When I was in "teacher school" (working on my undergraduate degree and teaching license), one of the most important lessons I learned was to never, under any circumstance, touch a child. I was training to be a high school teacher, but the rule still applied. No physical contact. No student was worth losing your career. That was ingrained in me to the degree that it still stays with me all these years. I should note that, as a Latino, I come from a very affectionate culture where hugs and kisses are common. However, when I came to the States, I learned to be more careful of who to be expressive with, if at all. And given the current pedophile hysteria, for a lot of what we hear is pretty much the sensationalist press coverage, I am always aware. So, this article from the Wall Street Journal for September 6, 2007, "Avoiding Kids: How Men Cope With Being Cast as Predators," by Jeff Zaslow made me stop and think. I was particularly moved by the following quote from the article:
"Ted Wallis, a doctor in Austin, Texas, recently came upon a lost child in tears in a mall. His first instinct was to help, but he feared people might consider him a predator. He walked away. 'Being male,' he explains, 'I am guilty until proven innocent.'"
Ordinarily, I would like to think that I would have helped a child lost in a mall. But then again, given I am a guy in my mid-thirties, and on an ordinary day may not have shaven for a while (i.e. may look a bit scruffy), the last thing I would want is to give some overzealous passersby any suspicion. Not my kid? Not my problem. Does it sound harsh? Not as harsh as me getting any cloud of suspicion for being helpful. It's a scary thought overall when even parents have to worry about being out in public with their children. I know. I have a daughter. She is 11 now. We often hold hands in public. In that case I don't care who sees, but I am still aware.
I am proud of the fact I am an Eagle Scout. I was fortunate to have great male role models then. But these days, I probably would not volunteer in Scouting, or I would really think about it. Again, not worth the risk. And what does that say? Does that make me a bad person? I think it is being cautious. When I was a teacher, I always made sure if I had to meet with a student after school, that the door was open, and another teacher was nearby. To do otherwise was foolish. The same principle applied when I was in college working as an adjunct teacher, and it would apply today. The lesson is simple: never place yourself in a position where you could arouse any suspicion. No kid is worth it. And I find the fact I feel that way scary. What does that do that men feel they cannot be nice to children? There are shortages of male teachers in our public schools. This hysteria is one reason. I am not saying not to be cautious, but when the media message becomes one of children should avoid men, I can't help but wonder if something is being lost in the process. I am trying to provide a positive role model to my daughter. It's already challenging enough without certain people and the media adding fuel to a fire.
Overall, I am not changing my life over hysteria. I will continue loving my daughter. I will go on working as an educator, but I will always be aware.
A hat tip to Obscure Store and Reading Room. By the way, the comments in the WSJ forum and at the blog may be worth a look. Clearly this is an issue that has many people thinking.