And Speaking of Perv-o-mania:

Check this out. If I could figure out how to show you the picture here, I would. But I can’t, so click and enjoy! (Or whatever.) — L

P.S. Ah! Thanks to my friend Floyd, HERE is the object in question!

And in the words of one of you brilliant commenters: Also watch out for anyone who might pedo-feel-ya!

Stand Up & Cheer for the Flower Ladies!

Hi Readers! This is a story that’ll give you heart! Over in England, in Gloucester, there’s a cathedral. In this cathedral, a group of about 60 ladies volunteer as flower arrangers. They make the place beautiful. But, apparently, just by being HUMAN, they also make the place DANGEROUS. According to The Telegraph:

At issue seems to have been a bizarre fear that because the women shared a toilet with choirboys, there was a risk that paedophiles could infiltrate the flower guild. A vetting system that was set up to protect children and vulnerable adults thus appears to have mown down a cohort of mostly retired women, average age 70, who represent the backbone of Britain’s voluntary movement.

Yes, the fear is that someone among them might molest the boys with whom they share a bathroom! (Or with whom they WOULD share a bathroom, except the ladies are there during the hours when the choirboys are usually in school.) But anyway — to safeguard the boys, the ladies were told to undergo a background check, to make sure they weren’t convicted pedophiles.  This check was not legally required (see this follow-up story), but the church demanded it anyway. And the chairwoman of the guild, Annabel Hayter, refused.

RIGHT ON.

After she went public with her refusal, she was forced to resign.

FOR SHAME.

As she told The Telegraph, “It is offensive. The people who forced me to resign have had dinner at my house. They know me well. They are showing an incredible lack of trust and common sense… It is terribly sad but it’s also quite pathetic.”

It’s worse than pathetic. This deep distrust of any and all human beings is tearing at the fabric of society. For real. When we regard every adult as a potential child molester, we can’t trust anyone. We have to watch our children every second. And, by the way, whom DO we trust? The folks with papers?

After Annabel Hayter resigned, other flower ladies followed suit.  Now the country is taking note. According to The Telegraph, “The row has highlighted growing concern about the ‘overzealous’ use of Criminal Records Bureau checks, which critics say are deterring and demoralising volunteers across the country.”

I’m sure they are. It’s pretty demoralizing to say, “I’ve come to arrange the peonies,” and hear, “Not so fast, you possible perv!”

And so Annabel, I salute you. This could be the start of something big. Something that we all long for, but are increasingly told is unattainable, even dangerous. It’s called community — a group of people held together by trust and responsibility. A group of people not naive, but not hysterical either, working together, all different ages, to raise a new generation. Same as you’d raise a garden of flowers. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Beloved Santa Fired for a Joke

Ho Ho Grrrrr, Readers: If I had a sleigh, I’d be on my way out to the Macy’s in San Fran which just sacked its beloved Santa, despite the fact he’d been doing the gig for 20 years. Some folks even made special trips just to visit the man known as “Santa John.” But then he did something unforgivable! According to this report in sfgate.com, he was booted after an adult couple complained about a joke he’d cracked:

The joke has been in his Santa bag for decades. But after thousands of tellings, the 68-year-old retired caretaker for the elderly finally hit the wrong recipients – apparently an older woman and her husband, who considered it inappropriate.

Toomey – who stays in Oroville most summers and winters in San Francisco while he does the kiddie-on-the-knee gig – said he’d never had complaints before about the joke, which he saves for the occasional grown-up who visits him.

“When I ask the older people who sit on my lap if they’ve been good and they say, ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Gee, that’s too bad,’ ” Toomey said Monday.

“Then, if they ask why Santa is so jolly, I joke that it’s because I know where all the naughty boys and girls live.”

The kids who sit on his lap, he said, get only his trademark laugh and questions about what toys they want.

Macy’s spokeswoman Betsy Nelson said the store cannot comment because the matter involves personnel.

But several workers used words including “devastated” and “overreaction” to describe their take on Santa John being booted from his throne at Santaland on the seventh floor. They all asked not be named because store policy forbids them from speaking publicly about such matters, but their un-yule-ish gloom was palpable.

“People make a pilgrimage to see him every year, some for as long as 15 years,” said one worker. “Everyone loves him. Everybody’s just heartsick about this.”

I can’t wait to see the movie about this story: “Miracle on Stupid, Paranoid, Everyone’s-a-Predator Street.”  In these touchy times, I guess you can dandle thousands of delighted kids on your knee, but make one piffling joke that some uptight adult finds “inappropriate” and that’s enough to scare the (Santa) suits. Out into the cold you go, Mr. Kringle, and here’s a lump of coal for those two decades.

Personally, I love Macy’s here in New York City. I love its parade, its building, its wild hum of humanity. But this firing out in San Fran brings to mind  the “Miracle on 34th Street” exec who booked Santa into Bellevue.

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to, so please repeat after me: “I believe that at some point America WILL regain its sanity. It’s silly, but I believe. It’s silly, but I believe…” — L

Santa Claus is coming to town. Oh no!

Outrage of the Week Reversed! Maybe All Men AREN’T Pervs, Airline Realizes

Hey Readers! Good news! You’ll recall that British Airways had a rule that forbid any adult male from sitting next to any minor who was not his own child. Blogged about it here. The (unstated) reason for the rule? ALL MEN ARE PERVERTS…until proven otherwise. And since there’s really no way TO  “prove otherwise,” they airline simply assumed the worst.

British Airways didn’t move women, it only moved men, perhaps believing that guys routinely use this time in a public space,  surrounded by lots of other passengers, and people walking through the aisles, and flight attendants, to prey upon young folks. It’s a lovely view of the world, and males in particular. But Mirko Fischer took exception. Here’s the story, from the BBC:

Last year he was on a flight from London back to his home in Luxembourg when his pregnant wife Stefanie asked him to swap seats so she could sit next to the window.

He took her middle seat but cabin crew, who mistakenly believed he was alone, told him to move back to his original seat as he had ended up sitting next to a boy he did not know.

In June Mr Fischer told the BBC: “I felt humiliated and outraged. They accuse you of being some kind of child molester just because you are sitting next to someone.”

Fischer sued the airline for sex discrimination — and won. Though the airline admitted sex discrimination only in this one case, it has changed its seating procedure and will now group unaccompanied kids together. (Avoid sitting in front of that row!)  Unlike many American litigants, Fischer didn’t sue for a lot of money and, in any event, he’s giving the damages he received plus about $5000 of his own money to charities that protect children.

Protect them from real dangers, that is: abuse, neglect, hunger. Not from the vast majority of men who — surprise! — have zero interest in having sex with young kids. — Lenore

I’m Off for a Day on the Town with a “Sex Offender” (And His Mom!)

Hi Readers! I’m very psyched because tomorrow I am going to meet a young man named Ricky and his mom, Mary Duval. Ricky is a Tier 3 Predator Status Sex Offender, on the list for life. Or at least he was, for almost four years.

How he finally got off that list this year is a story of a mom’s tenacity. How he got ON it is a story of a country that has passed sex offender laws that just don’t mesh with what we need. We NEED to keep child rapists away from our kids. We HAVE laws that make our children into rapists. Case in point?

Ricky.

When Ricky was 16 he had consensual sex twice with a girl he met at a teen club. She told him she was 15. Turns out she was just 13. Long story short: Even though the girl and her parents did not want Ricky prosecuted, he was. He admitted the “crime,” and thus he ended up one of America’s nearly 1 million registered sex offenders.

I’ve written about his story, but never with the same frankness and detail as on the website he and his mom put together, Rickyslife.com .  The story is so outrageous and the mom has been so good at bringing attention to the issue of teens branded as predators for having sex with other teens, that the media have paid attention. Now the mother and son are coming to New York from Oklahoma to tape an episode of John Stossel’s show. It’ll air later in the week.

Tomorrow, though, I’m showing them the sights. (Well, showing them to Ricky and describing them to his mom, who recently went blind from Marfan Syndrome. Did that stop her? Clearly not.)

So no posts from me Tuesday. I’ll be on the town with a mom and son I can’t wait to meet. — Lenore

Guest Post: Stranger Danger Stupidity

Hi Readers — I think a lot of us have been in “stranger danger” situations like the one described by Renee Jacobson, a teacher for 20 years, below. Her blog is called “Lessons from Teachers and Twits,” and it’s a twit that she learned this particular lesson from. — Lenore

HEY LADY: I AM NOT A CREEP! by Renée Schuls-Jacobson

I was in the epicenter of suburbia, standing in a Target store, holding up two bathing suits, and feeling a little indecisive. A little blond-haired girl who couldn’t have been more than three stood in her bright red cart while her mother, standing an arm’s length away, sifted furiously through a rack of summer shorts.

“I like the pink one with the flowers,” the girl offered, unsolicited. “It’s pretty.”

“I like that one, too . . .” I said. “But I think I’m going to get the black one.”

Suddenly, the little girl’s mother swooped in, a deranged lioness. “We don’t talk to strangers!” she shouted loud enough for not only her daughter to hear, but for everyone in the entire department. Clearly, the message was more for me than for anyone else. Then she pushed the cart (and her little girl) far, far away from (dangerous) me.

Heaven forbid, her daughter and I might have got to talking about shoes.

Okay, I get that there is this weird, American fear about strangers. I don’t seem to have that fear, but I know a lot of people do. That said, 99.99% of the world is composed of strangers, so I have always been of the mindset that one of my many jobs as a mother includes teaching my child about how to respond appropriately to strangers because – let’s face it – sometimes, a person needs to rely on other people.

At age 10, my son doesn’t have a cell phone. He can’t call me or text me for immediate rescue. So if, for example, we happen to get separated at the grocery store and he really can’t find me after searching the aisles for a few minutes, he has learned to go to Customer Service and calmly state that his mother has gotten lost (ha!) and ask for me to be paged. Or, if we are at an outdoor venue, I have taught him to find a mother and ask her – this stranger – to call me.

He knows not to get into a car with someone he doesn’t know. He knows not accept anything from anyone offering him candy or kittens or balloons or free iPods. He knows not to go anywhere with a stranger asking for help. He’s known these things since he was small, and he’s actually had to put some of them into practice. I guess I’d rather have my kid feel he can trust other human beings.

So, really, what did the mother in Target succeed in teaching her daughter by sweeping her away from me so violently? That people are terrifying. That no one can be trusted. That the world is a scary place, and that her daughter is utterly unequipped to function in it. She taught her daughter not to speak. That even casual conversation is dangerous.

In short: That mother didn’t teach her daughter a thing about safety. She taught her daughter about fear. And as far as I’m concerned, she also taught her daughter a big lesson in how to be downright rude. –Renee Jacobson

A Man in Uniform (Is Trusted. Otherwise — Forget It)

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter from a 22-year-old paramedic in Queensland, Australia, where folks, too, seem to suffer from the modern-day problem I call “Worst-first thinking.” What I mean is: When an adult and a child interact, onlookers often assume the worst, first. Like so — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: So, it was a training day the other day.  For lunch we decide to meet at the local park. Picture this: a dozen paramedics, six ambulances, a few assessors all sitting around a park enjoying our lunch.

A mother comes up with two small children.

A crew (one male, one female) shows the children through their ambulance and puts on the lights for them (note: small children + flashing lights = much joy).

The male paramedic comes back and jokes how if he wasn’t in uniform he would have been lynched for showing children through his ambulance. And then an interesting conversation begins amongst the males of our group.

The uniform vs. no uniform.

How when they are in uniform the males are allowed to talk to children.

But when they are in civilian clothing they do that only at their own risk.

How when children in the back seat of a car wave at the ambulance we wave back.

How when we are in our own car we do, too.

But, God help you if you’re male and the parents catch you waving at their kids.

As one male paramedic summed it up: “You have to wave for long enough to make the kids smile. But short enough so that the parent’s don’t come chasing after you screaming PAEDOPHILE!”

But what happens when the risk outweighs the joy in seeing a child smile? — Baby Paramedic

Yay! Charges Dropped vs. Helpful Kid Arrested for “Abducting” 3 y.o.

Hey Readers — As we head into a weekend celebrating life and liberty (at least on this side of the pond), let’s celebrate the liberty that has come to Edwin McFarlane, the young man charged with abducting the lost 3-year-old he was trying to help. The State Attorney’s Office announced it won’t prosecute.

Here’s our original post on the topic. And here’s the happy ending — complete with mentor overload for the young man, who now has a whole bunch of adults hoping to help steer him to a successful life. We hope the same thing for him! Happy weekend to all! — Lenore

Maybe Everyone in England DOESN’T Need a Background Check

Hi Readers — Things are roiling in England where it seems the powers that be are finally reconsidering their bizarre policy of requiring background checks for ANYONE having ANY contact with kids. That included authors coming to speak in schools, moms (or “mums”) volunteering to work as class parents, field trip chaperones — in all, 9 million people were required to get checked. Or they were about to be, anyway, until a few days ago when the “Home Secretary” made remarks to the effect of: What a paranoid policy! Let’s get dump it!

This unleashed a flood of comments, pro and con. So here’s where we pick up the story, via The Guardian:

Headteachers also said the checks would “ruin school life” by putting in jeopardy foreign exchange trips and affecting parents who help out with school plays and sports teams.

The home secretary said she had halted the implementation of the scheme because it had become clear it was a draconian measure.”We were finding the prospect of a lot of people who do very good work up and down the country, were actually saying: ‘I can’t be bothered to if you are going to treat me like that’,” said May.

“You were assumed to be guilty, in a sense, until you were proven innocent and told you could work with children. By scaling it back we will be able to introduce a greater element of common sense. What we have got to do is actually trust people again.”

How I wholeheartedly agree with the home secretary! (And how I NEED a home secretary…but I think that’s another story.) Anyway, inevitably her remarks prompted a backlash, including the usual, “It’s a good day to be a predatory pedophile!” Also inevitably, the story ran with the adorable photo of two English girls who disappeared in 2002, and whose fate prompted the whole background check mania.

I can’t figure out exactly where things stand now, but I am very glad the “scheme” is getting a second look, rather than just steamrolling forward. The idea behind the checks is very much the same idea as in the post below this one, about the 14-year-old boy arrested for trying to help a toddler find her mom: Assuming the very worst motives of ANYONE involved with children in ANY capacity.

Makes for a dark world of suspicion, fear and false accusations. But I guess it’s good for the background checking companies!  — Lenore

Would You Leave $1 Million Alone? No? Then Why Leave Your Kid??

Hi Readers — Two things: First, this being Memorial Day Weekend, I am taking a three-day break! I’ll be back in the saddle on Tuesday, but until then, talk amongst yourselves.

Second, here’s a little thought-provoking note I got the other day that should provide plenty of discussion around the picnic table.  (And if you’re reading this in Australia: Sorry! Brrrrr!)

It’s been a great and wild ride since announcing “Take Our Children to the Park…” Day. If you’re near a TV tonight, I’m on CNN at around 8:45 Eastern Time, discussing it. Here are my opeds about it in The Times (of London) and The Guardian. Meantime, I wish everyone, young and old, a wonderful Free-Range weekend! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: In an attempt to help promote “Take Your Child To The Park….And Leave Them There Day” I’ve been posting on assorted parenting forums and other bulletin boards where moms congregate. I’ve seen everything from the typical blame the victim–”How would you feel if something terrible happened?”–to the pious– “I would never leave my child alone any place that I wouldn’t leave a million dollars.”  It’s that last statement I want to address.

It certainly sounds like a wonderful rule of thumb, but dig a little deeper and it becomes clear how flawed that logic is.  For starters, and this may seem to be an astoundingly obvious statement, money isn’t a child.  Money doesn’t need to learn how to share, resolve conflict, solve problems, or any of the thousands of other skills children must learn in order to be successful adults.  Even if you smack some googly eyes on it, a la the Geico commercial, it’s still just a stack of money and has no needs whatsoever.

Money can’t fight back.  If we have done our jobs as parents, our children should know that it’s not safe to go off with strangers.  They should have a playbook of what to do if someone threatens them or makes them uncomfortable.  Money doesn’t have legs.  It can’t run from a threat.  It doesn’t have arms with which to defend itself, nor a voice with which to cry for help.

The second problem with this seemingly innocuous statement is a problem of scale.  There are, presumably, way more people who would be interested in stealing a stack of money than in doing the same to a child.  As Lenore has often pointed out, in this day and age of 24/7 cable news, CSI, Law & Order and other programs in which children are regularly depicted as the victims, it can be hard to remember that every moment is NOT an accident waiting to happen, every stranger is not an immediate threat to our children, and every second a child spends out of our sight is not the moment that they’ll decide to take a long walk off a short pier.

Finally, the implication in the axiom of “Don’t leave your child any place you wouldn’t leave a million dollars” is insidious.  The reason WHY just recently bubbled to the surface of my mind as a coherent thought: It is the worst kind of  justification for helicopter parenting.  The underlying meaning is that any parent who could leave their child alone for even a second in what the writer considered to be an unsafe environment doesn’t value their children.  The writer let herself off the hook by making it clear that she considers her children to be worth a million bucks while at the same time implying that I didn’t.

In fact, I think exactly the opposite is true.  Not only do I think my child is worth a million bucks, I think other people who interact with him will see his potential.  I think those people, if my son is threatened or hurt, will react to protect his potential if I’m not present to do so.  I believe that the vast majority of people are inherently good.  And I believe that a million bucks, whether stored in the mattress or chained to my side and never spent, is a fortune that has been wasted.