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

All Men Are Perverts, Part II: The Clerk

Here’s a short, fun post from the blog (The Customer Is) Not Always Right, all about a new clerk trying to figure out where to shelve the girls’ underwear he is carrying. Yes, that means he is wandering around the store, in public, girls’ panties in tow.

Dear Abby: AGAIN With the Abductors?

Dear Readers: You may recall that last week, Dear Abby passed along the advice that children take a walkie talkie every time they enter a public restroom so they can call mom when they get molested. Since this is a common fear, I asked a child abuse specialist if this is also a common occurence. Of the 500 children this pediatrician had treated for sex abuse, NONE had been abused by a stranger in a bathroom. So Abby’s advice was a little alarmist, to say the least.

That same day, Abby ran a note from another reader that said we should be very careful at indoor playgrounds like the ones at McDonald’s, because children have been “violated” there in a matter of “seconds” WHILE THEIR PARENTS WERE ONLY A FEW FEET AWAY.

Rather than saying, “That sounds almost insane,” Abby ran it with nary a raised eyebrow. Welcome, then, to  Abby’s world. I call it Pedo-delphia — a place she loves to think of as filled to the brim with pedophiles. This may explain the advice she passed along this weekend on her very favorite topic. Here goes:

DEAR ABBY: I have an idea that may prove useful to parents. I have worked in law enforcement for more than 18 years, including as a state police dispatcher. There are often stories in the media of children lost or abducted in the blink of an eye.

Because of the proliferation of cell phones with cameras, there is now a way to help law enforcement officials get the word out via Amber Alerts and news bulletins.

Parents should take advantage of these photo opportunities. Before leaving home for the day on a shopping trip or family outing, take a picture of your children in the outfits they are wearing that day. Once you are all back home, safe and sound, you can delete that picture and the next day take a new one. That way, you’ll always have a current photo of how your child looks “today,” not six months or more ago at a special event. You also won’t have to rely on your memory of exactly what your child was wearing if he or she should go missing.

Time is of the essence, so take advantage of the technology that’s available in today’s world. — JANET IN AURORA, ILL.

DEAR JANET: That’s a great idea. I am sure many thousands of parents will be grateful for your suggestion. Thank you!

And thank YOU, Abby. I’m sure thousands more parents are grateful to you for perpetuating the notion that every day in every way our children are in danger of being abducted.

Not that we shouldn’t have an up-to-date photo of our kids. That does make sense. But to make this a part of one’s DAILY routine, like flossing, is to assume that kidnapping is as likely as tooth decay. It’s also to assume that we can protect our kids from this rare occurence the way we protect them from cavities. I.e., that if and when anything bad DOES ever happen to a child, it’s because the parents just were not vigilant enough.

This is terrible for two reasons. First of all, it makes parents believe they must be on guard, at all times, against abduction. But abudction is so rare that, to quote my favorite statistic again, if you for some reason WANTED your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, you would have to keep him or her outside, unattended, for 750,000 years for this to be statistically likely to happen. Yes, it happens THAT INFREQUENTLY. And yet parents are supposed to organize their lives — and their childrens’ — around the fear of it.

Secondly, it makes parents believe that with enough obsessive planning, they can guard their children against all evil. The corrolary to this is that now parents feel irresponsible unless they are actively keeping their kids safe from even remote dangers. This not only leads to overprotection, it leads us to blame any parents whose children who DO get hurt. He scraped his knee? WHERE WERE HIS PARENTS??

I thought Abby was supposed to give sensible advice. And I guess it is — if you live in Pedo-delphia. – Lenore

On Second Glance…

Sometimes the boogey man is just that, as these parents found out: http://img29.imageshack.us/i/securedownloadbon.jpg/

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 

Of Peanuts and Pedophiles

You’ve probably read about the new, possible cure for peanut allergies. One very hopeful study at Duke ( http://tinyurl.com/cmbh39 ) found that by administering first a dust-size speck of peanuts to an allergic child, and then a slightly larger speck and so on and so on, you can sometimes train the child’s immunological system to stop violently overreacting.  It is wonderful to think that for some people, this may be a cure at last. But it’s also wonderful to think of the peanut story as an analogy to, of all things, stranger danger.

If a child is allowed to explore the world – a little at first, under loving surveillance, but more and more as the years go by — that child’s chances of overreacting to small, everyday risks diminishes. The child is gradually developing street smarts.

But what if that’s not allowed to happen, because the parents have been brainwashed by cable TV and what have you, into thinking their child is never safe out of their sights?

In my  book I write about a grandma who was in her allergist’s waiting room when a boy of about three came up to her and wanted to look through the magnifying glass she was using to read her newspaper. (Gotta love those newspaper readers!)

The grandma was delighted to show the boy, but instantly the kid’s mother swooped in and literally carried him off, saying, “He’s got to learn early NOT to talk to strangers.”

“Strangers” apparently including even little old ladies in waiting rooms. With allergies.

Think of that grandma as a tiny speck of peanut dust: The perfect introduction to the world of strangers. Just a tiny smidgen of the unknown, presented in a safe, controlled environment.

If we don’t let our kids interact with the world at all — if every stranger is considered a pedophile (and a quick pedophile at that, who can run out of a waiting room with a three year old under her arm), we are not doing our kids any kind of service.

We are making them, essentially, allergic to life. The world should be their oyster. Instead, it’s their their peanut.  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               — Lenore