Confessions of a Potential Profilee
Are we teaching children that men are out to hurt them? The answer, on many fronts, is yes. Child advocate John Walsh advises parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers. Soccer leagues are telling male coaches not to touch players.
People assume that all men “have the potential for violence and sexual aggressiveness,” says Peter Stearns, a George Mason University professor who studies fear and anxiety. Kids end up viewing every male stranger “as a potential evildoer,” he says, and as a byproduct, “there’s an overconfidence in female virtues.”
Now social-service agencies are also using controversial tactics to spread the word about abuse. This summer, Virginia’s Department of Health mounted an ad campaign for its sex-abuse hotline. Billboards featured photos of a man holding a child’s hand. The caption: “It doesn’t feel right when I see them together.”
Sorry, but I’m OK with profiling men this way because, well, men are the overwhelming majority of sexual predators. But I also think the objections raised against this practice have merit. The urge to cocoon our kids has certainly been heightened in the over-protective society we now live in.
30 years ago I could ride my bike two miles to the local 5 and dime to buy a pack of baseball cards. My wife and I wouldn’t think of allowing our kids to do that now. Heck, if we did we may even get accused of neglect!
So what has changed? In short, everything. Today’s mass media broadcasts every local tragedy to the world “community” in seconds. When confronted with those stories–and especially the images of police tape and head-shot of some missing or dead cherub–we all feel “it could happen here” and take the necessary steps to protect our kids. Add in that we simply don’t have as many kids as we used to–making them all the more precious–and the cost/benefit analysis of over-protection vs. tragedy tilts toward “caution.” Of course, the trick is to do it without scaring the bejesus out of them!
In many ways it was a simpler time when I grew up, if only because we were all a lot more blissfully ignorant than we used to be. I suspect a lot of the same tragedy occurred back then, but we weren’t made aware of it instantly. Today, we have Amber Alerts from Nevada or live Flood Coverage from Ohio blaring at us from several competing all “news” channels at any time of day, including in those after-school hours. How different from a world of 3 commercial channels pumping out game shows, soap operas and reruns instead. Our culture has certainly changed and the reality is that, like it or not, it fosters the angst-ridden, worry-wart parent in all of us.
If the price I have to pay for a little peace of mind and, perhaps ultimately, the safety of my kids is being presumed a predator–like all other men–then so be it. My priority is my kids first, my pride second. I think most parents can relate to that.
Still, it is sad that it’s come to this. But err on the side of caution is a cliche because…well, you know.