A Child Goes Off with Adult —

Hi dryedfedda
Readers: This piece below was originally posted at The Rustic Child, a blog about kids who take risks, do chores and entertain themselves (if you can imagine!). It’s by Jilly O’Brien, a New Zealand mom of 2 who’s a teacher studying to be an educational psychologist. I asked her if I could reprint it here, it’s so inspiring, and she said yes! So — voila! L.


There is a school somewhere in the US (as posted on freerangekids blog), which sent a letter home to all parents warning them to be on the lookout for “stranger danger”. Some bloke who goes to the bakery (every day) had spoken to some kids who go there (every day) and this was therefore a matter of utmost concern. Apparently, the letter said “The situation is now in the hands of the police. Fortunately for us today, all of our children are safe.” What from? Doughnut Man – that dastardly kidnapper of children?

In the South Island of New Zealand where I live, at about the same time, our local newspaper – the CO News – ran a story titled “Buddy fills special place in young boys life”.  This Buddy programme is where a child, who needs a bit of extra time with an adult, is paired up with someone who has the same interests as them, and has a lovely time.

The article was about a10 year old lad who had lost his grandfather, and so his single mum said she “had to reassess how she was going to raise her son”.  She did just that, contacted the buddy programme and now her boy spends all his Saturdays on a retired farmer’s farm, helping with the tractors, making stuff in the shed, sorting out the bees, doing up old machinery. Without her.

Have a go at this multiple choice quiz. The article goes on to say that when Jan Bird, the Buddy co-ordinator is approached about big buddies, she is careful to ………………..

A) Make sure big buddies are police vetted?

Probably, but it’s not the point, it’s not the issue, it’s just something that has to be done.

B) To make sure they are not alone with the child? Er, no.

C) To make sure that the parents are always around? Wrong again.

What Jan Bird is careful about is “putting our young buddy with a big buddy who I know is going to be a good match”. Obvious.

I could list all the positives from this for everyone involved, but I’d hope you could already work them out. There are many children on the list who really want a Buddy and the organisation are always advertising for more possible Buddies to come on board. The kids’ parents, the kids, the community and the Buddies themselves all agree to the value of this initiative.

If the buddy programme ever sent out a letter to parents, it might go:  “Fortunately for us today, all of our children are happy, healthy, free, helpful, safe and learning to be decent citizens.”

Perhaps that’s what needs to be mailed out to parents at the silly school with the bakery concerns, instead of the overwhelming horror of someone trying to make conversation whilst eating a custard slice. — Jilly O’Brien

18 Responses to A Child Goes Off with Adult —

  1. Claire53 April 20, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    okay…wait a minute. I’m totally on board with America turning into a nut factory of overprotection. But we DO have mentoring programs here in the U.S. – Big Brothers of America, Big Sisters of America. Undoubtedly we likely do more vetting and background checks, but in the end, the kids get to spend one on one time with an adult who shares the same interests and shows them that there are adults beyond their parents who care about them.

  2. Michelle April 20, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    Claire, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that we don’t have such programs in the US, but it is a nice contrast to a school freaking out just because a man in a bakery spoke to some children.

  3. Heather G April 20, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    I agree with Michelle. I didn’t get anything about the US not having those programs but rather contrasting it with the story about the school sending out the ridiculous letter about the guy at the bakery.

    As an aside, growing up with a single mom there was a couple years when we didn’t live near any male family members. At the time I had no male teachers and really no in person interactions with positive male influences. We searched high and low for a mentoring program that would pair me with a man. None. Thankfully that period lasted only a couple years but it’s sad to think that young girls could grow up like that.

  4. Stafir April 20, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Honestly I think it just isn’t pointing out that ‘america dosn’t have these programs’ most people knows the USA has such programs. No whats being pointed out is rather different.

    In American the newspaper run a story about how a school told parents of children to watch out for stranger danger and a possible child preditor…who goes to a bakery and talks to children.

    In NZ..the newpaper has run a story on how a child is being helped by..a stranger..who’s farm he visits..and actually helps out on the farm. And how the mother feels that is actually a good thing. And has allowed her child to visit this stranger (though lets be honest by now he’s a friend…a buddy) and hang out with him every Saturday since they met.

    This piece really speaks more of the way the people in America who are in charge of schools..and the press…see things differently from other countries.

  5. Bronte April 20, 2012 at 8:56 am #

    I’m a Kiwi and my husband is British,

    I’m so glad we are raising our kids in NZ. (Only the one so far and he’s not quite 6 weeks old, but things to come look good)

  6. Donna April 20, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    @ Heather G – I agree about the girl/male role model thing. I’m a single mother of a daughter. My father died 10 years ago. My brother lives several states away. My only male cousin lives even farther away. Right now, I have a great male co-worker who lives a few feet from me and will spend time with Maya. And at home, she has my mother’s boyfriend. But I would love to be able to enroll my daughter in the Big Brother program so that she could have more male interaction.

  7. Emily April 20, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    When I was at Bishop’s University, I did Big Buddies my first two years. It was run like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and I got paired up with an amazing little boy named Anthony, who was eight when I joined. All was well for two years–we did stuff like swimming, playing in the snow, ice skating, or just hanging out at his house or my university residence hall. Sometimes, we went to Big-Buddies-sponsored events on campus, if we wanted to go, and I didn’t have some meeting or rehearsal or whatever on, and Anthony didn’t have Cub Scouts. Actually, those events weren’t very good–the Big Buddies Exec members would usually plan something loosely, feed the kids way too much candy, and sit back and watch anarchy ensue. Anthony and I had a shared revulsion for crowds, so we didn’t do too many of those events. But, Big Buddies was fine with this, and they pretty much left us to our own devices, after our initial screening when we joined, and loose evaluations maybe once a year, that were just to make sure everyone was sticking to their commitments to their Little Buddies, whatever those may be.

    Anyway, towards the end of my second year, some guys did some stupid/dangerous thing with their Little Buddies, and then there was a whole controversy about whether or not the program should be scrapped altogether, ALL BECAUSE OF TWO PEOPLE. In the end, the Almighty Exec (who didn’t even run the club well; they didn’t even stick to the office hours that THEY set, so borrowing a soccer ball or a pair of crazy carpets could be a nightmare), decided that they’d be “changing the format of the club” from “one-on-one mentoring” (i.e., its original purpose, which was great for Anthony, as he did best one-on-one or in small groups) to “on-campus only at scheduled events,” which I knew he’d hate–seriously, the ONE time I saw him act up in two years, was at a huge bowling excursion the Exec planned, complete with buckets of candy. When I pointed out my concerns, the Exec person I spoke to said, “Oh, you can do what you want, but it’ll reflect negatively on your evaluation.” So, basically, they were telling me that I’d be “marked down” on something that was supposed to be fun, for knowing my kid and doing what was best for him? At that point, I decided not to rejoin in third year, and I missed Anthony, but I’d just had it with the Exec, and with my school for allowing them to punish everyone in the club for two people’s actions.

  8. Terry April 20, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    All the “stranger danger” hoopla really bothers me. I gave my kids ice cream cones at my sister’s house this week, and they were eating them on the front step. She and her husband had some friends show up, coming over to watch a hockey game. These friends don’t really know me or my kids (although we were all at my sister’s wedding last year), and as they walked by my kids eating their ice cream cones, my 5 year old commented that he liked the guy’s Bruins jersey. This man looked at my 5 year old and asked him, “Are you supposed to talk to strangers?”, like he couldn’t believe what had just happened.

    My son, who clearly recognized that sitting on his aunt’s front step, with his mother right behind the door, was not in any danger from two people he knew were invited to be there, replied, “But that’s how you get to know people! Then they’re not strangers any more.” I was pleased that he replied like that. I often tell him how most people are good and helpful, so it’s okay to talk to people you don’t know…you just never go anywhere with them. Often I wonder if my kids are listening to me, but it seems in this case, they have been!

  9. pentamom April 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    Terry, am I right that this man was on his way into the house where your son was also a guest, as a good friend and welcome guest? So he thought that “stranger danger” extends to the fellow welcome guests of your own relatives, if you haven’t met them before? Sheesh.

  10. James April 21, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    I mentioned once before on here that I have a big brother from big brothers big sisters of america. We did not have a lot in common but he taught me a lot of things. An appreciation for nature being among them. They sound a lot more relaxed about things down under because they have so many rules and regulations and processes to go through here that it discourages men from joining and causes an even bigger problem with kids not being placed properly. I got placed because of a race issue. It was not right how it they did it, but I am happy it worked out the way it did. I love my big brother and still talk with him to this day even though I live 2000 miles away from him. I call him dad and my son is going to call him grandpa. I like the idea of big brothers or big buddies if you want to call it that. I do think the system needs to be redone here in the USA. In many cases the adults volunteering here needs more protection from the kids than the kids from the adults.

  11. craig April 21, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    @Emily – what a loss for anthony! Did you ever consider working with his parent(s) to continue your relationship outside of the officially endorsed program? Hopefully you at least maintained some contact.

  12. Emily April 21, 2012 at 3:15 am #

    @Craig–No, I didn’t stay in contact with Anthony and his family (and the neighbour kids who often migrated over to their house when I was there), but I didn’t cut off contact out of malice, or even really intentionally. It was more that I didn’t want to feel like I was sneaking around, or somehow doing something wrong for wanting to, say, go sledding or swimming or play Gamecube (yes, I was in university pre-Wii, which I suppose makes me “old”) with Anthony on a Saturday afternoon, and the Big Buddies Exec was sure making me feel like I was in the wrong. Also, I knew third year would be demanding, and fourth year more so (first solo recital in third year, longer solo recital plus thesis in fourth), so I had to prune back ALL of my extra-curricular activities, on the advice of my clarinet teacher–student representative council and my women’s group were also on the chopping block for me going into third year. Finally, Anthony was getting older, and I figured that, by the time he was ten (at the end of my second year), he’d probably be getting to the age where he’d prefer a male Big Buddy. I don’t know if he rejoined the program after that year, but from what I saw on campus, the new “format” of Big Buddies pretty much caused it to die a natural death.

  13. Scott K Pickering April 21, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    Hopefully you at least maintained some contact.

  14. Emily April 21, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    @Scott–No, that was my point–I didn’t maintain contact, partly because I was getting busier with school/music, partly because I knew Anthony was getting older, and probably wouldn’t WANT to hang out with me for very much longer, but mostly because the Big Buddies Exec made me feel guilty for doing what I’d already been doing all along, for the past two years. They started this program as a “one-on-one mentoring program,” which worked fine for everyone EXCEPT the two guys who screwed up, and then they decided to change the whole thing into something completely different, and criminalized some 100+ innocent people (not sure about exact numbers), for wanting to–get this–spend time one-on-one with their Little Buddies, like they’d signed up for in the first place. So, I knew rationally that staying in contact with Anthony wouldn’t have been wrong, but the Exec people made me feel so guilty for even wanting to, I just couldn’t do it.

  15. Emily April 21, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    P.S., Just for the record, I’m from Canada, not the U.S. I don’t know about our neighbours to the south, but we still have Big Brothers/Big Sisters here (it used to be two separate organizations, but they merged into one at least ten years ago, probably more). However, it’s dwindled a lot in recent years, probably because of the new wave of bubble-wrap parenting paranoia that’s been sweeping our entire continent. Side note: I lived in Australia for two years, and kids seemed to do a LOT more unstructured “playing outside” there than they do here.

  16. Meg May 8, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    I moved to NZ 3 years ago (from Canada) with my husband and two children. The differences in mentalities surrounding children and their safety are numerous. Our lives have improved in so many ways since our move and we’re so very glad to have done it, if for no other reason than the freedom that my children can now enjoy without anyone looking down their noses at us or commenting on my “lack of parenting” (read: I’m not a helicopter parent).

    I could go on and on and on…and maybe I will someday. I love love love the fact that kids can be kids in NZ and Australia.


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