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

Half of All 5-10 Year Olds Have NEVER Played on Their OWN Street

Dear Readers — Here is an extraordinary essay from the Times of London, “We Approach Others’ Children at Our Peril.” It traces how “what began 25 years ago as an understandable desire to raise awareness of child abuse is turning into something extremely distructive — an instinctive suspicion of any encounter between grown-ups and unrelated children.”

This fear has lead not only to parents locking their children indoors — as indicated by the statistic in my headline (from England) — it is also changing the very relationship between children and grown-ups. As notes the article, by Jenni Russell, this generation of children has “been taught from the time they start school that all strangers may be dangerous and all men are threats. So children have become frightened of adults and adults — terrified that any interaction of theirs might be misinterpreted — have become equally frightened of them.”

Men: Has there been a time when you were thinking of helping a child, but held back, for fear you might be mistaken for a lecher, or worse? I’m curious about this.

Meantime, the takeaway point is this: When adults can’t approach a child without first second-guessing the consequences, and children think of all adults as potentially evil, we have a prescription for a stand-off. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening. Kids can’t ask grown-ups for help, grown-ups can’t volunteer it. Who is safer as a result?

No one, of course. All in the name of child safety.  — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Dear Abby!

Dear Abby:

I have a problem. I read a supposedly “helpful” advice column yesterday about public bathrooms and whether children are safe from pedophiles if their mom is waiting right outside the door. The piece said no! No way! As a matter of fact, it added, slightly off tangent, “Children have been violated in a matter of seconds in the play areas of fast food restaurants with the parents RIGHT THERE!”

Now when I think about McDonald’s “ball room” it has a whole new meaning. Ick.

 Signed: Newly Scared of Fast Food Playspaces That Seem Too Small For Most Grown Men to Squeeze Into, But What Do I Know in New York

 Dear Newly Scared:

Oh! That was actually MY advice column you read. I’m flattered! It had a lot of tips like that. Tips based on nothing more than base fearmongering passed off as gospel. It’s a living!

In case you missed them, here are the biggest doozies I ran yesterday with nary a hint that bathrooms are, in reality, very safe places for boys to go pee. No, I made sure never to question the basic premise of my tip-givers – regular ol’ readers — that predators are lurking in pretty much every stall. What can I say? They hear scary stuff, they pass it to me, I pass it along, they hear it again. Vicious circle, but boy does it sell! Read on! — these are the wackiest reader tips that appeared yesterday:

* I have a 7-year-old son and I do not allow him to go unsupervised into a men’s room. Anyone could be behind that door and anything could happen in less than a minute’s time. We must protect our children even if it means that sometimes they have to suffer embarrassment.

A friend with two sons offered an interesting alternative. She would allow her sons to use the men’s room if they talked to her while she stood outside the door. If they stopped talking, they knew it meant she was coming in. — DONNA IN TYNER, N.C.

*When my son was 7 or 8, he, too, was embarrassed about going into the restroom with me. I gave him a whistle with instructions to blow it if anyone bothered him while I waited outside the men’s room. The whistle also came with additional instructions: “Never blow it as a joke just to see if I’ll come running, because if you do, you are in DEEP trouble!” — LORI IN TEANECK, N.J.

*Lisa should invest in a pair of two-way radios. This way, her son goes into the restroom with an additional layer of protection. She should also inform him to always use the stall so he can lock the door. — MARK IN GATOR COUNTRY

Dear Abby:

Millions of people must be thanking you for these! But I hope you don’t mind that I called Dr. Amy Baxter, a pediatrician who did a fellowship in child sexual abuse. Now she runs a sex abuse clinic once a week down in Atlanta. I wanted to confirm just how common the crime of bathroom pedophilia is.

 Dr. Baxter said that she has seen about 500 children who’ve been sexually abused. Terrible!

 “How many of them were abused in a public bathroom?” I asked.

 “Nobody.”

 She then contacted two friends in the same field. One had seen an instance of this, which is horrible. Another – a biggie in the field — had seen none.

My point is not to say there is NO danger in public bathrooms. NO place is ever 100% safe. My point is that there is no reason to make public bathrooms seem any less safe than anyplace else. Especially since 96% of child abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows (according to Dr. Baxter), not a stranger. So why whip up the fear of stranger danger any more than it is already whipped?

I think it is good advice to tell parents to teach their kids to stand up for themselves. But it is bad advice to make parents think the world is so chock-full of predators that even when we stand a few feet away from our children, they are still in mortal peril. Your job is to preach common sense, not recycle paranoia.

On the other hand, I do generally like your advice about teens, affairs and politeness. And in-laws! Love the in-law stuff. Have a good weekend.

Signed – FREE-RANGE KIDS 

Speaking of Paranoia…

Here is a great quote, lifted from The Week (my favorite magazine*), which lifted it from David Iganatius in The Washington Post. It points out  that we have gotten so used to thinking in terms of preparing for the very worst, the very least likely scenarios, that that we don’t realize how overbearing (and often dumb) our safety measures have become. I was thinking the same thing today as I struggled to open the super-tamper-resistent seal on my can of whipped cream. I really was not that worried about someone tampering with my whipped cream. — L

This September, as we mark the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, let’s resolve to dial the paranoia meter back a notch. The Transportation Security Administration is so pervasive at airports that we forget how bizarre it is to see old ladies and pregnant mothers and 8-year-old kids frisked and searched as if they had just arrived from Waziristan. Does this really make sense? Every Cabinet secretary seems to have a security detail; so do governors and maors and prominent legislators. What are all these secruity officials protecting our officials from? Al Qaida? Hezbollah? Aggrieved constituents? Or is it something more ephemeral — a nameless, pervasive sene of danger? Surely, we have reached the point of diminishing returns for the fortress mentality.

Right on! Sometimes we get so concerned about safety that we forget what we are giving up. Like freedom. And resourcefulness. And using our common sense. Or even believing that common sense has any value at all.  — Lenore

 

*I also write a humor contest in The Week. But I was a subscriber long before they hired me!