Saving Boy Scouts (And Everyone Else) From Joy

Rest in peace, possibly, oh ye International Boy Scout Jamboree. As you may recall, readers, England’s excessive new rules require everyone who has ever even BEEN a child (or at least, everyone who may ever come in contact with one) to undergo a pedophilia background check. That being the case, the yearly jamborees that have been a staple of English scouting since the 1920s are now threatened.

Why? Well figure if you get 40,000 scouts together from a whole lot of countries, you need a whole lot of volunteers helping out. And if each of those volunteers needs to undergo a background check approved by Less-Than-Jolly Old England, we are talking about a bureaucratic nightmare.

In fact, we’ve been talking about bureaucratic nightmares alot, haven’t we? A bureaucratic ruling that throws a 6-year-old out of school for bringing a beloved eating utensil to lunch. A town that outlaws Halloween in order to save children from the non-existent danger of poisoned candy. And now a Boy Scout tradition on the rocks because the people who want to make it happen are being bureaucratically disuaded from helping out.

All these rules were ostensibly made to keep children safe. So what are they now safe from? Show and Tell. Trick or Treating. And Boy Scouts.

That’ progress! — Lenore

Thoughts on The Bus (About Men)

Hi Readers — On the bus going across town today my husband and I sat behind a girl of about 13. No one sat next to her, even though a couple of folks were standing. This reminded me of my long-ago trip to Turkey. When I was there  in the 1980s, at least, men were not allowed to take an empty seat next to a woman.

I don’t know if this was law or custom, but the thinking seemed to be that men are too rude, easily excited or perverse  to sit next to women. In other words: Their entire gender is guilty, or at least gross. And I worry that that’s the direction we’re headed now, too. Except instead of worrying for our womenfolk, we worry for our kids.

Lately I have been hearing so many stories of people afraid of ANY men around their kids: Moms who won’t let their 9-year-olds use the men’s bathroom. Parents who won’t let their daughter be the first or last kid on the school bus, because the driver is a male (and God knows what could happen)! Even a parent who pulled her kid out of a pre-school class taught by a male teacher — because why would any man want to help  kids for any decent reason? (For the record, my younger son had a male pre-school teacher — gay, even — who was the best ever!)

Last week I heard a horrible story from a mom — call her Ellen — whose own sister won’t let her son be around Ellen’s husband, ever. Why not? The sisters live several states apart, but on one visit Ellen’s husband taught this boy, his nephew, how to make shelves and then gave him some tools. A few years later the uncle saw his nephew again and wrestled with him. This was enough for the sister to assume he was  “grooming” her son for a sexual relationship and now all bets are off.

So are all family visits. 

Let us reiterate something here: Most people — male and female — are good. Prejudice is not. Do we want to become a country where we forbid men from sitting next to kids on buses? As one reader wrote so brilliantly to this blog: “being around kids while male” is the new “driving while black.”

I’m starting to feel bad for men. And kids. — Lenore

Kodak Moment or Kiddie Porn?

Hi Readers — Above is the question a Walmart employee in Arizona asked himself when some parents brought in a camera memory stick to be processed. Seven or eight of 144 photos showed the family’s three girls  frolicking in the bath. Kodak Moment? Or kiddie porn?

We know what the employee decided — and we  know what the D.A. decided — because the girls, ages 5, 4 and 1 at the time, were taken away from the parents. For how long?

A month.

The parents weren’t even allowed to SEE their girls for several days. (Here’s the story.)

How can it take a month to figure out that — guess what? — a  lot of parents take pictures of their cherubs in the tub? My husband and I sure did, even though when we look back, our kids don’t look that cherubic! Come to think of it, cherub pictures have been around ever since artists started painting them in European art history class. (At least, that’s where I saw them.) Everyone loves a naked baby, and most of us undertand the desire to delight in their dumpling-ness has nothing to do with pornography!

Now the Arizona parents have turned the tables and are suing Walmart and the State for making “slanderous claims” against them.

How about also suing for an utter lack of empathy? Or utter oblivion to how happy it makes a parent’s heart to see three kids in a bath? Rub-a-dub-dub! To assume the very worst of parents at the get-go — as opposed to assuming normalcy — is exactly what is driving us all crazy today. When our first thoughts are perverse, it’s our society that’s perverted.

Meantime, and as a total aside, kudos to those parents for at least taking their pictures in to be printed. Ours are still in the camera, and have been for about 4 years. — Lenore

Are There Really Lessons to Learn From The Jaycee Abduction?

First off, my heart goes out to Jaycee Dugard, her daughters, her parents, step-parents — everyone in her circle. She was kidnapped 18 years ago and kept imprisoned since then, bearing her rapist/captor two daughters who were also imprisoned until a few days ago, when Jaycee walked into a police station.

This is, of course, every parent’s — every human’s — worst nightmare and her story will  be seared into our memory  forever, along, alas, with the inevitable “advice” we’re now getting on how to avoid this same fate. Advice that makes it seem like abduction/rape/enslavement  is something we just have to be ever-prepared for, like the possibility of an overcharge on our credit card bill. Like it’s a fate we can avoid with some simple tips.

But as Trevor Butterworth at the organization has pointed out: Preparing for very unlikely events is impossible — it’s like preparing for the possiblity of being hit by a frozen turkey through the car window while you’re driving on the expressway. Yes, that is something that really happened, at least once. But should you live your life always watching out for flying turkeys? That would be inconvenient, if not insane, because what could you do? Never drive on the expressway again? Get your car window replaced with lead? Sure, you couldn’t see through it. But at least you’d be protected from frozen airborne Butterballs!

Here’s one post-Dugard advice article that suggests that, from now on, we simply “never go anywhere alone.” That’s not asking too much, is it?

This is just the kind of ridiculous suggestion that leads to ridiculous situations, like parents hauled in for “negligence” for letting their kid walk solo to soccer (or wait in a car!). It leads to folks trumping any Free-Range notion with, “Look what happened to Jaycee Dugard!”

“Your child could be abducted just like Jaycee Dugard. Learning from the Jaycee Dugard situation and protecting your kids from predators like Craig Garrido and Nancy Garrido is vital to the health and well-being of your child.”

No, what’s really vital to the well-being of your child is him or her not growing up convinced that stepping  out the  front door  is the equivalent of stepping into a viper-filled pit. What’s vital to the health of your children is their learning to make their own playdates, organize a game of four-square, talk to people instead of being terrified of them. Please do teach your kids to run from anyone trying to lure them away, should that rare thing happen. But teach them to talk to the rest. That’s how they learn stuff, and make friends. That’s how they become human.

“It’s sad our children have to grow up in a world where they have to worry about people like Craig Garrido and Nancy Garrido. All we can do is learn from this tragedy.”

No, I’m afraid, we cannot. Law enforcement officials may be able to learn a thing or two.  They may learn to follow up better on missed parole visits. They may learn to pare down the list of sex offenders from the 674,000 in California to the ones that truly pose a risk,  so theycan concentrate their resources on rapists, instead of guys who peed in public, or had sex at 19 with a girlfriend a few years underage.

But there is no lesson to be learned from Jaycee’s ordeal except that sometimes, terrible things happen to innocent people, randomly. In our blame-, lawsuit- and silly advice-obsessed country, it’s a lesson we find hard to accept.

 — Lenore

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

Outrage of the Weekend: Man Arrested for Duck Impersonation

Hi Readers!  This just in, from Free-Ranger Deb Turner, who asks: “If you were shopping with your nine year old, and a man approached you and your child and did a Donald Duck imitation for the child, would you call 9-1-1? This happened in my local area.”
‘Duck’ didn’t ruffle any legal feathers
The case of an Oriskany man accused of frightening children and parents at Wal-Mart with his Donald Duck impression was dismissed from City Court on Friday.
A charge of endangering the welfare of a child was dismissed against Martin A. Tuzzolino, 55, by Judge Daniel C. Wilson, prosecutors said.
The case was dismissed on a motion by the public defender that the crime didn’t fit the charge, that there was no danger in Tuzzolino’s antics, prosecutors stated. At about 5:30 p.m. April 28, deputies said Tuzzolino approached a 9-year-old girl at Wal-Mart on Rome-Taberg Road and began speaking like Disney cartoon character Donald Duck.
Deputies said the girl started crying, and her mother called 9-1-1 to report the strange behavior. Tuzzolino left the store, and was arrested later for endangering.
To quote another terrifying cartoon duck:  Th-th-that’s despicable! — 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.


 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.