“If You See Something, Say Something” — Terrible Advice?

Readers — This whole iseeebibbh
“If You See Something, Say Something” campaign
 makes me crazy, since it completely legitimizes — nay, DEMANDS — worst-first thinking: “Oh, a brown paper bag on the subway. It’s not that someone forgot her lunch, it’s PROBABLY A NUKE! I must alert the authorities!”

Likewise, when it comes to parenting, we now have onlookers dialing 911 when they see a child waiting in a car or walking home from school, on the assumption that the child isn’t simply on his or her own for a few, inconsequential (even blessed!) minutes, but in GRAVE DANGER of SOMETHING TERRIBLE. Once again, paranoia takes over and on its heels, so does the system (cops, courts, CPS). Instead of staying calm, making sure there’s really an issue, or, best of all, LENDING A HAND, we are encouraged to be hysterical, vindictive and helpless.

So Cracked had a contest, “If Public Service Announcements Told the Truth” and this one absolutely does! – L

if you see something poster


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59 Responses to “If You See Something, Say Something” — Terrible Advice?

  1. SKL May 8, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    LOL! But the sad thing is, it *is* necessary for someone to step in when kids are truly in danger of being harmed by their parents. And every time that topic comes up, all we hear about is how overworked (and underpaid) the child protectors are. Well, maybe if people were more sensible about who they report, the authorities would be able to deal with the real cases of abuse/neglect.

    Or maybe we need a different approach all together. What if, instead of calling the cops to report a child “possibly being neglected,” the only option was to actually go in there and help/protect/rescue the child yourself (assuming this were not physically impossible)? So for example, the lady who called the cops the instant she saw me leaving my 2nd graders in the car (at sunset) could have instead come running after me and asked me how long those kids were going to be alone in there, and whether she could babysit them while I dropped off my FedEx. Would she have bothered, and if not, what does that prove?

    What if there were a PSA telling people what NOT to report, so that the real cases can get handled properly? Or encouraging people to go talk to the parent instead of calling the cops? Seriously, wouldn’t it be a good idea for more people to know what is really reportable? Maybe there should be a TV special about the hell people are put through when some idiot anonymously calls CPS over something frivolous.

    How about CPS be required to investigate both the caller and the person they are reporting? Wouldn’t that be fun? Maybe the caller’s kids should be temporarily taken away just in case their parent is a lunatic. There should at least be some sort of fine or black mark for making a frivolous report.

    Then maybe the kids who are really being starved or beaten to death could be saved.

  2. MichaelF May 8, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    The problem with stepping in is most people don’t want to, either they are inconvenienced or afraid of getting sued – even with Good Samaritan laws on the books. I sometimes think this spiked after 9-11 when we were all told to be on the lookout for terrorists, and now that we really don’t have any or incidents to report it’s moved on to other things.

    In some ways it’s disingenuous where we are asking people to report on things, but not be involved in any way or to really find out what is going on. Maybe if those falsified reports brought repercussions there would be so much less of it.

  3. Sia May 8, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    We have a charity here in Britain. NSPCC. We do also have social workers. The idea is that you ring NSPCC for all the ‘What if?’ things.

    They encourage you to call if you’re at all worried because they’re trained to sort things out…the idea is that they either reassure you or pass the information on as appropriate. They’re trained to be able to make calls on that sort of thing.

    Their job is basically two parts: 1)Calm the panic-hens/panic-roosters and 2)Go tell the appropriate parties if it’s needed.

    Kind of like NHS direct for child abuse.

  4. Melanie Jones May 8, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Sometimes I can’t figure out why they still continue to teach about and discipline for tattling in schools. Isn’t tattling the hallmark of responsible American behavior these days?

  5. Havva May 8, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Sounds like DC’s metro system tamped it down a bit from what homeland security appears to be saying. The “If you see something, say something” announcements in the DC subway system for “say something” suggest you ask nearby people “Hey, is that your bag.” Or a person appearing to walk away “Did you forget your bag?” And only to alert the station manager if no one claims the bag. Adults know the context, and it does have this unpleasant reminder impact. But I think from a kid’s perspective it sounds like a lost and found procedure. And it reminds the adults that really 99.99999% of the time, someone just forgot their bag. Now the concrete planters and bollards fortifying huge portions of DC are a different beast all together.

  6. SteveS May 8, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    SKL, I like the idea of people offering to help out instead of calling the police. It seems like it would promote community and trust. As for people being punished for making a false CPS report, there are laws in most states that criminalize this behavior. That being said, I am not aware of any prosecutions. I have done a number of divorce cases and have seen plenty of instances where a person made a false report in order to harass the other person.

    I saw a PSA a few weeks ago that suggested parents should ask other parents if they have guns in their home before allowing their kids to go over to play.

  7. BL May 8, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    “I saw a PSA a few weeks ago that suggested parents should ask other parents if they have guns in their home before allowing their kids to go over to play.”

    Hmmmm. What if one of the parents is a cop? The answer would almost certainly be yes. And they’d probably arrest you just for asking.

  8. nina May 8, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    When my daughter was about 3 and a half she lobbied to be allowed to play in the front yard by herself. We just came home from shopping and I had a full car of groceries to unload and she wanted to ride her tricycle. I was standing in the middle of the garage not sure what to do. She looked at me funny and said, “Mom stop wavering. Just go do your thing. I’ll be fine. I’m not a baby anymore. ” And yes, she actually talks like this. Anyway, about 10 min later the door bell range and there was our neighbor asking me if I knew my daughter was outside. I said that I knew and then we had a lovely conversation about how you no longer see kids playing outside by themselves. A few weeks later I had a different neighbor at my door acting concerned that she might ride her bike into the street. When I asked her if she saw my daughter veering into the street she said “oh no, she’s been staying on the drive way” It’s been over a year now, and I didn’t have anybody bothering me ever since. In fact, people took notice and see other kids now playing outside with out adult supervision. On a slightly different topic, a few weeks ago my older son was reading his book in our backyard when he noticed our neighbors’2 year old son walking down the street by himself. He intercepted the child and brought him back home to his mother who didn’t realize he’d escaped. So what I am saying is that I’m all for saying something when you see something. Just do it in an appropriate way.

  9. anonymous mom May 8, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    In our state, the Department of Homeland Security is now funding a sting operation where they go onto Craigslist and post ads offering sex (from adult women) in exchange for drugs. When some dumb guy responds positively, he’s arrested and charged not just with soliciting a prostitute, but with a felony sex offense (use of a computer to commit a crime) that will land them on the sex offender registry for 25 years.

    The sting arrested in which my husband was arrested–undercover officers going into Yahoo adult sex chat rooms (this was a decade ago) pretending to be sexually-experienced 15 year olds seeking out another online hook up–was also funded with Homeland Security money. It also resulted in over 200 men having “use of a computer to commit a crime” on their records and 25 years to life on the sex offender registry.

    This is also the group that will seek out young, disaffected men with no ties to existing terrorist groups and start claiming they can give them access to powerful weapons to commit terrorist attacks, just to see if they take the bait. If they do, they congratulate themselves for catching dangerous terrorists.

    As far as I can tell, the Department of Homeland Security has been entirely ineffective at preventing real crime and has instead resorted to running expensive, extensive sting operations to create criminals they can then pat themselves on the back for catching, and use to justify their own enormous budget.

  10. Will May 8, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    I like what Sia had to say about the NSPCC sorting the wheat from the chaff.

    Basically, all of the DHS posters (and there are some in Britain as well encouraging the same) asking the general public (read: amateurs) to do threat assessments.

    Here’s the thing: if you ask amateurs to do threat assessments, you get amateur threat assessments, which are generally over-blown if not outright wrong. Is that really how we want to run our security? Not me.

    I’m not even going to start on how this reflects on the DHS’s main public face, the TSA.

  11. lollipoplover May 8, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    “The nationwide “If You See Something, Say Somethingâ„¢” public awareness campaign – is a simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper local law enforcement authorities.”

    No, it’s not. Raising public awareness of the least likely scenerio that could be carried out randomly anywhere, with box cutters, backpacks, or fertilizer doesn’t make anyone safer. Turning citizens into busybodies errodes the quality of life for all. Period.

    Homeland Security should be encouraging public awareness of getting out in your community and getting to know your neighbors and your neighborhood. Especially kids! They notice EVERYTHING. Not grandmas taking pictures on their smartphones in Wally World parking lots and doing their duty by reporting abandoned children* (*what they used to call children sleeping in cars) to the authorities. This is not simple or effective for anyone involved and no one is safer because of it.

  12. marie May 8, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    Homeland Security should be…

    …defunded, dismantled, shut down.

  13. Sia May 8, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    You know, I would ask if … not guns because we don’t really have guns unless it’s obvious. (Sheperds, Keepers, Farmers, whatever.)

    BUT if I was in America, I would ask if the parents had guns before I let my kid (if I actually had any) go over to play. I’d also ask if they had open pools too though.

    In other words, the scenario wouldn’t be ‘OMG NO YOu can’t play at that house! Guns!OMG!’ Let’s call the friend whose parents I know have guns ‘Jimmy’ for simplicity.

    It’d play out something like this:

    Kid: Mom, can I go play at Jimmy’s house?
    Me: Maybe. Remind me what you do if you see a gun.
    Kid: Mooom….I [i]know[/i]. Keep calm, don’t touch it and let Jimmy’s dad/mom/whoever know their gun’s out.
    Me: Have fun. See you later.

    (I hope)

  14. Warren May 8, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    The whole guns thing blows me away. Where we are I just assume they have multiple guns, like us. All hunting rifles, but most have more than one.
    We used to joke that when you join a group you ask if they know the number of crime stoppers. If someone says yes, you leave. Not such a joke now.

  15. marie May 8, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    The question of guns… Parents need to prepare their kids (‘arm’ them, so to speak, haha) for the possibility of finding a gun at a friend’s home, or the possibility of a schoolmate bringing a gun to school. Teach your kids about guns, for crying out loud. If you think guns are so dangerous, why would you NOT enroll your kids in gun safety classes?

  16. Marcie May 8, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    I left my 5 kids alone in my SUV to run in the store. They range from 2.5 to almost 11. They were watching a movie and my oldest has a phone to call me if anyone needs me. Weather was not an issue. Just as I was coming out my oldest came to the door to go to the bathroom. I went to the SUV to load the bags and then walked to the front of the store to drop off the cart. At that time my almost 9 year old twins came to the front of the store to go in and use the bathroom too. I walked back to the SUV because my 4.5 and 2.5 year olds were alone watching the movie. When I got there an employee was looking at the truck and approached me saying someone had complained that there were babies alone on the car. When I explained that my oldest daughter and my twins were with them but when to the bathroom when I was returning the cart she nodded and left. But it upset and stressed me out. The little ones were alone for a minute or 2 at most and someone had felt the need to complain during that time! Unless they complained when the older kids were there too which is just silly. My older 3 kids are more than capable of watching their younger 2 siblings who are strapped into 5 point harness car seats and can’t get out. Now I am nervous about leaving them for even a minute, but the crazy thing is dragging all 5 kids through the parking lot for every errand including to return the cart is just much more dangerous than them sitting in the car.

  17. Alex May 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Oh, Lenore. You crack me right up. “…it’s PROBABLY A NUKE!!” Wonderful, wonderful writing.

    And, of course, always astute commentary. Now I’ll go watch the Cracked clips.

  18. Neil M May 8, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    To me, the best security protocols give people practical, empirically supported guidance on what’s dangerous and what isn’t. Simply telling people “if it seems suspicious, it is” is, in my view, worse than useless. What seems extremely suspicious to me might to someone else seem only mildly suspicious or not suspicious at all. Given the institutional incentives for security personnel to overreact, vague warnings mean that the standard for what is suspicious is set by the most paranoid person in the room. I don’t think that’s the way we want to conduct the business of our society.

  19. anonymous this time May 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Well said, dear Neil M.

  20. Puzzled May 8, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    I used to be an orthodox Jew. When I was in grad school, the campus rabbi would invite the Jewish students to his house each Friday night, and I’d go each week. The nearest city had 2 stores with kosher food. One week, he complained that he’d had to go to the more expensive one, since the other was closed. That seemed odd, and he went on to explain that it had been closed due to a terrorist situation. I inquired more and it turned out to be…a backpack in the trash. That’s it.

    What blew me away, though, was that when I commented on how we’ve become a nation afraid of our own shadows, everyone there looked at me like I had 3 heads and lectured me on the importance of taking ‘bomb threats’ seriously.

  21. J- May 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    I was clerking for my dad’s law firm in Miami during the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) meeting. Just like in Seattle druing the WTO, there were protests. The various police departments of the Miami-Dade area got a whole bunch of weapons, money, and equipment to prevent a “battle of Seattle” from breaking out.

    Some poor sandwich delivery kid parked his car too close to one of the buildings (in the 5 min wait zone) in which some of the talks were taking place, and we (the whole law firm) watched out the window as the police used a bomb disposing robot with a water jet cutter on it to tear apart this kids car looking for explosive devices. Of course the evening news was all about the police dealing with a potential threat and how they can never be too safe. But the next day all the offices were told that there would be no more food deliveries by any of the local restaurants until the FTAA had ended.

  22. SteveS May 8, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    As far as I could tell, the gun questions were geared more towards finding out if other people had guns in their homes and if they did, you would not let your kids go there. There was never any suggestion that kids learn gun safety, nor was there any information provided on what kids should do if they saw a gun.

  23. Reziac May 8, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    Someone relates, “…and it turned out to be…a backpack in the trash.”

    And I’d be like, “Cool, free backpack!”

    In fact, this IS how I got my favorite winter coat. Hottest day of the year and here’s this nice heavy jacket in the trash at a busy grocery store. Covering up a bomb, right? I mean, why else when it’s 110 degrees… Er, only if used pizza boxes are explosive. It’s an Air Force town, and they throw away the damnedest things!!

    But chances that it was dangerous were too ridiculous to contemplate.

  24. anonymous this time May 8, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    I would expect a never-ending array of useless, fear-inducing “advisories” to be issued from that agency of the government.

    When head of “Homeland Security” (nothing ever sounded more Third Reich to me than that) Tom Ridge told everyone in the US to make a “safe room” in their house to protect against a biological or chemical weapon attack that could happen “anywhere, at anytime” (was there ever more ridiculously futile and paranoid advice given to people by a government?), that’s when I understood I couldn’t live in the US anymore.

    Did anyone ever actually make a “safe room” in their house with duct tape and plastic sheeting? And if not, why not? And if so, was it eventually dismantled? Because, really, the threat is still there. It’s always there. And even though duct tape and plastic sheeting will do nothing for you in terms of your safety, well, at least you’ll be doing *something* instead of just pretending like chemical and biological weapons don’t exist!

    Keeping people afraid means they are less likely to be able to utilize the frontal cortex of their brains, the part used for reasoning instead of reacting. Perhaps this is good for those who create products for people in reaction mode, and keeps the wheels of industry turning. A sad way to create employment and “growth,” I’d say.

  25. Reziac May 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Someone relates,

    “…the police used a bomb disposing robot with a water jet cutter on it to tear apart this kids car looking for explosive devices.”

    1) This probably was not covered by his insurance, even if he had Comprehensive (which many people don’t anymore). So he’s out a car he can ill afford to lose.

    2) I’ll bet no one watching made a whisper of protest at this obvious overreach of police paranoia… because they’d have been arrested on some absurd terrorist-related charge. At the very least, people, call your local TV station. They love covering potential controversies like this.

  26. J- May 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    @Neil M

    I used to work as a security guard, while in grad school, as a night job. I spent Friday and Saturday nights at a local convenience store from 10 pm till 6 am.

    During the third (10 – 6) shift, the store only had one clerk on duty. Fri and Sat nights from 7 pm – 2 am, were peak beer sales hours (state law, can’t sell alcohol 2 – 6 am). Once the store went to one clerk on duty, beer thefts would go way up. Somebody would ask for something the store was out of in the cooler, spill cheese sauce on the counter from the nacho machine, or say something was wrong with the bathroom, and while the clerks was restocking or cleaning, the guy’s buddies would rush in, grab a bunch of 20 packs and run out the door. So the store hired security.

    Very quickly, you begin to pick up on subtle clues. Who can’t decide if they want a hot dog or nachos, vs. who is waiting for the clerk to turn his back before sicking some foil wrapped hot dogs into his coat pocket. Who really wants diet mountain dew vs. who is truing to lure the clerk to the back for a grab and dash. Until you’ve done it, its hard to explain, but the people up to no good hold themselves differently, act strangely.

    This is what law enforcement calls profiling. It comes from experience. Many people have it. Many EMTs, ER doctors and nurses can tell in an instant, who is really hurt and who just wants some free morphine. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan start to get a sense of which people standing around are civilians and which are terrorists waiting to ambush. They call it situational awareness.

    Unfortunately, as soon as someone says “profiling” somebody else hears “racial profiling.” So like many zero (intelligence) tolerance policies, profiling is discouraged if not banned. Anybody who reads my comments knows that I am pretty anti-cop, but having worked in private security (I also handled cash and stood a post at a bank) I know the value of experienced profiling as a tool. But stupid PC people are stupid, and rather than encourage others to “trust the hairs on the back of their necks” and try and separate the truly suspicious from the innocuous, they want a “lets make sure no one gets discriminated against” everything is suspicious attitude.

  27. Havva May 8, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    @ Neil M,
    Very insightful analysis

    @ nina,
    I totally believe you. My daughter talks like that too. When I needed to run back in to validate a ticket as time was running out I was muttering about the logistics and she said: “Mom, just leave me here. I’ll be fine. Just go without me.” She wasn’t even 3 yet.

  28. Rick May 8, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence clamorous to be led to safety by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”


  29. J.T. Wenting May 8, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    “LOL! But the sad thing is, it *is* necessary for someone to step in when kids are truly in danger of being harmed by their parents. And every time that topic comes up, all we hear about is how overworked (and underpaid) the child protectors are. Well, maybe if people were more sensible about who they report, the authorities would be able to deal with the real cases of abuse/neglect.”

    Even worse, the more idiots cause the news to be flooded with overreactions, the more people get insensitive with the end result that they’re just not going to bother reporting anything because they don’t want to end up being compared with those overreacting busybodies.

  30. Dee May 8, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    I like where this conversation has gone – don’t call the cops, just nicely ask. When I was in 1st grade, my friends and I got lost. We were too scared (I don’t know why!) to ask someone for help, so we pretended to cry and old ladies asked us what was wrong. We were able to call my family (I was the only one who knew my number) and get home.

    If my son (who is painfully shy) were lost, I’d love it if someone asked him if he needed help rather than calling the cops.

  31. Emily May 8, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    This isn’t bad advice on the face of it, but people need to agree on a reasonable definition of what “something” is. For example:

    -Adult using physical violence on a child, or threatening same.

    -Adult emotionally abusing a child, by verbally attacking the CHILD, rather than the behaviour.

    -Child seen with physical bruises and bumps in odd places, that wouldn’t have come up in the course of normal play (e.g., on the face, under the arms, on the neck, or on the stomach, chest, or anywhere that’s covered by a bathing suit).

    -General signs of apathy from parents: Child arrives at school or an extra-curricular activity without clean clothes or the correct supplies needed to participate, child is often significantly late being picked up, or not picked up at all, parents don’t come in for parent-teacher conferences, or to watch their child in games/plays/concerts/recitals/meets/whatever.

    -Child is often lethargic, moody and/or anxious, beyond the normal “teenager” level.

    -Child says that he or she is being abused at home.

    So, I’m sure that there are other signs, and some of these signs might not always point to abuse (for example, a child wearing dirty clothes to school might be in a “one-particular-outfit” jag, and refuse to take it off long enough for washing), but notice how I didn’t include things like “Child walks to school independently, plays outside independently, uses correct-gender public bathrooms and locker rooms independently, and waits in the car unsupervised while his or her parent runs a quick errand?” That’s because those things aren’t abuse or neglect; they’re just part of life.

  32. Gary May 8, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    “I’ll bet no one watching made a whisper of protest at this obvious overreach of police paranoia… because they’d have been arrested on some absurd terrorist-related charge.”

    Guys!! Guys !! hey guys!! He is the delivery guy just bringing us san…


    ::bullet riddled body slumps to ground::

    Sir get down on the ground!! down on the ground!!

  33. Papilio May 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    ““safe room” in their house to protect against a biological or chemical weapon attack (…) Did anyone ever actually make a “safe room” in their house with duct tape and plastic sheeting?”

    And if they did, are they still alive or did they miss that lesson about not putting plastic bags over your head?
    (And that guy is supposed to keep Americans *alive*? Are you sure?)

  34. Donna May 8, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Sia – Why exactly would you need to KNOW that there are guns in a particular house? How about just teaching your child what to do when they see a strange gun anywhere rather than worry about their friend’s individual stance on gun ownership?

  35. Donna May 8, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    This whole program just encourages people to look for zebras when they hear hoof beats instead of the most obvious explanation. Most of us will never be a victim of a terrorist attack. Most of us have no reason to even think about terrorists since they are really not all that interested in blowing up things in the vast majority of the country.

  36. anonymous this time May 8, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    Ah, but Emily, in our family with four kids, there have been moments when a fly on the wall, or a person in a parking lot, might behold ALL of those things.

    We are not accustomed to placing things in context: we want an immediate answer, based on prior conditioning.

    We need to become true investigators, if we want to show concern and compassion for others, and that means TALKING TO THE PERSON. not calling the cops.

  37. Greg May 8, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    As the great Bruce Schneier says “If you ask amateurs to provide security, you should expect amateur security.”

  38. Emily May 8, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

    @Anonymous This Time–I guess I should have specified, some of my criteria were a “repeated pattern” sort of deal. So, a parent missing a soccer game here and there isn’t a big deal, but a parent NEVER coming out to see their child play soccer, would be a big deal. A parent accidentally forgetting the time they’re supposed to pick up Susie from the after-school program, and arriving 30-60 minutes late ONE time, with abject apologies, isn’t neglect, but that same parent ALWAYS coming significantly late (or not at all, and then the adult leader has to drive Susie home), would be neglect. A child arriving at school ill-dressed or ill-prepared could be for any number of reasons (battle over clothing, parent trying to teach responsibility through cause and effect, etc.), but if the teacher asks the child and the child says that the parents aren’t buying proper clothes/school supplies/food for school lunches/providing cafeteria money, then that’s neglect. As for spanking, and verbal discipline to the point where you’re actually insulting the child, I don’t want to get into a huge debate, but do people really do that in public? It seems like a bad idea all around, not only for the sake of the child’s privacy, but also because onlookers might see it and call the authorities.

  39. Yocheved May 8, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    @J- I agree that profiling is the way to go. In my house, our motto is “Don’t judge people by their appearance, judge them by their ACTIONS.” I teach my daughter how to read people, and what to do based on her observations.

    There’s a reason why El Al is the safest airline in the world. When you check in, a pretty girl asks you who you’re going to visit, how long you’ll stay, and what sort of sight seeing you’ll be doing while in Israel. She’s not being friendly, she’s sizing you up and reading you like a book, because she is a trained professional. You never feel like you’re being interrogated, except you are. It’s awesome! The rest of the world could stand to learn from their example.

  40. Neil M May 8, 2014 at 7:36 pm #



    Thank you for your reply. The examples you cite are of professionals who through experience develop an understanding of the way things should be, but I’m talking about average people who are told that if something in any situation triggers their fears, they are not only justified in raising an alarm, they are duty-bound to do so. So while a trained nurse is often qualified to distinguish a person in pain from a junkie looking for free meds, an accountant is not, and should not be, expected to make the call.

    These “see something, say something” approaches put ordinarily, often unqualified people in the position of judging security risks. That’s not generally helpful, and can in fact be harmful.

  41. anonymous this time May 8, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    This is why I go bananas arguing with my 7-year-old about wearing a “proper coat.” Because if she goes to school, day after day, in gear that doesn’t protect her from rain and cold, the way she insists, someone like Emily might call the authorities because this poor child is suffering from neglect! (Never mind we don’t get life-threatening cold here, and the middle-schoolers wear cotton hoodies as an answer to all weather conditions, but a teensy little grade-school girl? Aw no, don’t want the busybody squad coming after us, so we INSIST she wear the coat. Can’t wait until she’s in middle school and can make her dumb fashion decisions without the threat of the authorities being called in.)

    I would suggest that people talk to other PEOPLE instead of the authorities. Like, you may “size up” my situation and decide that hey, this poor kid never has a family representative at his soccer games (this is abuse? WTH, I would hope any kid who is passionate about their sport would be doing it because they love to play, not because they have to have someone watching, but whatever), so that’s neglect, and I’m going to call the authorities.

    How about you talk to the kid and ask if everything is okay, as in, “Josh, I haven’t seen either of your parents at your games this season, is everything ok at home?” Or something that implies true concern rather than judgement.

    I guess I have a VERY strict set of rather EXTREME circumstances under which I would call the authorities rather than a.) look away and mind my own business or b.) extend compassion toward the child or parents and inquire about their situation with kindness and concern. I guess they’re about the same as I’d use for any human being, regardless of age. “Calling the cops” seems commensurate with judgement and disapproval rather than compassion and kindness, at least the way I’m sensing people are doing it these days.

  42. anonymous mom May 9, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    I cannot even fathom calling the authorities because a child doesn’t have the right supplies for an extracurricular or a parent never attends recitals, and I hope anybody who made such a call would get a stern lecture from said authorities.

  43. Donna May 9, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    My latest CPS case involves a downs syndrome child with bruises from being beaten with a belt that extend half way down her thigh. But, yes, can we please take our resources away from her so that CPS can police extracurricular supplies and parent/teacher conference attendance to the satisfaction of the Emilys of the world.

  44. anonymous mom May 9, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    I’m particularly sensitive about the supplies issue because my oldest is the proverbial absent-minded professor. He’s smart, but he has his head in the clouds all the time. When he was in school, the only reason he brought ANYTHING–lunch, backpack, homework, permission slips, mittens, hats, sometimes even shoes–was because we went through it all step by step before he left the house, and then gave him another reminder about his backpack and lunch before he left the car. So, yes, an off mornings–if somebody wasn’t feeling well or we woke up later than intended or things just got hectic–often meant that something was forgotten, because unlike his more organized peers, he just did not get his stuff together himself. I certainly don’t think my family deserved to have the authorities called on us because our ADHD kid never remembered to bring in his reading log and his parents were often so busy trying to make sure he had his lunch and his mittens that we forgot about it, too.

    It also makes me wonder, which I wondered the whole time my son was in school, why things like that are a parental responsibility at all? When I was in school, if you forgot your homework, that was on you, not your parents, especially once you were past first or second grade.

  45. Warren May 9, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    So Emily,
    Never being at a child’s soccer/ hockey or whatever game is neglect? As a coach I have had parents do this, and for very good reason. They worked, and just could not make it. A lot of places do not consider a kids ballgame to be a reason to miss time at work, and some parents cannot afford to miss that time. So they arrange transportation and wish they could be there.
    Sometimes it is harder to not be there than it is to get there. But you would have these parents investigated.

    Again people should just mind their own business. Far too many people THINK they know what is going on, with absolutely no clue as to what is going on.
    That child that shows up to school every week with new bruises could very well be that soccer player who just happens to go all out during games and doesn’t care about getting hurt.

    Times have changed for the worse. Our generation went thru life believing we were invincible, taking chances, risks and dares. Now kids are taught risk assessment at every turn. Our risk assessment always came after the sprains, bruises, breaks and stitches. We assessed how we could do it again and make it without the trip to the ER.

  46. anonymous mom May 9, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Just to add to “reasons parents might not show up for optional school events,” they might be a single parent with other children at home, or they just might have a bunch of other kids at home who they can’t leave.

    Or, they just might not care about their kids’ extracurriculars. Maybe that makes them kind of jerks, but you can be kind of a jerk without being an abusive or neglectful parent. They might just not feel that showing up at extracurriculars is part of their parental responsibilities: their parents didn’t do it for them, so they see no reason to do it for their kids. If we start making things like “regularly shows up at soccer games” prerequisites for not having the authorities called on you, I think we’re all in big trouble.

  47. Donna May 9, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    My mother stopped going to my parent conferences by middle school (I don’t remember her going every year in elementary school either). Back in the 70s, there were only afternoon conferences and she was a single mother who worked. She said that I was a straight A student who never got in any trouble and she didn’t need to take time off work twice a year to hear that from the teacher. She explained it to the teacher, asked the teacher to notify her if there was a problem that needed to be discussed and assumed everything was good otherwise.

    Horrors, I guess I would have been better off in foster care.

  48. Warren May 9, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Point blank, if their is not imminent danger, mind your own damn business. If you need to do an analysis, go thru a check list and make assumptions about what may be going on a home……….then keep your damn phone in your pocket, and back off.

  49. Emily May 9, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    @Donna and Warren–I didn’t say that missing one parent-teacher conference, or game/recital/meet/other event was neglect. I don’t even think that Donna’s mother’s arrangement with her teachers was neglect either, because she was still as involved in her daughter’s school life as was necessary. If a parent didn’t care, and didn’t respond after numerous calls from the teacher saying that the child was NOT fine, that would be neglectful. If a child’s parents TOLD the child and the coach/dance teacher/whoever, “I wish I could be there, but I have to go to work/mind the baby/drive your sister to Brownies on the other side of town,” and then made sure that the child still had a way to get there, and asked said child for an account of the event afterwards, that would be fine, and not neglectful at all, but if the parent routinely gave the child the impression that he or she just didn’t care about the child’s life, that’s really not cool. Likewise, the other extreme of the psycho sports parent, or “Dance Mom,” where you scream at your kid for not scoring a goal or catching a pop fly or pointing her feet enough in ballet, can also be problematic. Also, a child with bruised shins from playing soccer (for example) shouldn’t cause any alarm, but a child with bruises in an odd place (face, neck, stomach, bathing-suit area) would definitely be a warning sign of abuse. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “abuse” isn’t about what a bystander sees in any given moment. I think it can be more accurately judged by people who are regular fixtures in that child’s life, and can see a pattern over time. That’s part of the reason why abusers like to isolate their victims from friends, family, and outside activities, because those people would likely suspect something.

  50. Sia May 9, 2014 at 4:18 pm #


    Umm … it’s not really necessary and I’ll admit that. I’m British, we don’t really have guns as often as Americans do so they’re still a bit sensitive.

    BUT I would teach the hypothetical kids what to do if they saw a strange gun anywhere. I’d also teach them water safety, alcohol safety. All the same, they would get a reminder about keeping their life jackets on if we were going boating on the lake. It’s the same thing. Not necessary but far better than freaking out that all water is dangerous.

    I want to know if they have guns, just like I want to know if they have an open pool. All I’m saying is that I would quite like to know what’s in your home when my hypot. kids are playing there. I’m not going to be judgy about it but it really is just a case of a reminder of the specific dangers there are, that’s it.

  51. Donna May 9, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    Emily – Not cool and neglect are two totally different things. If you don’t know the difference, you need to just stay the heck out of other people’s lives 100% of the time.

    Kids are not guaranteed perfect parents. Kids are not guaranteed great parents. Kids are not even guaranteed good parents. Kids are only guaranteed non-abusive parents. As long as you don’t abuse your child, you are entitled to parent them without interference from anyone and they are stuck with you. Failing to attend events or conferences is absolutely, positively not neglect or abuse and you should be arrested for false report of a crime if you try to report it.

    “If a child’s parents TOLD the child and the coach/dance teacher/whoever, ‘I wish I could be there, but I have to go to work/mind the baby/drive your sister to Brownies on the other side of town,'”

    Why should you have to justify yourself to a coach? Why do you even have to want to be there? Kids activities are boring. If you could just go and watch your kid dance poorly for 2 minutes, it would be fine, but you have to sit there for a couple hours being tortured by watching everyone else’s kids dance poorly too.

  52. Donna May 9, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    Sia – I don’t own guns. I don’t like guns. If you asked me about guns before allowing your child to come to my house, it would likely be your one and only invitation. Frankly, if you asked me about a pool, it’d probably be your only invite too. Too high maintenance. You either trust me to keep your child alive for a couple hours or your don’t. I shouldn’t need to give you a run-down on all the potential hazards in my house.

  53. Sia May 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    @Donna: Umm, I said I would like to know. That’s it. I didn’t say I would ask. I said, if I happened to know that you had guns in your house, I would ask MY CHILD to remind me that MY CHILD knew the gun safety rules. That’s it. You’d likely never know that the conversation occurred.

  54. Donna May 9, 2014 at 10:57 pm #

    Sia – Huh? You said: “BUT if I was in America, I would ask if the parents had guns before I let my kid (if I actually had any) go over to play.” Sorry, I assumed that meant that you would ask the parents of the child your child intended to visit, not your own child as it seems like an odd question to ask your child.

  55. Warren May 9, 2014 at 11:04 pm #


    Please keep your phone in your pocket. It is none of your business or the authorities business, if a parent takes a lot or absolutely no interest in their kids activities. You are calling for even more parents to be investigated for bullshit.
    I do not know who you think you are Emily, but nobody has to justify SFA to you, a coach, a teacher or anyone else. You just need to mind your own business. Look at what you wrote. You want parents reported for not talking to lil sweetie about their activity when they get home. How the hell do you or would you even know what goes on in the privacy of their own home……..can you say busybody.

  56. Warren May 9, 2014 at 11:15 pm #

    The number of people that want to know what is in homes where their kids are going to is a joke.

    We have had more kids in and out of our home, than we can count over the years. And the majority of the parents don’t know me from Adam, and have no clue what is in our home, and I have never met them either.

    What is the big deal? Sheeshh, the kids play, they have fun, they eat if they are hungry, they drink if they are thirsty, and they go home. It is really rather simple.

    If some parent started to ask about guns, knives, dogs, booze or whatever, they would be bluntly told to mind their own business, because what they are asking is non of their’s. Don’t like it, don’t send your kid over and sucks to be you.

  57. Peter May 10, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Oh gosh.. I see these messages around my university campus nowadays too, and I just think “This is ridiculous.”

    Of course if we see something that’s actually harmful, we should report it. That’s common sense, and we don’t need a sign or a catchphrase to tell us that. The theatrics just create an environment of unnecessary fear.

    And as a result I’ve seen less people willing to walk around campus after-hours. They’re even talking about extending the bus service between different points on campus to 24 hours. Bus service is good, yes, but walking through the world yourself is also good.

  58. Earth.W May 10, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    I don’t see the child safety fear message being about children but putting society in panic mode on a constant basis. From there we are easily manipulated and controlled.

    For instance, Australia’s conservative Government and a silent political opposition party, Australia is facing internet censorship where all of our online activities including copies of every email we send and receive will be kept on a Government database. The Government is also talking about powers where politicians will have the power to instruct social network sites such as Facebook to remove all posts the Government deems to be naughty, using the argument of child safety.

    C’mon, only the truly brain dead and gullible believe this is about child safety instead of social control at the hand of despots. Even adults are facing the likelihood of having to write for permission to access legal pornagraphy as if we’re little children.

    For sake of the children? Pig’s arse.

  59. Earth.W May 10, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    For reasons of child safety for all, all future pregnancies will be terminated and all children alive now will be euthanised. It’s for their own safety so they don’t get hurt.