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.

No Photographing Children without Parental Consent?

Readers — We’re getting to the point where ANYTHING having to do with children is so fraught with inflated fears that we are going absolutely crazy. Consider this bill just introduced in the New Jersey state assembly: It would outlaw the photographing or videotaping of kids in situations in which “a reasonable parent or guardian would not expect his child to be the subject of such reproduction.”

How’s that for vague? So, suddenly, a kid in the background of your park pictures is taboo if his dad is mad you’re taking a pic? Or maybe you’re breaking the law if you’re videotaping your child’s pool party and the other parents haven’t signed a waiver? Since when is photography a crime? The camera really does NOT capture anyone’s soul. Promise!

The bill was prompted by an incident last summer in which a 63-year-old man was caught taking pictures of some pre-teen girls. The geezer admitted to police he was photographing them because he found them (fully clothed): “sexy.”

For the record, that is kind of creepy. But it’s also harmless. And one man’s ickiness should not criminalize anyone with a camera. If photographing kids becomes illegal, we will have entered a new kind of society. A kind of totalitarian one, where our everyday rights have been stripped away, supposedly for our “protection.” Except that now we can be arrested for something that poses zero danger!

Somehow, I don’t feel safer. And I don’t feel my kids are safer, either. — L

Would we have any pictures like this if the proposed law was passed?

Guest Post: A Photo a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away?

Hi Readers: I seethed along with this one. — L.

SMILE FOR THE MISSING PERSONS FILE!  by Ellen Braun

She was all of five feet tall with a charming smile and her weapon of choice was a digital camera. So how did this mother of two ruin my afternoon?

It happened in the magnificent state of Vermont. I was relishing the crisp fresh air of the Green Mountain State when my enjoyment was abruptly shattered. No, this woman did not insult me, nor did she hit me over the head. Here’s the story:

Ms. Camera and I were waiting at the base of an Alpine slide for our children to come down the two-mile slide in their Alpine sleds. Vermont is skiing country, however, in the summertime the ski trails are turned into giant sliding ponds.

Since I’d already accompanied my children about a dozen times, I decided to wait out this round at the base of the mountain. Apparently Ms. Camera had the same idea, and we began chatting as we watched for our children to slide back towards us.

The first five minutes of our conversation went well, and we shared ideas regarding tourist activities in the area. Then Jennifer (as I learned her name to be) turned on her camera and showed me a photo of her 9-year-old daughter.

“She’s beautiful!” I exclaimed.

“Thanks.” She pressed a button for the next picture; her 11-year-old boy. “I take a picture of each of my children every single morning, so in case they get lost I can show a recent photo to the police with the kids dressed in their current clothing.” She must have noticed my eyes change expression and erroneously interpreted it as my avid curiosity about her idea because she started gushing.

“It’s part of our morning ritual,” she continued. “We eat breakfast and then snap a photo, and I keep the camera with me constantly. You never know what might happen, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Something wasn’t right here. I was a little confused and thought a moment about my kids’ routine. They walk from home to the bus. They are supervised all day long at school and come straight home where I am waiting. How many opportunities must this woman’s kids have to get lost  that would require a photo every single morning? After a pause I asked, “Do your kids go off on their own a lot? To me, it sounds like a lot of work for the off chance they might get lost.”

“Well, no,” she answered. “It’s not too much work. It just takes a second. I guess it’s not so much getting lost I worry about. It’s all the terrible stuff besides getting lost that can happen!” Maybe Jennifer thought she was being funny with that comment, but as she expounded on several more precautions she takes because she’d rather “be safe than sorry,” my mind was too busy raging to hear her.

I was livid. This mother forces her children to pose for a photo every morning so that she’ll have a current picture for the police, not in case they’re lost, but in case they’re abducted! She kept repeating her mantra, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Is it really?

Is it possible that other things are better?

Perhaps it is better to feel optimistic about your day as the sun rises, rather than believing potential kidnappers lurk at every corner?

Maybe it’s better to start the day on a calm note, as opposed to battling potential bogeymen?

Jennifer is entitled to worry and waste a vast amount of digital memory cards on her ridiculous project. However, I refuse to subject myself to that negative pattern of worrying: Life is way too short to waste on thoughts of the imaginary bad guys lurking down the block! — Ellen Braun

Ellen C. Braun is the founder of RaisingSmallSouls.com, a global parenting resource. She believes that safety is a good thing — however, too much of a good thing is never good. Her latest project consists of reviewing safety seats such as the Britax Marathon and Britax Boulevard.

Amazing Photos of Childhood from the Last Century

Hi Readers — I loved scrolling through these old British photos, some heartwarming, some harrowing. Here at Free-Range Kids we talk a lot about how childhood has changed since when we were growing up. These show how childhood has changed since our parents (and maybe even grandparents?)  were growing up. Particularly striking was the photo of a classroom full of children sitting at their desks, each kid bundled in a blanket. The open windows indicate that they needed fresh air despite the cold, which probably means they all had tuberculosis.

As 2010 parents worry whether a child can be alone in the car while mom picks up the pizza because life is just “too dangerous!” and “times have changed!” and “anything could happen!” these pix provide a quickie lesson in perspective. And gratitude. — Lenore

When Will It Become Illegal to Take ANY Photos of Kids?

Hi Readers — Here’s a piece I wrote for ParentDish about the topic of kiddie pix. Adults are getting really paranoid about the idea of children in photos, as if any snapshot or video of a kid is going to be used for scary, nefarious or disgusting purposes. As a reporter and sometime video maker, I can’t stand the fact that in many cases, we’re not even allowed to shoot casual images of kids at play, if their faces are identifiable. That’s why so often on TV you’ll see pictures of kids’ LEGS running around a playground, but not the rest of them.

Think of how grateful we are to have archival photos like these:Today, you’d have to get releases from these kids’ parents to publish that, or possibly even to take it! Once again, normalcy (the desire to take a lovely picture) is being de-normalized.

It may not sound like a big deal, but it is another brick in the “When it comes to children, no one can be trusted” wall. Sure, kids have rights, but how about the right to live in a society that doesn’t second-guess every interaction between child and world? — Lenore