs are best.”

Side hugs? How about being even a little safer and saying hi with a friendly elbow-to-elbow tap? Or quick pinky-to-pinky press? Or perhaps the “Heel Hello” — whereby two people meet backwards, heel to heel. That way there’s no accidental nipple grazing, either!

Outrage of the Weekend: Eek! A Male!

Hi Free-Rangers — Speaking of our growing terror of anyone with a Y chromosone, read this:

My husband, who taught kindergarten Sunday School, is no longer allowed to help out with the preschoolers.  At all. Why?  A child fell down and hurt herself, and while comforting her he gave her a kiss.  On the forehead.  And apparently another parent saw this and assumed he was some sort of sicko.  A month earlier he had a child in his class pass out napkins before snack and she went home and told her parents that she was the special helper in Mr. X’s class.  They switched their child’s class.  99% percent of parents loved him, because of a couple of paranoid parents, and a church afraid of being sued, everyone is suffering.  The kids come up to him and ask why he isn’t their teacher anymore.  What is he supposed to say?