There's this attitude in this country that any man who is interested in or talking to children is a child molester. I think that this is as dangerous an idea as the idea that all women are objects/sluts/etc. It is as destructive as the idea that all Arabs are terrorists. It is not a prejudice that I think should be taken lightly.
(if you're reading this on Facebook, there's a video here - go to http://prettybabies.blogspot.com to see it. If you don't click through, you'll probably also miss the funny pictures coming up)
The implication in the video is that only perverts talk to kids, right? And Leonard is socially aware enough to know that other people (or security cameras!), seeing Sheldon talking to Rebecca, will think he's a pervert. Sheldon, blissfully unaware of most social rules and mores (if you haven't watched the show, he is one of those brilliant scientists who is clueless when it comes to social interaction, and hilarity ensues - you should watch it, it's a good show) doesn't see anything wrong with "making friends" with a little kid.
My husband is a great father. He genuinely enjoys getting down on the floor and playing with the kids - building Lego projects and ramps for Matchbox cars all morning on a weekend. Yet I have seen him totally shut down when the neighborhood kids (mostly girls) come over. He has told me for years, since before we had kids, that he feels like he has to be very careful in his interactions with kids, because he doesn't want to be accused of anything improper. So, for example, if a kid I've never seen falls on his bike in front of my house (true story) I'll run out and help him without a second thought, I'll bring him inside and clean him up, give him a bandaid and a hug, and call his folks for him. My husband will not. (He'd probably call me to come help, honestly, or one of the other female neighbors. He's not just going to leave the kid out there bleeding).
How sad that all the kids of the world are missing out on everything they could learn from him, because our paranoid society that teaches kids that all men have uncontrollable sexual urges. How sad that he has to be so reserved, when he could really have meaningful, mutually beneficial connections with kids.
I thought we believed in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" in this country! "Oh," the helicopter parents cry, "but what about the chilllllddrrrreeennn?"
(I sent him those paragraphs for approval, because I try not to write about him without permission, and he said, That's very nice of you to say. I would not necessarily call for you or another neighbor, but I would certainly not bring a child (boy or girl that I did not know the parents well) into our house without another adult around. I would help the child up, pick up the bike, and help the kid home. If it were an emergency or if the kid lived a ways away, I'd certainly do first aid and call the parents as appropriate but that would all be done from the porch or front yard, unless another adult was right there. So there you go, I was mostly right.)
I'm glad I didn't grow up in this era. When I was a kid I fell on the way to school on my bike, and a man who lived in that neighborhood - someone I had never seen - stopped, took me to his house, patched me up, gave me a cookie, and called my mom. I was scared and hurt (I still have the scars from that accident on my knees), and he helped me. It never occurred to me that he could be a threat. He was just a nice, middle aged guy, helping a kid in need.
I had a long friendship with a middle aged, unmarried, childless man who lived in my neighborhood (I wonder whatever happened to him...). I remember going to his house to play marbles. He wasn't a particular friend of my parents - just someone who lived in our neighborhood and liked kids (or tolerated me, anyway). He never hurt me. I can only imagine what people would say if I let Mary Grace have a relationship like that with one of the men in our neighborhood. "Well, have you run a criminal background check?"
Oh sure, when I was a kid I heard the "stranger danger" message in school, just like we all did in the 80s, but I also saw that my mom talked to people in the store, and that my extended family did too, and that 99.999% of those interactions were between neutral and friendly, and it overwrote the message I got at school.
So, I don't teach my kids "stranger danger" because I think it's destructive to our society (quite literally). What DO I teach them?
- I've been teaching them since they were about two and a half that they have a "private body" that is not for anyone else to touch. No one is allowed to touch them between their legs unless they're helping them in the bathroom (because they're still at the age where they need help wiping). Because they're not afraid to talk to strangers, they're not afraid to say, "NO! Don't do that!" to strangers, either.
- I've taught them that if something happens, they need to tell, regardless of what the person says.
- I've taught them that we do not keep secrets in our family (unless they're happy secrets, like presents).
- I've taught them that they are not to go inside neighbors' houses without permission (mainly so I know where they are when they're playing, and I don't have to go door to door looking for them).
- I've taught them not to take food from anyone (mainly because I don't want them to spoil their dinner, or to constantly be begging the neighbors for treats!).
- I've taught them to stay out of the street, no matter what (that's kind of a no brainer).
I let my kids, at ages 3 and 4.5, play alone with the other neighborhood children in the front yard on our block. We know all the neighbors nearby, and we know that parents are peeking out of doors and windows constantly to keep an eye on all the kids (mainly to keep them from doing anything stupid - not out of fear). I'm fortunate to live in one of the safest cities in Indiana, one of the safest states.
I hear you - "But even safe cities have child molesters, Amy!!!" you're screaming at your monitor. Yeah, I know. One lived directly across the street from me. And after my head initially flew off (I was pregnant with MG when I found out), I realized that everyone has to live somewhere. As long as we knew, and he knew that we knew, I didn't have any real fear that he would do anything to any of the kids in the neighborhood. (He was a flasher - he had flashed his junk at three 8 year old girls in Toys R Us).
And, as far as I know (and I know pretty well) he didn't. And he moved away after a year.
Free Range Kids (one of my favorite blogs). I suggested that teaching children to be afraid of everyone as children will impede their ability to be successful adults.
She basically came back and told me that my kids weren't ever going to be successful adults because they were going to get kidnapped and molested and killed and then molested again because I'm a horrible mother. Nice.
The competitive mothering aspect of the whole discussion was clear even before I jumped in and called 'em all a bunch of lunatics. "I yelled at these kids and scared the forklift driver, I'm such a good mother!" Another said, "Oh, I don't even let my 3 year old say hello to strangers in stores, and I don't care if people think my kids are rude, because I'm such a good mother!" It's ridiculous. Competitive mothering is the primary cause of all of this hysteria. I was just waiting for someone to jump in and say, "I don't even allow my kids to go outside - they haven't seen sunlight since we brought them home from the hospital, because I'm such a good mother!" And they don't even care that it's done at the expense of all men in this country, and at the expense of their own kids' feeling of security and safety in the world, and at the expense of kids' ability to do normal kid things, like play in the yard!
We all like to brag about our kids, and it feels good to have our opinion of ourselves as "good mothers" reinforced. I just wish people would see the larger picture - the positive interactions they deprive their children of, the erosion of respect for men in our culture ("Everybody Loves Raymond" and other bumbling dad shows, "Law and Order - SVU" which would lead you to believe that it's only a matter of time before everyone is the victim of a serial rapist) - when they teach "stranger danger."
CNN and Fox News have an infinite amount of air time to fill, and they fill it with scaring the snot out of parents. Nancy Grace... Don't even get me going on Nancy Grace. I turned off the news shortly after 9/11/01, and I haven't really turned it back on since. I will occasionally watch a bit here or there, and it'll ominously say, "What household chemical is going to kill us all? Find out at 11!" and I'll turn it back off again. (I read the news - all the information, without the hysteria. Oh, and I watch Jon Stewart, because he's da man).
Most kids are going to survive their childhood just fine. All of us did! I never knew anyone who was kidnapped by a stranger and killed - did you? (I knew plenty of people who were hurt by people they knew, but "stranger danger" doesn't address that!)
Let's start parenting from a point of logic and sanity, instead of parenting out of fear.
I'm particularly interested in what YOU have to say. Do you teach "Stranger Danger" in your house? Jen, am I remembering correctly that the Body Safety classes you teach have moved away from the Stranger Danger mentality? Cate, I'll bet it's a LOT different in Alaska. Rob and Rebe - how do you approach the issue in the major metropolitan areas you live in?
Let's talk about it here, because the people I was talking to on Facebook ended the conversation. Not that I was surprised...