Posted by: laughs4dads | April 9, 2010

Ssshhh…This Child is in Danger

Last month, in her blog, Free-Range Lenore, Lenore Skenazy described the following situation:

“The mother was at the library with her 5-year-old, the library where they go every week, in Rochester, New York…they had only a few minutes before they had to leave to pick up Daughter #2 (age 3), giving the mom just enough time to run upstairs from the children’s room to the adult room to check out her book.”

According to Skenazy, the mom asked the 5-year-old whether she wanted to come with her or wait where she was. When the kid decided to wait, the mom told the librarian she’d be right back, to which the librarian replied “‘Well … okay. But I must warn you: the same dangers that are out on the street are here in the library.'”

This story is disturbing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the mental image of a child being hit by a bus while reading in a library in Rochester. But, that aside, the situation raises two key questions:

  1. If somebody tries to abduct a child in a library, is the child allowed to scream?
  2. How does a mom with two daughters ages three and five have time to read a book?

I will now address neither of those questions.

Ms. Skenazy’s point in relating this tale is that “parents today have a choice: They can do something that makes sense. Or they can kowtow to the fear-mongering busybodies and watch their kids the way the guards watch the inmates in maximum security prison: Every. Single. Second.”

I’m not even going to address the whole “free range kids” concept in this post, other than to say that, in general, I do think today’s society expects parents to worry too much about too many things, although I’m not sure about the analogy that compares children to delicious poultry.

Instead, I’d like to talk about what’s troubling to me about this specific type of situation. And to do so, I’ll relate a brief story of my own:

I’m in a fairly crowded movie theater. A seat away, there is a guy who, for reasons we won’t go into, is attending the movies by himself. He has a good seat, the one where you can put your feet on the bar, but he has to go to the bathroom and, judging from the looks of him, get a jumbo buttered popcorn (“Oh, yes, I’ll take the 10-gallon tub for just a quarter more.”) It’s summer, so he has no jacket, but he puts his Star Wars baseball cap on his seat and tells me he’ll be right back. I reply with a barely perceptible nod, and off he goes.

Now I feel responsible not only for his sweaty, but collectible headgear, but also to save his seat against the hordes of people who arrive at the movies a minute before show time just to annoy me. (“Is that seat taken?” “Yes.” “Is that seat taken?” “Yes.” “Is that seat taken?” “Yes, dammit!”) This is preventing me from enjoying the pre-movie slide show (“FUN FACT: Unobtanium, the valuable material in ‘Avatar,’ was so named because it was difficult to obtain.”)

Okay, now let’s head back to Rochester, where library patrons are being pelted by a rare indoor hail storm. The problem I have with the scenario described by Ms. Skenazy is not that the mom left her five-year-old for a few minutes. It’s that, by telling the librarian she’d be right back, she implicitly made the librarian feel responsible for her child. Think about it: why else would she have said anything to the librarian? She might have said “I’ll be right back,” but what she meant was, “Watch my kid for a minute, will ya?”

As Ms. Skenazy herself writes: “I know a librarian is not a babysitter…But still. The librarian is there. Why couldn’t she say, “No problem!” (Italics are Ms. Skenazy’s.)

Well, here’s the problem. If you think your child will be safe for a few minutes, fine. Under the circumstances, I agree with you. But obviously you don’t really believe that, or you wouldn’t have involved the librarian. The librarian has other things to do. I’m not entirely sure what those things are, but my point is that the mother had no real intention of leaving her kid unsupervised; she simply assigned a surrogate to watch her. And what if something had happened? You know the librarian would have been at the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Are today’s kids over-supervised? Absolutely. Do parents worry too much these days? Definitely. Do I want to be responsible for your child or your Star Wars cap? No thank you.

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