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

Oh Those Nefarious Retirees, Trying to “Help” the Church Nursery

Hi Readers: Here’s a letter from the front lines of (excessive) child saftey, and how it is changing society.  — Lenore 

Dear Free-Range Kids: With your recent posts about risk adversity, I wanted to tell you about a horrendous trend that is starting to appear in churches: husbands and wives are no longer allowed to work together in children’s ministry.

One would think that a husband/wife team would be exactly what a church would want in helping to nourish youth.  But it seems that insurance companies and risk-adversity have gotten the better of people’s common sense.  Basically, the idea is that since spouses can’t testify against each other, we need someone else in the room.

This happened to a church I used to go to.  It was medium-sized — small enough that we were fairly short on nursery and children’s volunteer staff.  In one of the nurseries, a retired couple had been watching the children for a long time, and everyone was happy with them, and they enjoyed the chance to be together with children.  But under the new policy, they couldn’t be together unless there was a *third* person to watch them.  So, they were told they couldn’t watch the nursery together anymore.  And so they just stopped working there.

Here’s a link to a “Safe Haven” policy that is not from the church I mention, but is an example of the anti-family, pro-paranoia policies that are creeping in everywhere. Here’s the really bad part of the policy:

All workers in nursery through three years old shall not be from the same family.

Teenage boys will not be permitted to work in the nursery or toddler areas.

Only adult women shall change diapers and help toddlers in the restroom. When taking children to the restroom, the door shall be partially open.

Thought you might be interested. — Jon

Jon, I am. I am interested to know that teenage boys are, as a group, not allowed to work with young kids. I guess thousands of years of older siblings looking after younger siblings matters not when “Worst First” thinking creeps in. The “worst” being: He’s male, he’s young, why would he want to have anything to do with a child unless, of course, he’s a pervert? Get him away!

Then there’s the idea of only women changing diapers. Sometimes it feels like the easiest way to roll back feminism is to insist, “We DO believe in equality. But think of the children!”

As for the elderly couple leaving the church where they are no longer trusted and cherished, I don’t blame them. But it’s funny that when we “Think of the children!” we end up not…thinking of the children. — L.

I hope that there are another two adults (one unrelated) watching this man at all times!

How to Make Parents Feel Angry & Distrusted

Hi folks! Just a reader’s follow-up note to the post below this one on mandatory fingerprinting for Little League volunteers:

Dear Free-Range Kids: The school district where we live is requiring that all parent volunteers be fingerprinted starting next year.  If you want to help in the classroom at all (which the teachers heavily rely on), you have to pay $20 and be fingerprinted.  Same applies for field trip chaperones or moms and dads wanting to go to the Valentine Party for 15 minutes.  My husband takes work off annually to do a presentation at school for kids about bike safety…he will now have to PAY to do this. I think it’s beyond ridiculous and unfortunately the schools are going to lose a lot of free help, including mine.  As others have said….when there are no longer willing adults to support these activities maybe the rules will change. — A Reader

Obsessive Compulsive Pre-K Disorder

Hi Readers! Well, I was miffed a while back about the rules against BRANCHES at the school in New Jersey. But the rules at THIS pre-k make Jersey seem like the garden state! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: At my pre-school we can fail inspection if the children take off their jackets and put them in their cubbies before washing their hands unless we sanitize all of the cubbies afterwards. The reason being that their dirty hands would contaminate the cubbies. Never mind that those kids were just rolling in the grass in their jackets that they just touched with their now-clean hands to put away inside their cubbies!

Also if a child is playing in the sand box he must wash his hands before he can touch a bike or ball.

Also children must be directly supervised at all times even while using the bathroom. At one center I worked at, we’d send the kids in alone or in pairs from the playground to the bathroom which we could see from the playground. But at my current school, we wouldn’t dare. – Anon

Outrage of the Week: Goggles Banned as Straps Could “Snap”

Readers — This story makes The Onion look like The Economist. But, in fact, it is straight from The Telegraph, in jolly old (off-its-rocker) England:

Children have been banned from wearing goggles during school swimming lessons for fears they could hurt themselves.

Pen-pushers have slapped the ban on the swimming aids amid “fears” a pair could “snap” onto a child’s face too hard, injuring them.

I stop here because I am at a loss for anything else to say, except…

No, I actually have nothing to say. I suppose rubber bands are next. — Lenore

All those people in dire peril!

Frustrated in Florida

Hi Readers — A quickie note from the front lines of insanity. L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just had to shoot you a quick email in order to vent my frustration.  My son stayed after school today to re-take a test.  I told him to call when he was done and his dad would pick him up.  So he called, and I told him to wait outside.  He said, “I’m in the library.”  I said, “Wait outside so your dad won’t have to look for you.” His response?  “They won’t let me.”

I should tell you that this is a high school.  My son is 15.  I just don’t get this at all.  In less than a year he’ll be able to drive to school, but he’s too young to wait right in front?  What planet am I on? — A Reader

The one that can’t tell the difference between a 2-year-old and a teen. But you knew that. — L.

School Inspectors Say: Trees Too Dangerous!

Hi Readers — This is a column I wrote for Creators, my syndicate. (Feel free to ask your local paper to carry me every week!) Anyway, I wanted to make sure you saw this one, so here it is. Happy weekend! — L.

NO CHILD LEFT OUTSIDE

For almost a half-century, kids at the farm-based Moorestown Children’s School in New Jersey have spent a lot of their time stomping in the mud, running through the meadow and visiting the barn, blissfully oblivious to the danger in their midst.

Trees.

Oh, the child care inspectors don’t use that term. They call it “overgrown vegetation” — the tree branches that dip down to the ground, weeping willow-style. These must be chopped off — every last branch, until inspectors can see 7 feet of bare trunk on every tree — or the school will be cited for safety violations.

“But they play with the trees!” school director Sue Maloney recalls telling the inspection crew. The children “touch the trees! They shake the leaves. It’s what they do.”

Not anymore. Not if she wants to keep her license. This is the story of what happens when two different ideas of childhood collide.

The Moorestown school, which was started by Maloney’s mom, does not look like a typical child care center, Maloney confesses. “We believe in clutter. Leaves, twigs, pine cones, stuff, projects, papier-mâché, things that you don’t put away at the end of an hour” — that’s what the indoor space is filled with. And a cat. More about her later.

Outside, even as suburbia encroaches, the school’s 11 acres remain rural. There’s another cat, and all those trees. Years ago, there was a stream, too, but that has since been fenced off for safety reasons. There were also several fat logs cut into stumps. Kids could place them in a circle for story time or line them up and hop from stump to stump.

But, by regulation, any “play equipment” must be permanently affixed to the ground over safety surfacing. And because the kids played with the logs, these technically were “play equipment,” so now they’re gone, too. Maloney didn’t buck the system. The school opened in 1981 and was never in danger of closing. Till now.

The problem started last year when an inspector visited the school and smelled something foul. This turned out to be an egg a boy had stuffed into his boot for safekeeping (and forgotten!). It made a bad impression on the inspector, who returned with more inspectors, who in turn found more things objectionable.

The 10-year-old tabby sleeping in a basket, for instance. From now on, she had to be leashed or caged or evicted. Then there’s the fact that some of the 15 students, ages infant to 8, were padding around inside in stocking feet. By law, they are required to wear shoes. And there were some other concerns Maloney was happy to fix: a patch of uneven surface on the playground, some mildew in a storage building. Finally, as it said on the Dec. 20 “Inspection/Violation” report, the center had to “cut back low-hanging tree branches.”

That’s where Maloney drew the line. She called me to explain why. “This is a country environment! I grew up here. Honestly, that’s what I wrestle with: Do we even want to remain a child care center if we have to eliminate all the parts we love?” Do away with the cat, the stream, the logs, the bare feet and the branches — what’s left?

Almost absolute safety.

And almost nothing else. — Lenore

Caution! Tree ahead!

Not Completely Relevant But: How Many Australian Politicians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Hi Readers! The answer is, apparently: None! It is too dangerous! At least, that’s what the Department of Health and Safety says, according to this article.

The issue surfaced during a Senate estimates hearing when Liberal Eric Abetz told upper house colleagues he was prevented recently from changing a light bulb in his electorate office.

He was told that the rules meant an electrician had to be called.

“It is just impractical, it’s stupid,” Senator Abetz told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Most Australians would say if a person is not capable of changing a light globe, chances are they are not capable of running an electorate office.”

Senator Abetz said he had been told changing a bulb could require climbing a ladder which was a safety risk.

The (tangential) Free-Range issue here is this: Why are we increasingly subject to rules and regs that have nothing to do with REAL safety and everything to do with litigation, worst-case-scenario-fantasizing and good ol’ CYA? It’s a time, money and morale-waster, with the added benefit of turning competent people into incompetent cowards. Just like so many rules and regs are implementing with kids: No, children, you CANNOT ride your bikes to school. No, children, you CANNOT do your own chemistry experiments. No, children, you CANNOT babysit/whittle/get a paper route/smile at a stranger. It is all TOO DANGEROUS.

And someday we will wonder why no one in the world (except, perhaps, electricians) can do anything.

 

Ok, maybe THIS one would be a little hard to change.

 

Lady Helps Boy Down from Tree, School Accuses Her of “Trespassing”

Dear Readers: This one just proves what monkeys we become when we refuse to use our brains (or tails). A 5-year-old boy in England climbed up a tree at the end of recess. Fine. But rather than helping — or even ordering — him down, the teachers followed their “health and safety” guidelines…and left him there. Their rules apparently say they are supposed to  “observe from a distance” (lest they distract the child) rather than actually DO anything.

Well they observed from such a distance that it wasn’t until about 45 minutes later that some lady passing by saw the boy, still up the tree, and helped him down. Then she walked him back into school whereupon she was reported to the police for trespassing.

As a school official put it, “The safety of our pupils is our top priority and we should like to make it clear that this child was being observed at all times during this very short incident…. To protect children we cannot assume that people who enter the school grounds without permission have innocent intentions and must act accordingly.”

Yes, let’s not judge their intentions by the fact that they are showing up WITH a child, rather than running off with one.The “trespasser” herself put it best: “I am a mother myself and I find it a bit ridiculous that the school’s policy is to leave a child up a tree.”

As you know, Free-Range is all for kids climbing trees. It also very unlikely that the boy was in danger (as the Samaritan worried) of being “snatched.” Nonetheless, we are all for kids coming down from trees when it’s time for school to begin again. To go by “rules and regulations” rather than common sense when a kid is stuck up a tree makes as much sense as leaving a family in a burning building because the sign on the door says, “Authorized Personnel Only.”

Actually, what this whole incident comes down to, as so much Free-Ranging does, is this: When we rigidly adhere to oppressive, catch-all rules — rules that are sometimes only in place for legal reasons, or “cover your rear” reasons — we lose the great thing that makes us human: our ability to think and reason and do what makes sense.

It’s enough to make you climb a tree. — Lenore

The root of the problem.

You Can’t Bring THAT on the School Bus!

Hi Readers — Here you go. Latest overprotection nonsense! Enjoy (if that’s the word).

Dear Free-Range Kids: I thought this little story might be of interest to you. My oldest daughter (12) recently tried out for her school softball team. She made the team, which was a real accomplishment. Not only were the kids selected based on talent, but on attitude and enthusiasm as well. They’re all good students, responsible, and respectable. It takes that type of kid to make it on the team.

Although the softball season does not start until April, open practice has. The first day of practice, my daughter hauled her gear onto the bus (we live in a rural area 5 miles from school, so walking really does not work well). She has lots of equipment, because she is a catcher. However, it all fits into one bag that she places in front of her on the bus. It does not cause a space problem. A day later, we were informed at a parent/player meeting that softball bats are NOT allowed on the school bus, because they MIGHT be used as weapons. Even zipped up in an equipment bag: not allowed. So now, on days that she has practice, I have to make a special trip after school to drop her equipment off.

After doing a little research, I found that this appears to be a common policy at many schools. Riding the bus is a privilege, so I try not to let it upset me too much, but I still can’t help but question how crazy this rule it. Selected to play on the school team, but not allowed to transport her equipment on the school bus?

Welcome to America, 2009! Can’t keep kids too safe! Better to make them believe that anytime anyone is carrying anything that is not a cottonball, they are a menace to society. That goes for girls with bats and boys with Cub Scout eating utensils.  And double for pen knives! — L