Tuesday, March 6, 2012

But I'm not a Predator!

I read a post today with good advice for teaching our children how to interact with strangers. There is a difference between people you don't know and people trying to hurt you! The message was full of good sense in place of fear-mongering. I was nodding along, agreeing with her points, and came to this section of warning signs:

  • Be suspicious of gifts that adults in positions of authority give your kids. There’s no reason your son should be coming back from Bar Mitzvah study with a cool new keychain or baseball hat.
  • Be suspicious of teachers who tell you your kid is so special they want to offer him more one-on-one time, or special outings. That teacher who says your kid is into Monet, he wants to take him to a museum next weekend? Say thanks, and take your kid to go see the exhibit yourself.
  • You know that weird adult cousin of yours who’s always out in the yard with the kids, never in the kitchen drinking with the grown-ups? Keep an eye on your kids when he’s around.
  • Oh, and that soccer coach who keeps offering to babysit for free, so you can get some time to yourself? NO ONE WANTS TO BABYSIT YOUR KIDS JUST TO BE NICE. 

And felt somewhat sick to my stomach.
  • I give stuff to my Sunday School class. The children who earn it get candy for their memory verses. One time I gave out pencils because I had 9 of them and only 9 kids came to class that day. Do their parents think I'm singling out any particular child?
  • I sent an email to a handful of families I know from church, letting them know about a Christian sports camp where I work. I think I included something like, "I think your kids are great; hope they can make it!" Do they think I'm angling for one-on-one time with their children?
  • I love my cousins' kids. And rarely drink alcohol. I'm often the one in the yard playing ball or something. I know my cousins trust me, but do people at family parties think I'm creepy? Are they warning their kids away?
  • I don't think I've volunteered to babysit for free, but until reading this it wouldn't have seemed like a bad thing to do. The kids know me, the parents know me, I know the kids aren't brats... why wouldn't I?
It seems like I'm surrounded by red flags. But I'm not a sexual predator, I'm just someone who works with kids. I enjoy helping them grow and seeing their achievements. I like their honesty and silliness. I love kids, but not in a creepy way.

One of the things stressed in faith formation training is that we need to establish relationships with our kids. Ask about their weekends, remember their birthdays, things like that. We are told that the textbook can only do so much; the best way to teach faith is to live it out by connecting with the kids. But how are we supposed to do that when our actions can paint us as child molesters?

One child I can hug risk-free! :-)


  1. You may see yourself as being surrounded by red flags, but the reality is that you don't have one attribute that's the first (sometimes only) red flag people look for: you're not a man. I don't suspect it's a coincidence that the other blogger used "he" every time to refer to the hypothetical molester. Maybe rightfully so, as the vast majority of sexual abusers are men; I know the vast majority of physical abusers are women, though I don't know if a meaningful number of those are other people's kids.

    However, this is the main reason I don't especially want to get involved with any volunteer work involving children. If I'm nice to them, all it would take is one paranoid mom and my life is ruined. I've been told to my face at a church group that all men are child molesters or would at least cover for them. I read an editorial in the local paper saying that the reason the mess at Penn State happened was because there were no women in leadership (translation: slightly more tactful version of "all men are child molesters or would at least cover for them", and at least one newspaper editor agreed with the sentiment enough to run the piece). I like kids, but not enough to deal with the constant stress of trying to figure out exactly how nice I can be without setting off someone's STRANGER DANGER alarms.

    I certainly understand being cautious with your kids, and I do think the article in question is a good one, but most people aren't reading stuff like that. Most people get their information from sensationalist news stories or hysterical parents, so logic and reason need not apply. It's sad, because I know I'm not the only non-pedophile man who feels like he can't do volunteer work with children without putting himself at risk, and other than trying to gently talk people out of their irrational fears, I don't know what to do about it.

    1. A sad but fair comment on the state of our society today.

  2. This is a really weird post....

    1. You're not by any chance the same anonymous person who commented, "weird..." on this post and then refused to follow up, are you?
      Either way, will you elaborate?

    2. No I didn't comment on that post. But I just don't understand why anyone would even post something like this...

    3. Because I want people to think twice before assuming adults who interact with kids are child molesters. Certainly it is wise to keep an eye on your children and maintain open conversation with them. But I think it's a fine line between vigilance and fear. I want people to know that sometimes when an adult shows interest in their kids, it's not because he or she is creepy. It's a discouraging and stressful world if we think we cannot trust our children around other adults.

  3. I felt the same way about that article! There were some good things to think about, but some of the actions warned against are things that good, non-abusive people do. The one that particularly stood out to me was that adults do not ask children for help. Actually, that is often a way that I engage young children (mostly friends' kids or nieces/nephews), by saying "can you come help me stack these blocks" or something like that. I think it shows that I value them and their abilities.

    I guess I try to look at the list and say that any one action is innocent, but if you can start to see a pattern building up, maybe it is a red flag (although I would assume not in your case!). It can still make a person cynical about others. I always assume the best in people, which maybe puts me and my family at risk? But the alternative seems to be to never trust anyone, which I cannot agree with. Obviously I want to do everything I can to protect my son, but I want to teach him that the world is basically a good place, too. Lots to think about to fit those two things together.

    1. Definitely a balancing act! One thing I do avoid is ever being alone with a child (with the exception of if I was asked to babysit). I stay in populated areas, with another adult, and/or with groups of kids. Even when I was a school psychologist, I would leave the door open to my office when working with a child.