Help! An Old Man is Giving My Daughter Sea Shells!

Readers — You’ll love the answer Dear Prudence gives to dkadbnhdyi
this mom
who is freaked out by an elderly man — a friend of her parents — who gives her 5-year-old daughter “gifts” like shells and feathers.

Let’s hear it for Dear Prudence! She is so…prudent! And wise! As she tells the mom:

…from your description of this situation, my gut feeling is that you have overactive mommy bowels. If you see every friendly man as a potential predator, you’re going to convey unnecessary fear and anxiety to your children.

And while we’re on the subject of bowel-churning fear of old men anywhere in the vicinity of children other than their own, here is my take on the story that’s gone viral about the aged doctor kicked out of an Arizona Barnes & Noble’s children’s book section because a woman found his presence disturbing. What a disgusting pervert!

The woman, I mean. Imagining a child isn’t safe near any male, no matter how public the place, no matter how minding-his-own-business the man.

At this point B&N has apologized and the man — a doctor — wants to drop it  already. He’s tired of the hoopla. But it’s nice when the media pauses to realize how crazy our fear of men has made us.  (Even if its constant carping on kiddie danger is what made us crazy in the first place.)  – L

Yikes! Old men! Can’t we just lock them all up, for the sake of the children?

61 Responses to Help! An Old Man is Giving My Daughter Sea Shells!

  1. Sarah June 8, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    I’ve always liked Dear Prudence. I’m glad she gave a sane response!

  2. oncefallendotcom June 8, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    I seriously doubt those two old guys in the pics have seashells so yes it might be suspicious =P

  3. Andrea June 8, 2012 at 7:31 am #

    I’m reminded of Halloween when I was five years old. My mom and a friend’s mom took us trick-or-treating in the friend’s neighborhood, where there were a few trailers on the street. At one of the trailers, an old, old man opened up and somehow swept my friend and I into the trailer, leaving our moms outside, and closed the door. Inside, he had probably eight heaping bowls of candy set up around the trailer, and he invited us to browse the bowls and take whatever we wanted. Meanwhile, my mom and the other mom were stuck outside for a few minutes, glued in mom-panic to the window of the trailer watching for any hint of trouble. My mom had stranger-danger thinking tendencies, but she somehow kept her cool and let me and my friend have a classic Halloween experience.

  4. Really Bad Mum June 8, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    Maybe we should dress all girls in burquas ( spelling??) because apparently every male over the age of 8 is a child molester, hang on, no wait, over 18 because it would take them that long to unwrap the bubble wrap. Seems like the parents are the ones obsessed with sex and kids

  5. Jackie June 8, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    “Like it or not, most child abductors and sexual predators are male. While many people object to profiling anyone, a man who frequents the children’s section of a bookstore alone is worth a second look,” he said, though he noted, “I’m not aware this man was a frequent customer.”

    (the above is from the original article).

    OH MY GOD- seriously?? So dads, uncles and grandpas are not allowed to purchase children’s books unless accompanied by a woman or a minor child? What in the world is society coming to? That statement alone makes me want to throw up.

  6. Michael Richards June 8, 2012 at 8:09 am #

    For ‘old men’ like me, this mindset is really upsetting. It changes what we do. For example, Tuesday was the Transit of Venus, and I have a dozen or so solar viewers. There is a playground nearby that would have been a good viewing spot and I had the thought to go down there and let any interested kids take a look using the viewers. However, I chose not to go and share the event with the kids there because I knew I would be considered a threat by some people there. What a bazaar world this has become.

  7. tgt June 8, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    I wouldn’t praise Prudie too much. In the same answer, she also said to demand the grandparents not let the 5 year old out of their sight.

    Her advice boils down to “Not every male is a child molester, but just in case…”

  8. enyawface June 8, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Apparently the media is doing really well at spreading hype, utter nonsense and fear. One of my friend’s on Facebook posted an alert to all her friends in Iowa about a van going around with an old man trying to snatch kids. Now I agree, this is something that parents should be aware of and TAKE PRECAUTION, but one friend’s response was: “Oh yes, I know, with all the recent scares I won’t let my Suzie outside any more, it’s no longer safe for kids.” To which I reasoned how safe kids actually are today compared to even just 15 or 20 years ago.
    I was told I was totally wrong, as when we were kids we could go outside and not “have” to worry about someone approaching us “inappropriately” and we didn’t have other kids bringing guns to school. I rememebr 2 incidents when guns were brought to school during my childhood, also had a classmate kill himself with his fathers handgun in 7th grade.
    My response was this:
    Is OK to disagree, but just a little more different perspective. It’s not that we didn’t “have” to worry back then. We just didn’t worry. We didn’t have internet, twitter, facebook and “local” news reports of happenings in the UK, Australia, Brazil, China and all other corners of the world on a minute by minute basis. Children can still stay out all day long without worrying about someone approaching them inappropriately, and I do remember a couple school shootings some 30 years ago when I was in school, as well as the boy who stood next to me in choir having killed himself with his father’s hand gun on the night of our 7th grade Christmas show. (Now called a Winter Season Pageant, if the school has one at all.) What I am saying is, we can all give in to the hype of media, and cower in our homes, never seeing another soul, just chatting here on Facebook, or we can face reality and know that sure, take precautions, but get out and live life. Otherwise, all the predators and dangers of the world have already won, and they never even met you much less touched you

    But with all the media hype, how do we get across to our friend’s, the truth, and common sense, without making it seem a debate or that we are attacking them, or, that we are just completely insane? Especially if we don’t have kids of our own.

  9. Lisa @ Organic Baby Atlanta June 8, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    I just got back from the parents’ meeting for my daughter’s preschool summer session, at which I learned that the male teacher at my daughter’s school is not allowed to help any of the kids in the bathroom, ever. No matter that the door would be open. No matter that some of the kids are potty training and need help in the bathroom. No matter the gender of the child. The director put this rule in place to protect the teacher, who is wonderful. And fortunately the teacher-student ratio is high enough that it’s possible to exclude one teacher entirely from bathroom duty. But how sad that the director feels this necessary.

    Even sadder is the reality that she’s probably right, and this measure is probably the safest one — for the male teacher. Sigh.

  10. Beth June 8, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    I can’t get the link to the Barnes and Noble story to work; anyone else having trouble?

  11. enyawface June 8, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    B&N link works fine for me, also on that note: The store is now closed as it was one of the several that were closed due to downsizing, however do recall at the local store in North Seattle area, the children’s section was completely cordoned off by tall book shelves, and the small entrance to the area had a sign that stated: “Customers unaccompanied by children are asked not to visit the children’s area. Please ask a staff member for assistance with books in this area.” So umm, how is that not their policy again?

  12. Heather G June 8, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    enyawface, that sign is definitely not posted in the B&N I frequent. Both my husband and I shop without our kids for books there at least monthly and neither of us have been so much as approached by a staff member. The policy seems to vary by location.

  13. Really Bad Mum June 8, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    can you imagine the uproar if someone told these nutcases not to take their little brats somewhere because the adults don’t want children there….. and then said tell your kids to stop looking at me coz it makes me uncomfortable…. they would be screaming discrimination etc… lol would be funny to watch though hahahha

  14. Jessica June 8, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    I’m so well off to be a woman as I tend to wave to babies in buggies at the supermarket. *hear the sarcasm dripping here*Especially in the queu to the register when the child is going nuts and the mother or father is stressed out to the max. I figure a wave to get the child interested in something else is harmless. It would probably be viewed as less harmless had I been a man doing the waving.

    I was an extremely curious child. I loved all things nature-y, sea shells and onwards.

    I’m hoping for a backlash where people – finally – can realise that thinking the worst of people is really counter-productive.

  15. Robert June 8, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    The story about Dr. Amin profoundly depressed me. An accusation by a school teacher years ago has caused me to live in fear in my own country. Men are banned from traveling with children on airplanes, and there is an assumption that any man who teaches elementary school must have sexual motives. We are sick.

    I dread the day my daughter has children. I don’t want to be around children anymore. A friend is an attorney who has handled cases of grandparents who have been accused of molesting their grandchildren, by divorcing spouses. Every accusation, no matter how absurd, is taken as complete gospel. When my neighbors go off to visit their grandchildren, I think to myself that they must be nuts. That’s what it’s like living in fear of a lynch mob.

    Any man who would be alone with a child–even his own–in this country must accept the fact that they are one false accusation away from prison.

  16. gwallan June 8, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Really Bad Mum said…

    Maybe we should dress all girls in burquas because apparently every male over the age of 8 is a child molester, hang on, no wait, over 18 because it would take them that long to unwrap the bubble wrap.

    It’s any male over twelve actually.

    Just a couple of years ago in Australia one of our so-called experts in child sexual abuse, Freda Briggs, was in our media demanding that all teenage boys be treated as though they are paedophiles.

    Meanwhile outside the home environment boys are at greater risk of all forms of abuse – including sexual abuse – than are girls. Maybe it’s the boys we should be dressing in burquas.

  17. CrazyCatLady June 8, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Actually, I think it is even younger for the boys. I seem to recall a boy suspended or expelled because in kinder they were laying on mats to rest, and a girl in a dress stepped over his face and he looked. And maybe made a comment, but I can’t remember.

    I am willing to bet that the girl was wearing underwear and the boy didn’t see anything that he wouldn’t have seen at the beach.

    My local B&N is very wide open in the kid section. Not hemmed in at all by shelves. Yes the kids can wander from the Thomas the Train area, but parents can and do come in. I have to wonder how the stores that ban adults without kids actually sell books around the holidays.

    I took my 12 year old over to the adult section last Christmas and we both read and laughed at the “Go the F#$% Asleep!” Some women with toddlers came by and gave us nasty looks when they saw what we were reading (silently, except for the laughing!) Obviously, they must stay up until the little darlings drop from exhaustion and never have problems with kids going to bed.

  18. Really Bad Mum June 8, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    well Frede Briggs is obviously a Collingwood supporter hahaha…

  19. Lisa June 8, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    @enyawface Same here. According to one of my FB friends, this Scary Van Man has been seen in SEVEN towns. I had to scoff.

  20. Amy O June 8, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    I read Dear Prudie, and when I saw the article today my first thought was that the woman was missing a great teachable moment. Instead of trying to sanitize the situation by removing the man from her daughter’s life, this is a great opportunity to talk about touching and keeping secrets and all the things that children should know about when it comes to their own safety.

    Sometimes people do give you the creeps, and I think that’s okay. But instead of trying to keep her daughter away from this man (who has never been around without his wife, if I recall correctly), then why doesn’t she teach her what to do if something happens?

  21. Really Bad Mum June 8, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    @ Amy O ….. who knows what crazy thoughts go through their heads….

  22. Jenna June 8, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    @gwallan–I actually read in a book on raising boys that you should never ever let a teenage boy babysit your kids because they were too sexually driven. Out of the whole book, that was the only thing the author said that I completely disagreed with. I have five brothers and all of them were great with kids and two of them were the neighborhoods most popular babysitters in the different places we lived. They are all fathers now and wonderful fathers to boot. I think it’s sad that boys and men are viewed this way.

    And as far the old man always being a predator–those thoughts never even cross my mind. Often, if there is an older gentleman at a store or restaurant who is talking to my kids, I just figure he misses his grandkids or remembers being a young dad with young kids or whatever and the thought has never crossed my mind that he poses a threat to my kids.

  23. Spike-X (@SpikeEcks) June 8, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    “at the local store in North Seattle area, the children’s section was completely cordoned off by tall book shelves, and the small entrance to the area had a sign that stated: “Customers unaccompanied by children are asked not to visit the children’s area. Please ask a staff member for assistance with books in this area.” So umm, how is that not their policy again?”

    I know somebody who works at B&N in Seattle. Not sure if it’s that one, but I’ll have a word to him about it.

  24. AW13 June 8, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    @enyawface & Lisa: I live in Iowa, and I have heard nothing about this scary van man. I shall have to look into it and report back.

    My grandfather worked as a police officer in the 1960s and 70s. After he had retired, say in the late 80s and early 90s, if he happened to see kids walking home from school in bad weather (or even just cold weather), he would offer them a ride. He was no predator: he had grown up walking to and from school in all kinds of weather and knew it was no picnic, and was trying to be nice. He also assumed that others would assume that he would never hurt a child. My grandma had to explain to him nicely why he shouldn’t do that anymore, and although he understood (and was shocked that his behavior would be construed that way), he was really upset that the world had become so suspicious. And this automatic suspicion of men bothers me so, so much. How on earth are little boys – who are naturally caring, empathetic creatures – ever going to grow into emotionally mature men if they are constantly told by society that they are monsters? As the daughter of a wonderful, caring man, the wife of a wonderful, caring man, and the mother of a wonderful, caring little boy (who adores his daddy and grandpa to no end), it sickens me that men who interact with children are being cast in the role of sicko predator. I’d personally be far more concerned about a man who wanted nothing to do with his children than a man who was actively playing with his own and other children at a park.

  25. AW13 June 8, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Oh, I found an article about scary van man! According to it, there were two incidents in one town. Both times, the man asked the kids to get into his van to see a puppy or help him look for his puppy. Both times, the kids refused, walked away, and told their parents, who reported it to the police. They have a suspect, whom they’ve spoken with (and who denies it, obvs.). And I checked out some major state newspapers – none of them have mentioned it. I finally found a link near the bottom of the page on my third google search (clearly, I do not know what terms to use when looking for a scary van man).

  26. gap.runner June 8, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Thank goodness that paranoia about men hasn’t come to Germany yet. My husband, or another father, often takes a group of boys skiing on the winter weekends. Nobody thinks anything of it. The men go with the boys for two reasons: 1) Most of the moms can’t keep up with their sons on the ski slopes, and 2) It’s a good male bonding experience. One of my son’s friends has 5 sisters. When he skis with that friend and his dad, some of the sisters also come along. Again, nobody thinks that anything is strange about a man skiing with a small group of boys and girls.

    Last year the Alpine Skiing World Championships were in my city. This is as almost as big a competition as the Olympics. My husband, son, and I attended one of the races. During the award ceremony preparations, my son got bored and went off to collect skiers’ autographs while my husband and I stayed in the stands. There was a couple next to us with a little boy who looked to be about 4 or 5. The boy looked rather bored waiting for the award ceremony to begin. My husband smiled, waved, and made silly faces at the boy. The child would laugh, duck behind his parents (we were in a standing area), then reappear for my husband to make another silly face. Did the child’s parents call the police because my husband was being a pervert and obviously “grooming” their son? No. Did they scream and tell their son not to interact with strangers? No. The parents seemed amused that their neighbor in the stands was entertaining their son. The boy’s mother even made a comment to me about how my husband must love children.

  27. KC June 8, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    It’s sad that the whole stranger danger idea has been taken to such a paranoid level. Sure, there are bad people out there. But most sexual abuse actually happens within the family by people well known to the kids, who have easy access.

    There is such fear and distrust out there now because only the bad stories are reported and it is so easy to hear about them with the internet and constant news. There are no positive news stories because…how boring would that be? Man takes kids to park, all had a great time. That doesn’t sell because it doesn’t inspore any strong emotion.

  28. owen59 June 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    As a 53 year old male I now find myself organising 2 children programs in other festival in my region. Well, they’re not child minding service so we expect parents or guardians to be with the children. And that’s great because there’s nothing better than to be able to josh around with the 3 year olds and parents do seem to appreciate that easy going interaction. My vision for these events is to see increasing numbers of teens ‘working’ with the children, children and teens performing for children, and any age group storytelling, playing games. And certainly older people have a lot of crafty stuff they can do with children. Sure it’s important to have eyes on safety, however I’m going with an attitude that community is the best safety, that isolation (emotional and social more than physical) is the great danger for children and youth.

  29. Beth June 8, 2012 at 3:48 pm #

    When I was about 7 (oh so many years ago!) my Dad’s uncle would come over once a week and take my brother, me, and any child in a 1/2 mile radius for an ice cream at “The DQ” (Dairy Queen). We’d all pile into his station wagon (5 or 6 across with no seat belts!) and drive across town. We LOVED it and none of the parents ever gave it a second thought. In fact, I’m betting they were grateful for the 30 minutes peace! It’s now such a special memory for me – he was a loving, gentle man with no grandkids of his own and our joy at seeing him, lit up his face. Never once were we questioned by our parents as to ‘what did he say?!?! What did he do?!?!’ and it never occurred to me that this was anything but normal. I feel so sad that my son and his friends will not have a similar opportunitiy because, even if I’M ok with it, society has frightened off most (if not all) of the big-hearted, well-intentioned people who might want to buy an ice cream for the neighborhood kids.

  30. linvo June 8, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    “Like it or not, most child abductors and sexual predators are male”
    And the vast majority of robbers are male too, so no man should ever be allowed in any store where any valuables are kept.

    Most murders by poison are by women though, so never eat anything a woman serves you. In fact, ban them from restaurants and cafes.

    And then they mention the complaint was probably prompted by an incident of a man “allegedly preying on young girls”. Nothing even happened and no mention of whether the allegation was found to be true. Sounds like the van man to me.

    Very sad…

    So is the other story. And I agree it was a missed opportunity to talk about how you can teach your child to protect themselves from abuse, wether it is by family friends, the football coach or their own parents.

  31. Selby June 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    As usual in the B & N story: the man’s name, the employee’s name, the company spokesperson name all over the article. But the busybody customer who complained? Oh no, HER anonymity is sacrosanct. Show your face, woman. Come forth, give your name, stand by your righteous actions. I dare you.

  32. Buffy June 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    I wonder if the women doing the reporting (writing to Prudie and complaining at the B&N) have sons. If so, at a certain age will they automatically assume their son is a pedophile, and will it be OK with them if society treats him poorly because he’s a boy?

  33. Dani June 8, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    I love how they don’t want people unaccompanied by children in the section. but wouldn’t the children’s section of a book store be the perfect place to take a child whose trust you were trying to gain?? The looking doesn’t bother me, its the actions. I feel like unless you want to start having kids wear head to toe coverings, or locking them in the house until they are grown, you can’t do anything about someone looking. You can arm kids with the kind of knowledge they need to keep themselves safe if approached. Polite but still slightly wary, leave if you are uncomfortable, etc.

  34. Emily Guy Birken June 8, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Regarding the B&N story: I worked for a Barnes & Noble in Columbus, Ohio off and on for 4 years when I got out of college. Because of how the children’s area was set up, it was the only spot in the store that had any “private” corners. We had an issue with adolescent boys (and some men) taking girlie magazines in there to…um…enjoy. I suspect any B&N stores that have a policy that adults must be accompanied by a child have had similar problems. That being said, we never had any issue with adults being otherwise inappropriate toward children, and the issue with the magazines generally happened late at night (we were open until 11 pm every night) when, for the most part, you wouldn’t find children in the store at all.

  35. Kate June 8, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    This reminded me of a story from a few years ago about my youngest niece. She is extremely gregarious and when she was about the same age as the girl in “Dear Prudence” she was in a garden center with her parents and was admiring the wind chimes. A gentleman who appeared to be in his 30’s was in an adjacent aisle and she went up to him and started talking to him about the wind chimes and how beautiful one particular one was. She was so adorable and friendly that this guy actually went over to her parents and asked if he could buy it for her! (and since it was less than $10 they said it was fine). I’m so glad I come from a family who view this as a sweets story and not a crime waiting to happen.

  36. Beth June 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

    Whenever I read one of these stories I substitute the word “black” for “male” and think….that would never happen. Our culture is seemingly much more accepting of gender prejudice. Not that we should accept or condone racism, far from it, but why do we accept and/or condone hate and prejudice toward those with penises?

  37. Elisa June 8, 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    There is paranoia and then there is trusting your instincts. It can be hard to know the difference, but I do think it’s important to pay attention when you get that “creepy” vibe from someone who is interacting with your children. I got that creepy feeling from a longtime teacher in my daughter’s high school, and I told her to try to avoid being alone with him. I worried that I was being paranoid, but a couple of years later he was removed from the school after harassing a different girl.

  38. Havva June 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    I saw this Dear Prudence column early yesterday. Reading through the responses a few things really struck me about the responses that were saying “grooming is real” and “how dare you dismiss a mom’s gut instinct” etc. One, is that many of these people were traumatized by the abject failure of “stranger danger” so they won’t trust anyone to say a situation is safe. The other thing is they sound like I once did. … They sound like victims, they are so traumatized that they are ready to pounce on anything that in any small way reminds them of their abuser or the person who abused a friend or family member. And in their haste to cast off everything associated with that person, they are casting off a lot of life.

    The fear about grooming is just that. Abusers use typical signs of affection, they play at loving a person (maybe they even believe they love that person). But an abuser warps that love into something sinister. That doesn’t make the signs of affection evil, and it says nothing about others who use tokens of affection. It just means the abuser is warped.

    Having been there, I understand the urge to push away everything reminiscent of the abuser. But ultimately, in order to live and enjoy my life, I had to understand and accept that when ever I see real love, I will see reminders of warped broken love. Even so, it is a hard but worthy task to remember that they are different. I wouldn’t be able to live my current life, nor have the love I enjoy if I didn’t do the work of remembering there is a difference, between those who love and those who abuse love.

  39. Dirge. June 8, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    I don’t think kids should be allowed in the childern’s section of Barnes and Nobel. It’s not like they have money to spend on books. And that’s where they keep the percy jackson and harry potter books. Those series have quite a few adult fans.

  40. Susan June 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    What a depressing story. What if the man had not been a doctor? What if he’d been a maintenance man or mechanic? Would Barnes and Noble have issued their apology then? And, my goodness, if the woman was worried, why could she not just stay with her kids and let other parents make their own decisions about the safety of B&N children’s sections.

    And I’m tired of people giving credence to mother’s “gut instinct”. I don’t believe mom’s have any gut instinct now. They are afraid of everything and everyone.

  41. Brenna June 9, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Susan, I’m so with you on that crap about mother’s “gut instinct”. There is no such )@#($* thing. Just because you can breed, doesn’t mean you have a magical sixth sense about what is dangerous and what isn’t. It’s just an excuse for paranoia.

  42. KarenW June 9, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    I don’t agree with dismissing gut instinct as nothing but paranoia. If you read “The Gift of Fear” or “Protecing the Gift”, Gavin DeBecker’s advice goes perfectly hand-in-hand with Free-Range thinking. He completely debunks the “don’t talk to strangers” idea, he makes it clear that child abduction by strangers is exceedingly rare, and does not encourage parents to keep their children under 24-hr supervision. But he does emphasize the importance of gut instinct, not just for parents but for EVERYBODY. As long as one’s perception is not warped by irrational fears, instinct is crucial for avoiding dangerous situations. For example, I believe that most people are good and decent, and I certainly do not believe that more than a tiny minority of men are child molesters. Therefore, most people do not raise my alarm. However, when someone DOES “give me the creeps,” for whatever reason, I don’t think I should ignore it. That doesn’t mean going bonkers and calling the police for no reason, it just means keeping a person at a slight distance – not trusting them completely. This is also what I’ve taught my kids. If they feel creeped out by anybody – stranger, friend, relative or another kid, I respect that and will minimize their time with that person (without being rude or confrontational). It happens rarely enough that I do not have to dismiss them as paranoid.

    BTW: I agree with Prudence completely. I think the mom from the letter has no right whatsoever telling her parents who to be friends with, but asking that her kids aren’t left alone with adults other than the grandparents is not unreasonable (although that should just be a general rule, without singling out these particular friends.)

  43. Donna June 9, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    I think the parents who jump to these conclusions must think others find their children, or children in general, obnoxious. There has to be background thoughts of “nobody would play, talk to, give gifts to my child unless they wanted something untoward from her” for this reaction to make sense. To honestly believe that every situation involving strangers is suspect you would have to think that your child, or children in general, are unpleasant. I know that I don’t jump to these conclusions but I tend to think my kid is adorable so am not surprised when someone else, even a stranger, finds her charming.

    And there does seem to be a general anti-kid feeling in America these days. There have always been people who didn’t like being around kids and places where kids were not welcome and that is fine. Adults are entitled to their places too. But now we hear about kids being banned from certain flightsand, restaurants, and other places kids were welcome back in my childhood (including some bars) and it just seems like people want kids to exist separate from adults.

    This feeling is non-existent in Samoa. Kids are accepted everywhere. And there is no such thing as stranger danger here. I haven’t met a single person who worries about strangers or thinks kids are unsafe in public. I haven’t met anyone who thinks that giving a gift to a child is questionable. They give things to my kid all the time.

    So I wonder how much of this will just continue to be a vicious cycle. As kids become less welcome places, more people grow to believe that adults don’t want kids around unless they are pedophiles. As the belief that all adults who want kids around are pedophiles grows, kids and adults get more and more marginalized into kids-only and adults-only spheres. As kids and adults get more marginalized, child-stranger interaction becomes more and more suspect.

  44. Donna June 9, 2012 at 1:34 am #

    KarenW – I don’t think people are saying that gut instinct in general is nothing but paranoia. What people are saying is that the world’s view of strangers is so filled with irrational fears of pedophiles around every corner, that saying “my gut told me something was wrong” is now meaningless. The average gut is completely filled with irrational fears. As a result, I trust MY gut but I question everyone else’s unless I know they are not filled with paranoia.

    And I have touthink that this woman doesn’t really have a strong gut feeling about this. If she did, she would simply stop the interaction and not write Dear Prudence about it.

  45. Moldoon June 9, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    @ Donna – Right on. I think the problem is that “The More You Know” type information – or at least the way it’s given/received – actually messes up our gut feelings. Something that would never have been a red flag/instinct-waker-upper before, now becomes “OMG he’s giving her PRESENTS and PRESENTS = GROOMING = my instincts tell me he’s a CREEP!”

    Between the media reporting on relatively rare sad/tragic things as though they happen all the time, and “experts” giving us important information on how to spot and/or prevent bad things from happening, maybe our ability to listen to our gut with regard to a specific situation is compromised.

  46. Libertyluvrz June 9, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    While it’s good to be cautious, things are not always nefarious. My 6th grade teacher regularly took small groups of students (including me) on weekend field trips to state parks, local museums. His girlfriend often accompanied us. He was not a pervert, he just genuinely enjoyed kids, and enjoyed sharing these kinds of life-enriching experiences with us. While I was in high school, a parent complained that these trips were inappropriate. Though he did nothing wrong, the district determined that they had less liability if he was transferred to the high school library.

    I often wonder how many scores of children missed out on some very enriching experiences, all because some suspicious mom watched too many episodes of America’s Most Wanted.

    The lessons he taught me outside of the classroom were some of the most important of my life, and I am teaching my children and my nieces and nephews to be curious and explore the world in which they live.

  47. mollie June 9, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    I want to shout it from the rooftops: it’s not bad until it’s bad!! Just because nearly every “grooming” situation might start out with, “Hi there, what’s your name?” it doesn’t make that question an automatic “grooming” question! Forgive my ignorance about what type of logic it is that says a square is a rectangle but every rectangle is not a square— that’s what seems to apply here.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Donna that it’s impossible for most mothers these days to be tuned into their actual “gut instinct” or “creep radar” because they’ve been too conditioned by the selective reporting of events in our world to be able to see any guy, anywhere, doing anything in the proximity of kids as anything but an immediate threat to those kids.

    This means all people are in terrible danger— of suffering the losses that occur when the fabric of community breaks down: loss of support, connection, closeness, trust, warmth, friendship, learning, understanding, peace… wow, lots to lose, don’t you think? Community is how we evolved and survived as a species. Every story like this B&N one just adds to my “end of days” feeling about humanity. Are we so blind to what matters, so disconnected from awareness of what we thrive on— the essentials of human life— that we destroy what small parts remain of community, thinking we can do everything for ourselves, without the support and company of others?

    And in terms of molestation, the type of “conditioning” that really makes kids susceptible, I’ve heard, is the type that parents unwittingly do whenever they insist a child give a hug to someone they don’t want to hug. Parents are so concerned about hurting the feelings of the adult being refused by the child that in their embarrassment, they tell that child it’s not a choice, it’s an imperative. “Look at grandma’s face. How can you do that to her? She spent the whole afternoon with you, bought you a bubble wand, took you for tea, and now you won’t hug her? That’s not nice! You hug grandma RIGHT NOW.”

    The child learns that they really don’t have a choice about touch, they’re supposed to do what adults tell them, they’re bad people who hurt the feelings of adults when they don’t give affection when asked or when it’s socially expected. I see it constantly, the “command performance hugs,” and not only are they devoid of meaning for the adult (who wants a hug that comes from guilt, shame, or coercion? Not me!), they do actual harm to the child’s ability to know that their body is their own, and that they have the right to say no to physical touch for any reason, anytime, and to anyone.

    So if you want to contribute to kids’ safety, stop insisting your kids give “command performance hugs,” and if you’re the adult on the receiving end, say to that child, “You know what? I really only want a hug if you’re wanting to give one from your heart. I understand if you don’t feel like a hug right now. It’s not a ‘have-to.'” And if the parent insists, you can take them aside and tell them how counter-productive their insisting really is.

    Sometimes strangers really are “after” your kids, but it’s so rare, so unusual, and so empowering for kids to have practical preparation for this vanishingly small possibility… well, it’s just not worth tearing apart our sense of trust, connection, and community every minute of every day in the name of “safety.”

  48. Heather G June 9, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    mollie, forced affection irks me to no end. I’m not sure if it was because my mother isn’t one for hugs and such or because my uncle is a cop and really made sure that I and my cousins were empowered to keep ourselves safe but that kind of thing just doesn’t go on in my family and I’ve carried it on with my kids. We ask “do you want to give (family member) a hug?” If my son says no then we say okay and move on. Sometimes that means that Mommy doesn’t get a hug when he’s been with his grandparents for the weekend, or Grandpa doesn’t get a hug when we pick him up at the airport, but that’s fine. It took a little prodding to get my in-laws on board with this but after it came up in my mother-in-law’s safety unit (she’s a kindergarten teacher) she understood and has been following our lead without complaint.

    Besides teaching kids that their body is their own and that they don’t have to comply with unwanted touch it’s also a matter of teaching respect. While much of the world is more physically affectionate than the US, not everyone is and not everyone in the US is comfortable with our general level of physical contact. If we teach kids that their personal boundaries won’t be respected how on Earth can we expect them to grow to respect the personal boundaries of others?

  49. Marie June 9, 2012 at 3:11 am #

    My kids’ school had an awards ceremony the other day. Nice, casual, outdoors, so people were sitting wherever there was a bench or where they could place a chair. My three year old had a blast meeting the other younger siblings, and in particular adored a younger toddler. Both girls made a game of running up to the other girl’s dad, giving him a hug and getting one in return, then sitting on a step, and back again. It was so sweet. I don’t know those parents, but it was so nice seeing the kids playing so naturally. We just grinned at each other, and I commented on how cute the kids were together.

    I love these innocent times with kids. I’ve had to un-stranger danger my kids a little, as they hear it in school sometimes, so I bring up what I consider to be more sensible rules.

  50. Monica Jones (@Dirty_Hooker) June 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Donna, I think a lot of the anti-kid sentiment stems from having kids forced down people’s throats in situations where they shouldn’t be.

    Some places, like bars and late-night events, are for adults. It can ruin a night out if a kid is up way past his bedtime because his parents wouldn’t or couldn’t get a babysitter, or if a kid is ruining an R move he shouldn’t be at anyway. (And yes, sometimes adults ruin these events, too, but I have more options in addressing that behavior with an adult than I do with a child.) Some bars are suited to families and others aren’t, but a lot of parents aren’t making the distinction. And then there are the parents who think invitations that say “adults only” don’t apply to their kids. Too many parents take the approach of, “You just need to deal with my kid. Suck it up.” Sometimes adult conversations aren’t appropriate for children, and it’s unfair to expect adults to have to monitor themselves everywhere to make sure a child within earshot doesn’t hear her say “asshole.”

    What has also changed is that too many parents don’t care to correct their kids in public, which can lead to some really unpleasant behavior. I know I’m willing to put up with quite a lot if it looks like the parents are at least trying, but if, say, someone’s child is singing loudly throughout a nonstop 6-hour flight, I’m going to be peeved, as will most of the adults on the plane.

    I also suspect that part of the anti-kid sentiment is generated by the trouble even appearing to like a kid can cause. If just being within 20 feet of a child can get someone kicked out of a bookstore, then kids are a menace to be avoided.

  51. bequirox June 9, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    I was talking with one of my neighbors. He is about 55-60 and was taking a walk with his grand daughter. They stopped at someone’s house so she could pet the puppies through the fence, and the homeowners son was in the yard. The mom came outside and started SCREAMING at this guy to get off her property (he was standing in the street because we don’t have sidewalks), called him a crack head and an alcoholic, and threatened to call the police.

    I realize that this man in particular looks like the stereotypical pedophile. He is a heavy smoker, so his skin is pretty damaged, his eyes are blood shot all the time, and his voice is a little creepy. But if this woman had talked to ANY of the people in our neighborhood, she would know that he’s a really sweet guy. Plus, he had a 3 year-old WITH HIM. But she NEVER leaves her house except to drive her kids to the school less than a mile away, so she doesn’t know anyone on the block, even though she’s been here 4 years.

  52. Susan June 10, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I think the B & N policy is crazy because I imagine lots of folks like to shop for children’s books without bringing the children along. As for men reading girlie magazines in that section of the store, this wouldn’t even worry me because I keep an eye on my children when we’re out shopping.

    But I was more concerned about the man giving gifts to the five year old but not to her younger sister. That definitely seems strange. And I do trust my gut reactions about people. If someone creeped me out, I certainly wouldn’t allow this person around my child without me being present.

    It gets tricky when someone you leave your child with is friends with someone who creeps you out and I wouldn’t trust those peole to watch my child unless I could trust them to honor my feelings — but I’m not saying every male should be treated as a predator. I think the prevalence of child sexual abuse is largely due to parents not trusting their gut instincts and allowing the wrong kinds of people to have access to thier kids…then we get bombarded with all these cases of molestation and people start panicking about granpas shopping for gifts.

    I say parents should honor their instincts and parent their own kids, and stop interfereing with the freedom of men to hang out in stores, parks, and other public places. They pay taxes just like everyone else does.

  53. Donna June 10, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    There is nothing strange about giving these gifts to an older child who appreciates them rather than a toddler. The gifts being given are sea shells and feathers. Things that he FINDS and a 5 year old would like but not a toddler. If he were buying fancy gifts for the 5 year old and not the younger sister, it may be a concern. But he is FINDING random things on the ground and giving them to a girl who who is at an age to be thrilled with shells, feathers and rocks. If he were giving shells and rocks to the toddler, mom would be screaming about him giving her a choking hazard. Is he supposed to go buy age-appropriate things for the toddler just to give the 5 year old a blue jay feather he found in his yard so mom’s overactive gut doesn’t get upset?

    It is also not unusual for adults to prefer kids who are older and more interactive. My mother would babysit and the like but didn’t start seeking my daughter out as a playmate until she was 4ish.

  54. Robert June 10, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    Things like this remind me – during my childhood, I was approached sexually once that I recall. It wasn’t an adult stranger – it was my older brother’s best friend who lived next door. Curious how these concerned parents never think about warning children about people with whom they are completely familiar – it’s always ‘stranger danger’.

    FWIW, nothing bad happened and I don’t believe it traumatized me in any way. I realized, ‘oh, this is rather unpleasant’ and declined to participate.

  55. Francesca June 12, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    There’s a good Dr. Phill on youtube “Moms Overprotective” the mom is so paranoid that if her daughter gets on the bus she follows in her car. Watch the episode, ~20 minutes and when the daughter is allowed to go to the mall with a friend for the first time the mom is freaking out about weirdos on the bus and her duaghter being beat up or molested if she is out of mom’s sight for more than 5 minutes.
    As to the old man, maybe he just didn’t want to give the 2 year old anything they could swallow or throw, that was always my rule when babysitting and it worked.

  56. EMMA June 14, 2012 at 5:19 am #

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  57. Rossa February 16, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

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