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July 15, 2011 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

Thinking About the Unthinkable

Thinking About the Unthinkable

A few months ago, my kids and I met two friends and their children at a nearby playground that’s generally deserted. Twenty or so minutes into our playdate, a nearby MOMS Club meeting ended and a few more mothers showed up with their kids. I happened to know the MOMS Club moms, and we all chatted. Soon, there were about 15 kids running around and to the untrained eye, what’s normally a empty little playground on a weekday morning looked like a busy, active kid mecca.

It didn’t take much time at all for two men to appear, independently. Each man had a book and each man sat on one of three benches on the playground, “reading.”

Often, I try to give people like these guys the benefit of the doubt, but this situation was weird for a number of reasons. This particular playground is on a small, random plot of land that’s part of a much larger city park system. There’s absolutely no reason to be there unless you are either letting your children play or running laps on the track that surrounds the playground. You have to specifically drive to the spot and park your car in the lot built just for that playground. And if you’re childless and want to read, there are plenty of quieter, more picturesque spots (with benches) where the park continues just down the road.

Also, while to a stranger, it would seem from the number of moms and kids on this playground that we couldn’t possibly all know each other and that anyone who showed up would simply blend into the crowd, I actually did know all these moms. I also knew, as a reader, that sitting on a bench that’s eight feet away from a bunch of screaming kids, makes for about the worst reading conditions possible.

In short, the men shouldn’t have been there. The fact that they were there was creepy and it felt creepy and every creepy creep sense I have in my body was on alert at that moment.

I thought of this situation as I read some of the blog posts and Tweets written in the wake of the horrifying abduction and murder of Lieby Kletsky. Online debate is centering around whether we should let our kids go anywhere alone. Whether free-range parenting was to blame. Whether people who don’t have children should be on a playground. In my opinion, these arguments are moot. Creeps are everywhere. You know it and I know it. It doesn’t matter whether you live in New York City or Bell Buckle, Tennessee. It doesn’t matter whether your kids are growing up in the projects or in a multi-million dollar, gated subdivision. It doesn’t matter whether they’re ‘safe’ at school or walking home from day camp. I don’t believe that a single one of us grew up without having at least one run-in with a skeevy adult, whether the adult was male or female, and as a mother, I continue to see weirdos target children, whether it’s by “reading” on a playground or far, far worse.

Yes, this topic is uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s true, and it’s never been more timely. When Punky was a baby, I used to take her sometimes to a popular indoor playcenter at a nearby mall. Every time I went, there was at least one childless man, usually more, sitting on the carpeted stairs surrounding the play area, watching the kids. Every. Time. There’s another large, elaborate playground in my area and there’s almost always some strange man or other in there without kids, sitting in the sandbox or wandering through the wooden play forts. Why is he there?

You tell me.

We all hate to point fingers, but I’ve gotten pretty upfront about handling these situations. When other moms suggest meeting at the larger playground, I tell them frankly that I never take both kids there without my husband, because there’s always a perv there and I can’t keep an eye on both kids at once. And the moms always agree, and laugh a little, because it’s true and they’ve noticed it, too. It’s just not something we talk about, because I guess it’s not very polite.

My stepdaughters deal with it as well. There was the man who exposed himself at the bus stop outside the fence of their high school. And the assistant soccer coach who sent inappropriate e-mails to the 12-year-old girls on his team. And the handsome math teacher, who’d find out when his prettier students turned 18 and then start texting them. I’m sure there have been even more incidents that I don’t even know about. I’m not exactly shocked. The same kinds of things happened to me growing up, too.

Obviously, the vast majority of grown men that women and children encounter are not perverts or creepers. But just as obviously, occasionally one is, and we shouldn’t have to be embarrassed about having to deal with it.

So what can we do as parents to keep our children from being targeted? We can start by communicating with our kids. I’ve begun having “big girl” chats with my seven-year-old daughter, encouraging her to articulate to me the things that are starting to become uncomfortable for her to discuss. Establishing an open line of communication with her now is essential if I want her to keep me informed about embarrassing or uncomfortable things she sees or feels in the future.

We can also teach our kids to ignore the urge to always be “polite” when it comes to dealing with strangers, or even adults they know, whether they’re male or female. If they feel strange or weird or uncomfortable, they need to act on it, and leave the situation if they can, or tell another adult that they trust.

We also have more reason now than ever, as parents, to step outside our comfort zone when it comes to protecting our kids. I couldn’t ask those men at the park to leave, but I did stand right in front of them and catch their eye. I wanted them to know that someone there saw them and believed that what they were doing was weird. No, I wasn’t ‘polite.’ I wasn’t ‘nice.’ But when it comes to keeping my kids safe, sometimes ‘nice’ and ‘polite’ have to go out the window.

It’s hard to think about, but from years of experience, I know that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ my children will encounter a creep, but ‘when.’ The best I can do as a mom is train them in how to recognize what’s going on, listen to their instincts, and act on them.

That’s what I think. How about you?

 

Image via vastateparksstaff/flickr

  • NancyB

    Great article – it should be in a parenting magazine!

    It’s been a little over 18 years since my son’s male daycare provider (husband/wife team) was arrested for child molesting. Cody was just turning 3 – not really at the age to articulate it if anything was going on.
    I had no suspicions (yeah, he wasn’t my cup of tea but I always give people the benefit of the doubt), they both loved my son it seemed.
    What a horrifying feeling it was to get a call during the day to come get my son and pull up to see police cars and other parents wandering around in a daze.
    The police held a meeting for all the parents to discuss it and there were quite a few people who’s kids had been molested – girls and boys. He was put on trial and sent to prison.
    We brought Cody to his pediatrician who referred him to a child psychologist (? it was so long ago) and they talked and role played for a few visits. Her diagnosis was that if he HAD been molested he had such a strong sense of protection and love and who protects him (us) that she thought he’d be fine.
    We would talk about it with him periodically – of course because of the sudden switch in daycare – but he never brought up anything alarming to us.
    It’s not the same circumstances, but I think it’s the first time in 18 years that I’ve talked about it.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, Nancy. That’s horrifying. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, and so glad your son got through it okay.

  • http://kristinamarieb.wordpress.com Kristina

    This is so true. My kids are 1 and 4, so I don’t know how to start talking to my 4 y/o about this stuff without scaring him. I’m not sure he or I can articulate it in a way that he will understand. It scares me that I’m not doing it soon enough, but I don’t really know how.

    I think you’ve hit on something very important- those other moms, in spite of recognizing that there were weird men at that other playground, still suggested you go there. You brought the subject up and I think that’s important. I think having more of a “it takes a village mentality” is what will save our kids. Because if parents aren’t willing to talk about it or take necessary action, how can we expect our kids to?

    • Anonymous

      Seriously, I’ve found after 10 years of parenting that most parents shy away from confronting even overtly inappropriate adults, and often go so far as to ostracize the parents who make noise. You’ll be SHOCKED at how unwilling parents are to get involved.

  • Suebob

    Good post. I think it is important for children to know that, if an adult tells them not to tell their parents, that is exactly when they SHOULD tell their parents, even if the person has threatened to harm them or their family members if they tell. They need to know it is ok to tell.

    The other thing is that a lot of child molesters aren’t creepers, but very nice guys. Responsible, kind, employed people with family ties and who seem normal in every other way. A friend who had grown up with a molester father said she wanted the world to know this – he was a NICE guy and you would never suspect him. He just had one terrible thing he did. So while you keep an eye out for the guy in the van or on the park bench, equally keep an eye on the teachers, coaches, pastors – not because they are all molesters, but because the small percentage who are do so much damage.

    • Anonymous

      I totally agree. It’s just a lot harder to write publicly about the “good guys” who I suspect than the OBVIOUSLY not-so-good ones!

      I’ve spent a lot of time convincing my daughter that “bad guys” pretend to be “good guys” (and it took a LOT of convincing!) and that that’s their trick. It’s a really hard concept to explain to smaller children without making them scared of everyone, though.

  • MWJanet

    I say don’t let them drive you off. Take turns, one mom at a time, going over very close to the ‘reader’ and staring at him. That way all the kids will be safe and they’ll get the message that these moms aren’t to be trifled with. Why should leave a pleasant spot because of some suspected creeps?

    • Anonymous

      I’d have loved to do that, but I seriously can’t think of one mom there who would have done it. I’ve started simply taking matters into my own hands, just based on many years of prior experience! :) Forming great working relationships with teachers/ school administrators/ childcare directors has helped too- at times, I’ve placed calls about warning signs that I’ve seen/heard with my older girls and their friends and because I had established good relationships with the people in charge, my calls were taken very seriously and followed up on.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, indeed unthinkable and yet it does nee to be addressed. I like the suggestion of teaching kids to ignore the urge to always be polite. There are times where this is not appropriate. And as parents, we have to take the uncomfortable action and talk to “weird” people, perhaps confront them to learn about intentions and then be strong enough to ask them to leave if needed. That is our strength that is then modeled for our children.

    Thanks for posting on this topic

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1554973255 Erika Beseda-Allen

    WORD.

  • http://lookinyourhouse.com Mary @ Look In Your House

    Lindsay,

    I agree with you on all of it. And I totally KNOW which play areas you’re talking about, and I concur that I’ve seen strange men alone. My radar is always up to connect lone man with playing child.

    Anyway, I think it’s forefront on my mind now, with Jaycee Dugard’s story.

    I just don’t think we can be too careful.

    (Also–I LOVE your new blog layout/design. Beautiful!)

  • http://twitter.com/paulaswift paulaswift

    Right there with ya sista! I’m not real polite about anyone hurting my kid…stranger or not – adult or child. If you hurt, or are positioned to bring harm to my kid – watch out for mama bear claws – they come out strong and typically will not care about hurting someone’s feelings.

    BTW – love the new look, tag and bio brief!

  • Ryanuribe80

    I have 2 children and me as dad have to worry about insecure women like you every time I go around playgrounds. I think you should build a play set @ your house and stay there. Also ” I don’t believe that a single one of us grew up without having at least one run-in with a skeevy adult” I never had!!!!!!

    • Anonymous

      I can’t speak for boys, but I’m pretty sure every woman I know had someone creepy in their life at some point who made it obvious in one way or another that his intentions weren’t quite right.

      Dads with kids are a completely normal sight at a playground. There are more SAHDs around here now than ever. But I bet you don’t go to a playground all by yourself and hang out while other children are there. Why is that? Is it because it would be a little bit creepy and might make other parents feel uncomfortable?

      • http://www.ramblingsofagreenyogurt.blogspot.com Disgusted

        Maybe it’s because he’s busy raising his kids and doesn’t have time to himself to do things like that.

        • Anonymous

          Do you like visiting playgrounds alone so that you can watch the kids? Even if you mean no harm, I think you’d understand that it might make people feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure why you’re bothering to defend this…

          • http://www.ramblingsofagreenyogurt.blogspot.com Disgusted

            Because it’d ridiculous, and somebody should say so. Just like it’s fun to watch puppies play, it’s fun to watch little kids play. It’s FUN to see other people having FUN.

            What you’re saying is that people should avoid doing something completely innocent because YOU are paranoid and YOU distrust everyone at a park without a kid. Why should others tiptoe around your paranoia?

            Your Southern charm has gotten lost – you think it’s impolite to talk about real perverts with your mom friends but don’t think it’s impolite to stand in front of a man sitting on a bench and glare at him (I’m sure your look was not a friendly one but a hostile one). If you’d gone over and just said hello, commenting on what a nice day it was to be outside or something you’d have created an environment where someone could feel comfortable opening up to you, but instead you put someone on the defensive and tried to make them feel ashamed of doing something innocent.

            As someone who is of child-bearing age but doesn’t have kids despite liking kids, your attitude disgusts me. Until you have looked up and memorized the faces of all the child molesters in your area (and we won’t even get into how a 19 yr old can wind up on those lists if he had a 17 yr old girlfriend) and are sure the people you’re “looking at” are child molesters, then YOU are in the wrong here, not the people choosing to sit on a bench in your precious park while your children are playing.

          • Anonymous

            We’ll just have to agree to disagree. :)

          • ColleenerBeaner

            I’m disguted by “Disgusted” trying to defend these people. I don’t have kids, I’m a woman and I would be a little creeped out if I walked through the local playground and saw a man there with no children. It’s just plain weird.

          • Anonymous

            It’s hard to condemn ALL childless adults at playgrounds. Obviously, it depends on the situation and the surroundings. There are plenty of adults at playgrounds I haven’t looked twice at, or wondered whether they had kids or not.

            There are others, though, that definitely put up my radar. Men walking around playgrounds, looking at children, or sitting in the sandbox for no apparent reason (that’s happened a few times)? It’s weird. We all know what gets our hackles up and what doesn’t. If playgrounds are banning childless adults, it’s unfortunate, but I’m SURE it’s because they don’t want to be seen as discriminating against one adult and not another. Easier to just ban them all.

  • Anon

    Thank you for this post. Teaching your kids to speak up is so important. When I was just a year older than Punky, I was molested by another child at school. It was during an emergency drill and we weren’t supposed to talk. I tried to tell the teacher and she told me not to talk during the drill, so the boy didn’t stop. I told her afterwards in the classroom and, I don’t think she meant to, but she made me feel like I did something wrong because I listened to her. I was one of those kids who never disobeyed, and so I didn’t say anything while it was happening because she told me not to. I know she was just trying to tell me that I SHOULD have spoken up, but it made me feel ashamed that I listened to her instead of speaking up. My parents taught me to always listen to my authorities and never thought that I would be faced with that at such a young age.

    • Anonymous

      I hate hearing that. How awful for you. And I can see where you’d be confused about what to do, even though your parents certainly had good intentions.

      I actually tell my daughter stories like this one- things that happened to me and friends of mine when we were her age- and talk about what happened, what we did, and sometimes what we should have done. It’s an easier way to broach the subject, and I think she listens more to “true stories” than “what-ifs.”

  • Kmomsnow

    Thank you so much for this post. There’s a really good book about this topic called, “Protecting the Gift (Keeping Children/Teenagers Safe and Parents Sane)” by Gavin de Becker. It was an Oprah book club read and she had the author on her show years back. Among many things, the book teaches parents how to be more aware of their surroundings and how to educate our children about this….and to encourage our children to trust their instincts because our instincts are sooo important. The book starts off with a sad true story but don’t let that get to you — keep reading on and you will learn a lot. One thing I learned and taught my sons is that a molester could be a stranger (like the one sitting in your playground) or it could be a neighbor/family member/friend. The author refers to them as “tricky people” because they have many ‘tricks” to get your child’s attention — and it gives plenty of examples. I could go on and on but you may wish to just read the book. It is quite helpful. -KrissyMom

    • Anonymous

      I’ll have to look it up — Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mafuso Mary Zimmerman Afuso

    I think it’s important that you modeled appropriate behavior for your kiddos and also other moms. When I am approached by strangers when I’m with my kids — panhandlers or others I always say very loudly “I have small children with me and you should not be talking to me”. I have also said, very loudly “STOP — You are coming too close!”. I may be 100% wrong about these people’s intentions. So what. If it keeps me & my boys safe, I don;t mind insulting a stranger.

    • Anonymous

      If nothing else, you’ve given someone else very good blogging material! ;)

    • http://www.ramblingsofagreenyogurt.blogspot.com Disgusted

      That is TERRIBLE! Why shouldn’t a homeless person approach someone with children? They’ve probably figured out people with kids tend to be more compassionate or something. Way to make someone who’s already been cast out by society feel ashamed of their existence. Why don’t you try modeling compassion to your boys by giving leftover food when you have it, or simply saying, “No, I’m sorry I can’t give you anything today.”

      Lady, I’m all for people staying safe, but not every homeless person is dangerous. I live in a major city, encounter the homeless EVERY DAY that I leave my house, and in seven years have only ever had one negative interaction with a homeless person. Consider the fact that heaven forbid your life came crashing down, YOU could be the one panhandling. How would you want people to speak to you? How would you want people to react to YOUR requests for help?

  • http://kittysmitty.blogspot.com Kitty Smith

    This has been on my mind alot lately. I have 2 daughters, one 2 years old and one 3 months. I am currently trying to teach my 2 year old that it’s not nice to say no, but at the same time trying to teach her to feel empowered to say it. I feel like I’m failing horribly sometimes!

    I cannot believe there are some parents who will just let this stuff go. If I think there is any danger to my kids, I will be the first to confront it.

    • Anonymous

      I think, as I addressed in a post earlier this week, thinking about what you’re going to do for your kids and actually doing it often turn out to be two very different things. It’s good that you’re thinking about it now- You’re way more prepared to act when the time comes if you’re expecting it to be difficult.

  • Anonymous

    You know, there’s many places children go that they have to be accompanied by an adult. Why not do the reverse at the playground? Let’s put up signs that say, “Adults must be accompanied by child(ren).”

    • Anonymous

      Oooooh, LOVE it!

      • Randmlusk

        Our local, second run theater does family season passes- and it specifically says exactly that on the tickets.. ‘no adults admitted without children.” I never really thought about it before- but it makes very good sense!

    • Joe

      every playground in NYC has that sign.

    • Gina B

      I can see that for, say, a McDonald’s playground – but for an outdoor space? Why can’t a childless adult (as I and my husband both happen to be) read, exercise, or plain enjoy the rambunctiousness of kids?

  • Momof3boys

    Fortunately, I have not had to deal with this very often. Very occasionally, there is a lone man at the park we go to, but it is a very quiet park, by a library, on a greenway that leads from a couple of neighborhoods so it is very difficult to know whether or not they are creepers or there for legitimate purposes. (None of the benches are super close to the playground, so they could just be on a break from a walk). I just keep an eye on them. As long as they sit on their bench and do not approach a child, I let them be.

    My sister, however, is not so quiet. :-) She has a special needs child who has played on several special needs teams. It is a pretty tight group of parents. Whenever a lone man turns up at the ballfield, she (and usually one or more of the other parents) will walk over to him and ask him why he is there. They are never confrontational per se, they always keep it very friendly. But they want him/them to know they are watching.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, that takes guts! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing, as long as they’re polite. They’re just being aware of their surroundings.

  • Zeecon

    I agree with your article, and most of the comments here, EXCEPT for the idea of adults needing to be accompanied by a child at a playground. This is actually already policy at place, the only one that comes to mind is Legoland. There are plenty of situations, legitimate ones, where an adult male may be at a playground. Perhaps a divorced dad would wait to meet his kid being dropped off by the mother at a playground? Or a grandfather whose kids all live far away, or who has none, and enjoys the sound and sight of kids playing? Or even less common, a father who lost a child, who might be comforted by a playground full of happy children.
    I think letting any odd, creepy men know, in an obvious way, that you are keeping an eye on them is a great idea, and kudos for being a strong mother who does that for her kids, and the other kids there.
    But we have to be careful not to overreact by labeling all adults, especially adult men, as potential child molesters. Unfortunately, we all have been influenced to think this way.
    There is a really sweet CIT at my daughter’s day camp(she is 3), he is only about 14 and genuinely loves the kids (unlike the snotty twin girl CITs). And I hate that when I first met him, and even a few times since then, I wonder why a boy would want to be a counselor and find myself half-questioning his motives.
    I hate that I question a normal, healthy, caring teenage boy for wanting to be a camp counselor. I cannot imagine I am the only one who thinks this way, and it is wrong.

    • Anonymous

      In all honesty, I think we can’t make a sweeping generalization about who can and can’t be on a playground. It would totally depend on the situation.

      However, while I love kids, I would never go to a playground and sit and watch other children, simply because I know it might make other moms feel uncomfortable. And I wouldn’t blame them- the number of crimes against children makes moms’ suspicion a sad reality.

      I think it’s important for people raging against the way things are to realize it’s not the fault of the suspicious moms, but instead the number of people who’ve committed sex crimes against children. I think it’s good for you to analyze why you feel that way about the CIT, but don’t blame yourself- You’re just responding to the number of incidents you’ve seen/read about pedophiles. It is what it is.

      • Zeecon

        I don’t think I blame myself, I think I blame media hype and over-attention. And just because you, personally, may not do something b/c you understand how it makes other moms feel, does not mean everyone feels the same way, or that they *should* feel the same way. This is why we have to be careful with the number of rules we impose, however well-meaning they may be.

        I too remember being exposed to pervy guys as a girl growing up. However, I also think there is a really good chance that many of us may have misinterpreted well-intended chit-chat or even poor or ill-advised attempts at humor or friendliness as ‘creepy’, especially growing up, as I did, in the times of McGruff and Don’t Talk to Strangers campaigns. I may remember some creepy guys, but I also remember two instances where I totally overreacted to neighbors being friendly. Your point about communication stands, and had my mother done that with me, the overreactions would certainly not have happened.

        I just worry with media being so much a part of our lives these days, that we begin to see the few horrible stories reported as ‘proof’ that a predator lurks on every corner. They don’t, and the chances are, the person who is the pedophile is someone you or child knows.

        http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/NewsEventServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=2034

        “Today, kids need to be empowered with positive messages and safety skills that will build their self esteem and self confidence while helping to keep them safer. Kids don’t need to be told the world is a scary place. They watch the news, hear adults talking, and may even experience violence firsthand. Rather, they need to know their parent, guardian, or another trusted adult is there for them if they are in trouble; and most adults they encounter in their lives are basically good people.”

        Banning adults from playgrounds proves to children they need to fear people. This is not the kind of society I want to build for my children.

        • Anonymous

          The kind of society I want to build for my children, and for my yet-to-be grandchildren, is one in which the pedophiles are afraid, not the moms. I also don’t think banning unaccompanied adults from playgrounds makes children fear people. More than likely, it will make them feel special, that the playground is reserved for kids only.

          Yes, it may cause some minor inconvenience for an adult occasionally. The divorced dad (or mom) may have to meet their ex-spouse somewhere else to exchange the kids. But if only one child is saved from molestation, the small inconvenience to the adults is more than worth it, in my opinion.

          Some adult males love children in general, not in a creepy way. My husband is one of these men. He’s great with kids–better than I am, in fact. But the reality is that it’s usually men that molest children, so he has to be super careful about how he acts around children. (He teaches Sunday school to 6-8 yo kids.) He has to leave his classroom door open, and have other teachers nearby. My husband understands that he must avoid the appearance of evil. Adults on the playground need to understand this too. Those that don’t are more concerned about their own rights and less concerned about the safety of children.

  • Craze

    In NYC, you are actually not allowed on a playground unless you have a child with you.

    But that doesn’t stop people from thinking men are creepers when they show up. When my husband took our older daughter to the park after school one day, he was accosted by the police, who demanded he call our daughter over, told him not to say one word to her or he would be arrested, and then asked her who he was.

    Another time, he took our youngest (who is three) to a nearby playground, and the mothers who were there treated him like he was a pedophile, because he was there actually playing with his daughter, instead of sitting on a bench and gossiping.

    It doesn’t matter if a male has a child with him or not out here. A man strolling through the park, or even bringing his children there to play, is looked at as a predator, and that is wrong.

    Yes, there are creepers out there. But being an adult male doesn’t automatically afford one the title. Maybe they were simply reading. Maybe one of them worked or dropped off one of their kids nearby, and was either on break or waiting for pick up time. Maybe they were creepers. All you really can do is exactly what you are doing, keeping the lines of communication between you and Punky open.

    • Anonymous

      In fairness, I have never given the evil eye to anyone that I wasn’t ABSOLUTELY certain had no children there. As I said, I truly do want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But the park was a perfect example of a time when I KNEW the men didn’t know a single child there. Had I not KNOWN that, I simply would have kept an eye on them.

      Here’s the thing. It’s too bad that adult males on playgrounds have to be under suspicion. But it’s not the moms’ faults- It’s the faults of the number of creepy men out there who’ve put people’s radars up. So perhaps dads can do their best to look… dad-like when they go to the playground if they don’t want people to think they’re there without children. Maybe they can play with their child and interact with them. A novel concept, I know. ;)

      And maybe they can try their best not to be offended at the moms who look at them funny. Or at least direct their ire at all the pedophiles, pervs and ‘creepers’ out there that most women have encountered themselves more than once– those are the ones who are make things more difficult for well-meaning men everywhere, not moms who are concerned about their children.

  • Rebecca Hoy

    So glad you addressed the topic. As a school counselor/victims witness advocate, I also want to remind people that kids shouldn’t have to be “polite” with family members/family friends when it comes to discomfort and personal space. The majority of child molestation cases are usually people the child knows. Making your child hug or kiss anyone they aren’t comfortable implies to them that they are not in control of their own bodies and they don’t get a choice about who they have to share personal space with. Remember, YOU are your child’s advocate. Politeness be damned, Uncle Bob will get over it.

    • Anonymous

      Great point, Rebecca.

  • http://twitter.com/lovelost44 love is lost

    I was in a rather empty mall with my 3 young children. I walked across the center of the mall with the kids trailing behind. I stopped outside the entrance of the store and turned to watch my ‘ducklings’ catch up. That is when I spotted a man with a video tape camera. I watched as he followed my son with the camera. As my son approached me, the man saw me looking at him. He hastily packed his camera and left the area. I never allowed my children to be ‘ducklings’ again.

    • Anonymous

      WOW. That’s scary!

  • Jenna

    Thank you for this post. I am saving it for the future as my daughter is due in one week. I feel like as an adult, I still deal with people like this, and you’re right, it’s a matter of time until she will. It’s great to know that you are talking with your daughter about stuff like this. Sometimes they don’t know how to articulate what they want to say, and you are giving her the venue and he vocabulary to do so. I love good moms!

    Jenna
    momofmanyhats.blogspot.com

    • Anonymous

      Good luck with your delivery, Jenna! How exciting!

  • katrina tierney

    I second the book Protecting the Gift

    • Anonymous

      I’ve gotten several Facebook messages about this book too. I’ll have to check it out!

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  • Kimberly

    Encouraging children to speak up and communicate (with parents or other trusted adults) about uncomfortable situations is so important. I still remember an adult male who was a couch at my elementary school who gave me and the other girls the hibi-gibies (I don’t know how to spell that!) We never told anyone or did anything about it.
    As far as the men you often see at the playgrounds/parks… I have always heard those are common places for men to meet other men for *ahem* discrete encounters… I don’t know if this is true or not but perhaps that is why the men were there. Not for the children. At least I hope they were there to meet other men because that is the more preferable scenario :) Still creepy though.

    • Kimberly

      I meant he was a coach not a “couch”!!! :P

      • Anonymous

        Ha- a man acting as a couch would be CREEEEEEEPY! ;)

  • ColleenerBeaner

    I live in Philadelphia and there is an amazing children’s water park in a suburb just outside the city. I remember going there on field trips as a kid and also taking kids on field trips as a camp counselor while in college. When i was about 20 a group of us decided we wanted to go and ride the slides and just act like big kids in a place we all grew up with. A group of about 9 20 year old boys and girls showed up with bathing suits, towels, etc. They immediately asked us how old we were and whether or not we had children with us. When they found out we did not we were turned away. Heartbroken, we trudged back to the car and complained about how ridiculous it was that you weren’t allowed in there if you were over 18 and had no children with you.

    At the time I figured it was because they thought we were going to run a muck, but we were good kids (reminds me of your post a few years back when your stepdaugher was treated so poorly at a restaurant because she was a teenager). Now thinking back, some of it may have had to do with keeping “big kids” who may run wild out of the park but a big part of it probably had to do with creepers showing up and just watching the kids in bathing suits. The place gets pretty crowded and it’s very easy to lose sight of your child (my mom lost me in 2nd grade because I forgot where we were going to meet at the bottom of a water slide). It’s such a shame that places need to have these rules.

    I know it’s not exactly practical (or favored by kids) but I swear my eyes will never leave them when I have my own.

    • Anonymous

      That’s so sad- I wonder if they just didn’t want “trouble,” like you said. And they couldn’t let you guys in and then turn around and NOT let another group of young adults in who looked like they were going to get wild.

    • http://silverfang77.tumblr.com/ Silver Fang

      Places don’t need rules like that. You were discriminated against. I hope you called and complained.

  • Trip1990

    This can be a very difficult topic to discuss with our children. I have two daughters 8 and 3. The 8 year old has always been very outgoing and talkative with EVERYONE and it always made me nervous. I wanted to explain to her that not everyone is safe to talk to, but I didn’t want to squash her outgoing spirit.
    I ended up borrowing the Safe Side videos from the library. They really explained things on a level that kids can grasp without “putting fear” into them. It’s really done in a good way. When everything is safe and fun, the “Safe Side Super Chick” is wearing green. When something alarms her…all of a sudden she’s wearing yellow and then they talk about the situation she’s in and if it’s dangerous, Her clothes turn red and she STOPS and finds her Safe Side adult.
    Basically people come in three categories…Don’t Knows, Kinda Knows and Safe Side Adults. Now my daughter will look around during some situation and say to me, “Mom, there are a lot of “don’t knows” around here…I’m sticking close to you.”
    If you aren’t familiar with the videos here’s a link. One of the producers is John Walsh: http://www.thesafeside.com/

    • Anonymous

      Love it! Thanks for the rec.

  • redwoodmama

    I think there can be perfectly benign reasons for a childless man to be near a playground. He may be divorced and missing his children. He may be part of an infertile couple. He may just plain like kids. Would a woman sitting alone in a playground bother you as much?
    Or maybe he is skeevy, because you’re right, those guys are around. But I choose to believe the best about people, even childless men, and merely being around kids isn’t enough to set my bells ringing, although I pay attention to those alarms when they are sounding. And slowly but surely, I am training my daughter to do the same thing.

  • Future Blackmail

    I didn’t read through all of the comments so maybe this was already said but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. It’s not just men that are skeevy, women are sex offenders too. It’s important to teach our kids how to identify and react when their “gut” is telling them something and most importantly, be aware of their surroundings and what is going on.

  • Zoe21

    I second that *many* parents do not want to get involved for fear of stepping on someone’s toes.

    I once got the advice to take a picture of the person that’s acting “funny,” and do so in a way that the person sees you do it. If you very strongly suspect that he (or she) is a pedophile, you can take the photo to the local police to find out if s/he is a registered sex offender who is not allowed near children. They do get away with getting too close to children even AFTER they have been convicted because so many people do not speak up.

    If nothing else, realizing that someone is paying close attention, and has a picture to potentially trace them down will make most creeps leave.

  • Anonymous

    I work with kids at church and genuinely enjoy spending time with them. I, however, would not go hang out at a playgrounds without having kids with me. I would feel like I was creepy. I don’t have kids of my own either.

    Also, if I were with any child who was under my protection I would totally make very obvious eye contact with anyone who I felt wasn’t supposed to be there. Even at church events, if there is someone there who doesn’t seem to belong – to a family or the church – I keep an eye on them when they are in my vicinity. I hope others do to. Its up to responsible adults to protect the kids.

  • http://twitter.com/Dahhad Debra Harris

    You’re ABSOLUTELY right. Once I was watching the late local news report and, just as I was about to doze off, a picture of my daughter’s former third grade teacher appeared on the screen. Yep. He had been arresting for molesting students. Thank God, I volunteered in his class frequently and unannounced when she was in his class. My heart broke…not for him, for the parents and children who were his victims. The creeps are everywhere and 18 is not a magical age. If they still have to have a cosigner to get an apartment at that age, they should still be jail bait.

    That’s what I think.

  • http://www.three-peas-in-a-pod.blogspot.com Larson_jennifer

    Thanks for writing about this.

    I know that I need to really get on the ball about talking to my older son about this sort of thing. He starts kindergarten in just a few weeks, and suddenly his world is going to expand. He almost takes it for granted that he’s going to be around people he can trust, and we all know that it’s just not going to be like that in the future.
    What I’ve done so far: I’ve discussed with him what he should do if he ever gets separated from me…find a mommy or grandmother with a stroller and ask for help…and he’s memorized our phone numbers and address. He knows that his private parts are his own. But how do I convey to him that there are people out there he shouldn’t trust, without also scaring him to death?

  • Alex

    I’d like you to catch my eye in a local park, so we could strike up a conversation about how offensive your views are to men. Yes there are nasty people out there but your children will pick up on your mistrust and the more over-protective we become as a society/societies, the less people will inhabit our public places, further contributing to isolation and causing opportunities for nasty people taking advantage of vulnerable children (and people).

    In my opinion the design of north American cities is particularly poor in promoting community cohesion and looking at turning that around would be a step in the right direction.

    • Anonymous

      So you’re saying that you sit on playgrounds and watch children playing? Because then I will catch your eye and we can have that conversation. But somehow, I doubt you do that personally.

  • Jeremyadamsmith

    Hello. I have three blog posts to share that approach this complex topic from a guy’s point of view.

    Here’s the first, the story of how I was once asked to leave a playground by a grandma (an identical situation to the one you describe, actually): http://daddy-dialectic.blogspot.com/2006/08/city-vs-kids.html

    The second is from an African-American dad who got some static from a mom (a different situation, but relevant, I think): http://daddy-dialectic.blogspot.com/2011/05/day-at-park.html

    The third is a survey I ran of men’s experiences feeling excluded from childcare settings, including playgrounds: http://daddy-dialectic.blogspot.com/2011/01/parenting-while-male-74-fathers-talk.html

    I agree that security is important, but consider this: When men are made to feel unwelcome in child-centered areas, it has a wider, long-term effect on male participation in children’s lives. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be alert–that’s warranted–but we should also try to avoid paranoia, stereotyping, and hysteria. Guys do take care of children and like to be around children for non-lascivious reasons, and there are real consequences to painting them all with the same brush.

    • Anonymous

      There are lots of ways for nice guys to be around children without resorting to going to a playground and staring at them.

      If you really want to address the problem, get angry at the molesters and sex offenders on the news every night and all the “creeps” and “pervs” most women have had run-ins with at various points in their lives… not the women who’ve seen/had these experiences and are, as a result, leery of the man staring at their kids on the playground.

  • brad

    I find this blog blatantly sexist, and as a father of 2, extremely insulting. I would be offended if I was approached or given the leery eye if I happened to be alone at a park. Maybe I’m waiting for my wife and kids? But really, it’s none of your business and I’m going to tell you so. I think your “creepy” sense should be toned down a little, else you will be raising your own kids to be every fearful the rest of their lives.

    • Anonymous

      And I think, respectfully, that you will make parents feel uncomfortable if you go to a playground alone, sit on a bench, and stare at their kids. Don’t you?

  • Anonymous

    We’re not talking about parks. We’re talking about playgrounds. :) And some public playgrounds, apparently, actually don’t allow adults without children.

  • Nerd-faced Girl

    I don’t see how appropriate politeness will harm our children. No, I wouldn’t force my daughter to give her uncle a hug and a kiss if she wasn’t into it, but hello and perhaps a handshake is appropriate. If a stranger wants to talk to my child, she is encouraged to respond politely, but she knows what is inappropriate behavior for strangers.

    As a grown woman I have visited playgrounds and used the playground equipment without my children. I’ve sat in the shade by the playground and read a book. Being around children is as natural to me as anything, as I grew up in a large family. So did my brother. Is it okay for me to stop at this park and read but not my brother?

    In fact, I think politeness would have gone a long way toward making the playground safer. When you gave this man the stank-eye, did you greet him, introduce yourself? “Hi, there, I haven’t seen you here before. I’m Ann. Are you new in the neighborhood?” Look him in the eye, shake his hand firmly. You’ll show him that you’re not afraid and you’re paying attention, and if he’s a creep, he’ll find himself not welcome. If he isn’t, maybe he’s someone you’d like to know.

    You can protect yourself without being rude, and teach your children the same.

    • Anonymous

      You know, you make a good point. Perhaps I’ll do that the next time, because it would have the same effect on someone who was there for the wrong reasons as what I chose to do -and- it would be more polite.

      Regarding the fact that you ‘should’ be able to sit on a playground and not make people wonder why you’re there, you’re also right. Yes, a nice guy ‘should’ be able to go to a playground, sit, and watch the children without causing parents to worry. We’d all agree that that’s the case. But a smart nice guy who loves kids doesn’t do that, because of the perception- Instead, he volunteers as a Big Brother or gets a degree in education, etc.

      By the same token, a woman ‘should’ be able to wear whatever she likes on the street without people harassing her. But a smart woman doesn’t wear a micro mini and plunging top on the street, because she knows she will be harassed.

      This could go on and on. There are lots of things that are legal, but they’re not necessarily socially wise. And again, it’s not the “evil parents” causing this problem and this perception… it’s the number of sex offenders out there. Blame them.

  • It’s a Good World (mostly)

    I’m sure you don’t allow your children to be alone in a room with any male relative. Uncles, grandfathers, brothers, even their own father* must all be off limits from your children if you wish to protect them from the pedophiles and the creepers. After all your children are statistically more likely to be molested by a trusted relative than a stranger, even men who had the nerve to think that it was a nice day to sit outside and read in the sunshine.

    *Also included: male bus drivers, restaurant servers, teachers, coaches, priests, next-door neighbors, mail carriers, delivery drivers, grocery store cashiers, librarians… How dare they even enter a building where a child might be. Don’t they know they’re men and can’t be trusted? Think of the children!

    Putting the sarcasm aside, sometimes tragic things do happen to children and it’s awful and heartbreaking. But teaching your children that any stranger, any man, is a potential threat is teaching them to be untrusting. It teaches them to fear the world, to keep from interacting with those around and robs them of independence. Thinking of the worst first (after all, when you drove your children to that park, you risked their lives by putting them in a car – children are more likely to die in a car crash than be molested by a stranger – but didn’t bat an eye that because the odds are so small). A world where every man is a criminal is sad indeed.

    • Anonymous

      I’m a little confused– Where did I say that I’m teaching my children that any man is a potential threat? I think you read Lenore’s tweet and skipped my post…

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