September 15, 2007
Teaching children to fear

This is the most depressing article I've read in awhile.

Last month, I wrote about how our culture teaches children to fear men. Hundreds of men responded, many lamenting that they've now become fearful of children. They said they avert their eyes when kids are around, or think twice before holding even their own children's hands in public.

Frank McEnulty, a builder in Long Beach, Calif., was once a Boy Scout scoutmaster. "Today, I wouldn't do that job for anything," he says. "All it takes is for one kid to get ticked off at you for something and tell his parents you were acting weird on the campout."

It's true that men are far more likely than women to be sexual predators. But our society, while declining to profile by race or nationality when it comes to crime and terrorism, has become nonchalant about profiling men. Child advocates are advising parents never to hire male babysitters. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers.

Child-welfare groups say these precautions minimize risks. But men's rights activists argue that our societal focus on "bad guys" has led to an overconfidence in women. (Children who die of physical abuse are more often victims of female perpetrators, usually mothers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)


The result of all this hyper-carefulness, however, is that men often feel like untouchables. In Cochranville, Pa., Ray Simpson, a bus driver, says that he used to have 30 kids stop at his house on Halloween. But after his divorce, with people knowing he was a man living alone, he had zero visitors. "I felt like crying at the end of the evening," he says.

At Houston Intercontinental Airport, businessman Mitch Reifel was having a meal with his 5-year-old daughter when a policeman showed up to question him. A passerby had reported his interactions with the child seemed "suspicious."

In Skokie, Ill., Steve Frederick says the director of his son's day-care center called him in to reprimand him for "inappropriately touching the children." "I was shocked," he says. "Whatever did she mean?" She was referring to him reading stories with his son and other kids on his lap. A parent had panicked when her child mentioned sitting on a man's lap.

Olivia and I have already taken one plane trip together; it would have been two had it not been for that meddlesome case of pneumonia. It never would have occurred to me that someone might have seen her with me and called the cops because they thought a 40-year-old man alone with a 3-year-old girl in a public place was somehow "suspicious". Good thing, too, because I fear I'd have become so indignant about it that I might've gotten busted just on general principles. I don't think they refund your ticket when that happens.

This just makes me sad. I didn't grow up with an excessive fear of strangers, and while a certain level of watchfulness is always needed, I don't intend to turn my daughters into paranoid xenophobes. I think the cost of doing that is far too high. But I don't know what to do about this current trend in hysteria. I just hope we come to our collective senses before it's too late.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 15, 2007 to Society and cultcha

Let's place the blame where it squarely lies - on pandering politicians and a sensationalistic news media.

Politicians love to play on our fears. The recent nonsense about regulating how close sex offenders can live to a park or school is an example. There is absolutely NO data showing a causal relationship between sex crimes and place of residence, but our low-life local politicians created the appearance of a problem and then, magically, the appearance of a solution for which they can take credit.

And the media love to scare us by talking about the subject - but ignore the fact that most offenses against children are committed by people we trust: parents, family friends cops, teachers.

Posted by: Norm on September 15, 2007 12:11 PM

I taught school for 20 years in low income schools. Many of my students received no love at home, they lived with non parents and a touch on shoulder was often all that was needed or a hug to convey a feeling of caring. When I quit teaching in 1994 I would not have dared touched one of my students on the shoulder.

It is not the politicians, it is an illness, fear, or over reaction that seems to have permeated our society and many children are much the worse for it. I have often thanked God for giving me 3 boys and not a girl, I would have feared giving her a bath as a very young child.

Posted by: Manuel on September 15, 2007 6:14 PM