Thinking The Worst First

Hi Readers — Let’s take a vow: Let us vow to see men and women as decent until proven otherwise. Let’s vow to interpret their deeds as non-malicious, until proven otherwise. And let us vow not to assume the worst first. Here’s why:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  You’re always talking about how its a real shame men are so often assumed to be predators, to the point that they hesitate to help a kid in need for fear they will be accused of having ill intent. A friend of mine told me something along those lines that is even more disturbing.

She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children?

The men had no real answer other than that it just seemed “suspect.” My friend challenged that notion and told them about the little girl who drowned because the man who noticed her by the side of the road was afraid to stop and help her [for fear of being branded a predator if someone saw him with the girl in his car]. And do you know what their answer was to that? “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.”

Except — she wasn’t safe! BECAUSE of that attitude!

What is our society coming to that a man can’t even play with the kids at a family function? Or is considered suspect  for doing it because he doesn’t have children? Just so kids can be “safe,” men should’t interact with children unless they have their own?

To which I replied: This is sickening and sad — and ironic. Shouldn’t the dads be glad another grown-up is in the pool, keeping an eye on their kids? Shouldn’t we ALL be glad when we watch out for each other?

These paranoid papas remind me of the folks who were upset about the 3-year-old girl who walked a few blocks to the local fire station to help her dad, who was slipping into a coma. “She could have been kidnapped!” wrote some tsk-tskers.

What about the dad? He was ABOUT TO DIE and SHE SAVED HIM! But the “What if?” people actually feel smug and “protective” thinking up their hideous fantasies instead of looking reality in the face: The girl was NOT in much danger and her father WAS.

No, they think the worst, first: All children are in danger, all men are potential pedophiles, the boogey man lurks beyond the front door and any child who does anything on her own is asking for trouble (as are the parents who let her).

Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

Child Predators Love Polite Kids?

Hi Readers: So here’s a “helpful” article on how to keep our kids safe from predators. It cites the oft-repeated notion that when we make our kids hug or kiss relatives, the kids get the message that from now on they must submit to any and all skeevy and revolting requests adults make of them.

To me this seems like a giant leap. I never liked kissing my aunts and I sure hated the lipstick smudges they’d leave on my cheeks,  but I don’t think that gave me an, “I guess from now on I’m jailbait” mentality, either. This just seems like one more, “Watch out!” article that gets parents worried without actually giving them something sensible to do.

What IS sensible? DO teach your kids to be polite. And then do what David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, suggests, in terms of keeping kids safe from abuse: Teach them to understand, avoid and report it. In other words, teach them “good touch/bad touch,” starting as early as age 3 or 4. Let them know that if anyone touches them in a disturbing way,  or asks them to do something that feels wrong or upsetting, they can say no. AND they can (and should) tell you what happened, even if the other adult says not to. AND you won’t be mad. Let kids know: It’s not their fault.

By the way, Finkelhor said he has seen no correlation between kids made to hug their relatives and kids who get abused. Neither has Amy Baxter, a pediatrician who did a fellowship in child abuse and teaches other doctors about it. Both agree, however, that if your child does express real distress about hugging or kissing someone in particular, there is no need to force them to do it. Once the person is gone, just ask your child some open-ended questions — “Can you tell me why you feel this way?” — to see if anything is going on.

The “Predators Love Polite Kids” piece I’ve linked to assumes that when we are teaching our children to generally be polite we are also turning a deaf ear to any of their pointed protests or hesitations. But we aren’t. It also assumes we are squelching all their instincts. But most of us grew up with that, “Don’t kiss me with your lipstick-y mouth!” instinct and it seems to be one that we could suspend temporarily, for the sake of good manners,  even while retaining our other, self-protective instincts. And even while retaining an open line of communication with our parents.

The leap from kissing grandpa to being molested seems like a truism that we’ve just gotten used to parroting. — Lenore