Lady Forced to Delete Pix of Kids (Not Hers) with Mall Santa

Hi Readers: Is there some way we can convince Americans (and then the world, and then the galaxy) that taking pictures of a child who is out and about in public is not the same as sexually violating them? Because the fact is:  Most people taking pictures of kids are not doing it to get off on ’em. And for those few who are, dare I ask: So what? It’s like that disclaimer at the end of a movie: No child was harmed in the making of this photo.

I think the hysteria about kiddie picture taking stems from a lot of sources:

1 – The belief that anyone interested in kids other than their own MUST be a pedophile. (And what a lovely notion that is.)

2 – The deep-rooted fear that a picture really DOES capture the soul.

3 – The conviction on the part of some parents that their kids are SO preternaturally attractive that they are going to be singled out by everyone, including talent scouts, college admissions officers, and perverts.

4 – The idea that, “I once heard something about a picture of some kid that ended up on the Internet and…” I.e., some half-baked urban myth that doesn’t even make SENSE, but rattles around in the collective consciousness.

So here’s the story of a middle aged woman who wanted to take some sweet Christmas photos at the mall (I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms to some of us). She shot some photos of kids talking to Santa, and the kids’ mom kicked shot her dead.

Well, not quite. But the mom certainly killed the photographer’s Christmas spirit. So did the security guard who demanded she delete the photos of the kids.

Now the weird twist is that the photographer lady is actually a former West Virginia State Senator. And in a column she wrote about the mall/photo experience she says:

The woman who had stalked me through the mall did not know that I am a former state legislator who initiated and succeeded in creating strict laws against pedophiles in the West Virginia legislature. To me, the random child in my picture was simply a representation of a special moment in a human life and an innocent attempt to capture the magic of Christmas.

I just wonder how her “strict laws against pedophiles” dealt with other folks just trying to capture a special moment. Let’s hope her laws were measured and sane. And let’s hope that what we all get this season is the gift of calming down and connecting, instead of fearing everyone and everything. — L.

From My Mailbox: “10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Kids”

Hi Readers — Out of the blue I got this “tip” sheet with a request to post it. As I replied to the sender: “I have a feeling you are not very familiar with my blog.”

Those of you who ARE familiar with the basic Free-Range Kids concept that our kids are less endangered and more capable than pop culture suggests, may be surprised to see just how far the over-protection faction seems willing to go:

10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Teen

On October 10, 2011, in in my area, by admin

Teens have access to unprecedented amounts of technology, and the problem is, they usually know how to use it better than their parents. With sexting, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and internet predators in abundance, parents need to closely monitor what their teens are doing on the internet and beyond. The best way to do this is to use the newest technology available to spy on their teens. Kids may not appreciate it, but it’s important for parents to know what their teens are up to at this impressionable age when they don’t always make good decisions. Here are 10 ways to use technology to spy on your teen.

  1. Nanny cam – Originally used to monitor in-home caregivers, nanny cams can be used to spy on your teens as well. These hidden cameras can be installed in common household objects and placed strategically throughout your home. Parents of teens may consider putting one in their teen’s bedroom to make sure their child is not engaging in inappropriate behavior when they’re not home.
  2. Facebook – Friend your teens on facebook to monitor what they’re posting on their facebook page. If you suspect they are blocking you from some of their postings, you could get sneaky and pose as someone else, such as another teen, to find out what they’re really up to.
  3. Twitter – It’s also a good idea to follow your kids on Twitter to see what they’re tweeting about. Your teen will be more likely to be careful about what they tweet if they know you’re watching. This can help prevent inappropriate pictures being sent into cyberspace where they will live on forever.
  4. Internet search history – Periodically check your teen’s internet search history on their computer to see what they looking at when they surf the web. Are they doing research for homework or just watching You Tube? Make sure you block any porn sights and check to see if the blocks are still in place. Teens will find ways to get around your parental controls, so hold them accountable if they do.
  5. Email – While you’re at it, check on their email history too. Teens won’t like the fact that you’re doing this and will accuse you of invading their privacy. This is a legitimate concern, but so is your concern for their safety. Unless you know that they’re using the computer responsibly, they shouldn’t be allowed to use it unsupervised.
  6. Computer monitor – If you want to know what your teen is doing on their computer and are concerned they will delete any information they don’t want you to see, you can install a monitor to keep track of their computer activity. These monitors can record every keystroke, websites visited, take screen snapshots and give you detailed reports. This is the best way to monitor chat rooms, email and any social networking your teen is engaging in.
  7. Remote monitoring – The technology is also available to have these monitoring reports sent to your email so you can stay informed of your teen’s activities while you’re away from home. This is a great feature if you travel a lot for business. It’s also a good way for your child to let you know instantly if they’re in trouble.
  8. Cell phone monitor – You can get a similar monitoring system to track your child’s cell phone activity. These devices will send you reports on their calls, texting, location, web history and any pictures taken. Teens with mobile phone technology are more likely to use it than their home computers. This is also a great way to deter teen abductions and know instantly if anything goes wrong.
  9. Car monitor – Teens don’t always use good judgment when they get behind the wheel, so a car monitor is another way to use technology to spy on them. These GPS devices not only track where your kids are going, but what speed they’re driving and if they’re out past their curfew. They can even be set to give your teen an audible warning if they’re driving recklessly and emit an ear piercing sound if they’re driving too fast or staying out too late.
  10. Home security – Many people have security systems installed in their homes that can be used to spy on their teens. Security cameras can be reviewed plus checking the alarm history can let you know the exact time your child enters and leaves the house.

Of course your teen is not going to like all this spying, especially if you are doing it on the sly, so be sure to let them know what you’re doing and why. Be careful not to overreact over every little piece of information you get or your teen will find ways to get around your monitoring. There’s a delicate balance between ensuring your child’s safety and just plain being snoopy. Give them as much privacy as you can, but be ready to broach their boundaries if you think they’re in real danger.

LENORE HERE AGAIN: So let’s get this straight: We should put video cameras in our kids’ bedrooms and GPS devices in their cars, even as we follow them on the web and monitor their emails and phone calls?

Isn’t this what the government does with suspected terrorists?

The jolly publicist who sent me these suggestions concluded her email request for me to post them by saying, “It has been a sincere pleasure to read your great content.”

Something tells me she has not really had that pleasure, ever. But maybe now she’ll read your comments. — L 

Never Post a Baby Photo on Facebook?

Hi Readers — It’s nice to hear of sanity taking root!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I just had my first child 6 months ago and I never thought I’d even have to worry about Free-Range Kid topics until he was at LEAST 3 years old, but I was wrong.

I posted an adorable picture of my son on my facebook page 2 days ago of him having tummy time on a towel; diaper free.  Lo and behold, this morning in my message box on Facebook I have a concerned ex-co-worker warning me about the dangers of putting naked pictures of my child on the internet and that pedophiles could get ahold of the photo.  I don’t know how I would have responded a few years ago.  Perhaps I would have sheepishly said I was not worried and in the back of my mind wondered if I was right.  Thanks to you and this wonderful community of fearless parents this was my response:

Oh, you can’t see his front bits. I’m not worried. Perverts can make
something sexual out of ANYTHING. Even feet, or eating cake. We lock
our doors at night, try not to drop our baby on his head, and don’t look
for babysitters on Craigslist. Most sexual abuse happens with family
members, friends, and teachers/ religious leaders, etc. So the best
thing we can do for Ari is make sure that growing up he feels comfortable
talking to us and is raised to fearlessly express his boundaries. In
addition, crimes of that nature in this country have actually
gone DOWN in the past 20 years. I respectfully appreciate your concern
but life’s to short to deprive my family members of that cute little
tush. — A Less-Worried Mom

Hey baby! It's nice to see you (here, on the internet).

Of Porn, Principals and Yearbooks

Hi Readers! Allow me to direct you to my piece on ParentDish today (gotta spread the word beyond these pixels!): “Yearbook Blacks Out Kids’ Eyes for Fear of Porn Potential.”

And that’s really what it’s about: A principal in England ordered the students’ photos disfigured in the yearbook so that no one could cut and paste their innocent little heads onto child porn and post them on the Internet.

Talk about a pervert. Her! What kind of creep even THINKS like that?

And, in a related finding so new and surprising that I don’t even have an opinion about yet, this study came out today saying that in countries that decriminalize child porn, child abuse goes down!

We are living in a strange world. But you knew that. Off to disfigure my darlings’  photos (cause nothing says loving like Magic Markering black bars over their eyes) — Lenore

Why Would You EVER Put Your Child’s Photo on Facebook for the CREEPS to See?!?

That’s what scared folks ask all the time, believing that predators have a lot more patience than the rest of us and are willing to look through ALL those family photos, just to glimpse your adorable child and plan a trip across several state lines to kidnap him/her.

Next time you hear all that, remind them of this story.

As Free range reader Michael in California points out: “Thanks to Facebook, a child is alive:  Win.  The mother has a live child, not a dead one:  Win.  The friend who noticed the problem knows she saved a life:  Win.

“Child’s picture on Facebook:  Win, win, win.”

Family Online Safety Institute Conference

That’s where I’m at, in Washington D.C.  I’ll let you know what I find out! So far, it’s just nice being reminded that the Internet is safer than the headlines make it sound.  You know — same as the real world. Virtually.

This Is When I Despair

Hi Readers! I usually don’t like to comment on the comments — “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion,” etc. etc. –but this time I must. This comment arrived in response to the story I posted last night (below this one) about a teacher who wanted an author to speak to her fourth grade class. Since the  school and the author are 1000 miles apart, the author suggested using the video-chat service Skype. The teacher said no — not unless he could come up with a way the kids could see HIM, but not vice versa.

Then, to add insult to injury, here is what someone commented right here, on Free-Range Kids:

“The teacher is likely (legitimately) concerned that the kids’ faces could end up plastered all over the internet.”

Excuse me? Legitimately concerned that —

1 – A children’s author she has invited will turn around and take photos of her class and post them without permission?  That that’s what men do all the time? Can’t trust ’em for a second?

2 – That boring photos of a 4th grade class are so exciting that they will take the Internet by storm? (Because, of course, there are so few photos of school children available.)

3 – That someone will see this particular photo, obsessively focus on the kid in the third row and move heaven and earth to come find this child and stalk, rape or kill him/her? And that we must keep Third Row Kid safe at all costs?

These are insane fantasies! Perfect, text-book examples of the way so many of us now jump to the absolutely WORST CASE SCENARIO and then work backward from it, preventing something harmless or even wonderful from ever taking place just in case. Using this method of risk calculation, a teacher could politely request that from now on, no one serve her students lunch at school. Because what if one of the lunch ladies is secretly a psychopath and she is intent on murdering the kids one by one? It COULD happen, right? Let’s be prepared for the ABSOLUTE WORST! After all, we’re only thinking about the good of the children!

I am so sick of this “We must protect the children” attitude when we are NOT PROTECTING THEM FROM ANYTHING! We are simply seeing everyone in every capacity as a potential nut job and then we act accordingly. Who’s the nut job there? 

In this case, take your pick:  The paranoid teacher preventing an author from Skyping her class. The paranoid commenter saying, “She has a legitimate safety concern.” Or the paranoid country that thinks every time a child has ANY interaction with ANY adult, even from 1000 miles away, those children are in GRAVE DANGER.

When people think that way — and congratulate themselves for being so “caring” (not to mention clever! And proactive!) — THAT is when I despair.

Lenore

Would You Like Some Cyber-Candy, Little Girl?

NEW STUDY SHOWS HUGE INCREASE IN ARRESTS OF ON-LINE PREDATORS!!!!!

I can guarantee you, that is the headline you are about to hear on TV and read in the papers. And, terrified for your children, you will keep watching or reading, which serves the media darn well. They have lured you in and are holding you captive.

Sort of like…online predators!

But the folks who actually DID the study would like to clear things up.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and his co-director, Janis Wolak, took a look at the number of arrests of on-line predators from 2000 to 2006. The number of guys caught soliciting undercover cops posing as minors grew from 644 to 3,100 – a big leap indeed, but mostly attributed to more cops assigned to cyber-tart impersonation. Meanwhile, the number of guys soliciting actual youths grew, too.

To 615.

Now, look, no one wants these predators to exist at all. Be gone, you jerks! But we are talking about fewer than 4,000 perps, all told, compared to tens of millions of minors on line. In fact, over the same years studied, Internet use among minors leapt from 73% to 93%. So now all but 7% of off all American “junveniles” are on line, and 615 guys were picked up for propositioning them (odds of 39,000 to 1).

Still, it rankles to think of some creep luring a 10-year-old to the playground with the promise of Hannah Montana tickets, right?

Of course it does. (Especially if you’re Hannah Montana’s publicist.) But that is not what’s happening.

“The facts do not suggest that the Internet is facilitating an epidemic of sex crimes against youth,” said the report, point blank. First of all, the majority of the folks arrested were chasing those cop decoys. And as Finkelhor said in a little e-mail to me, those cops “act far more enthusiastic when the proposition comes down than most teens are likely to act.”

We’re not talking entrapment here – per se. But if a youth isn’t actively appearing psyched for sex with strangers, his/her chances of being stalked are microscopic. Quoth the report: “There was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites.” So your kids can have a Facebook page and it’s not like hanging a red light over their virtual door. That’s why we’re letting our older son get a Facebook page, in fact.

 Moreover, the creeps thought they were soliciting adolescents, not little kids (and not – duh — cops). Many of the perps were age 18-25. Not to let them off the hook, but a 19-year-old propositioning a 17-year-old just isn’t as disturbing as a middle-aged guy with tuna breath promising some kid a GameBoy in exchange for a “cuddle.”

Finally – and I know it sounds like I’m from the Internet Predator Defense Society, but bear with me – the study also found out that most of the offenders were “open about their sexual motives in their online communications with youth.” So they were upfront about their goals.

 Let me be equally upfront about mine. I am not pro-predator. Hard to find someone who is.  But I am not pro-hysteria, either. And any report about online predator arrests increasing is going to generate even more fear among parents already convinced their children are in mortal peril from the moment they wake up (if they haven’t gotten their head stuck in the crib slats) to the moment they go to bed (if they haven’t been abducted on their way home from Mandarin).

I’m sure soon we’ll be seeing more stuff we can buy to keep our kids “safe” from this newest overblown danger. And more books and articles pleading with parents to “please watch your children at all times!”

Back to that plea for 24/7 parental surveillance.

The fact is: We live in the safest times ever for children. Until we accept that happy fact, we will fret and overspend and drive everyone crazy, including those surprisingly resilient people: our kids.

Yes, the ones barely looking up from their screens.  – Lenore