Skype, Child Safety & the Worse Case Scenario Mentality

by on September 18, 2009 · 21 comments

LenoreSkenazyI absolutely adore Lenore Skenazy. As I pointed out in my review of her brilliant new book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, she is rare voice of sanity in modern debates about parenting and child safety issues.  If you are a hyper-concerned helicopter parent who constantly obsesses about keeping your kids “safe” from the world around them, then I beg you to read her book and her outstanding blog of the same name.  It will completely change the way you look at the world and how your go about raising your kids.  It is that good.

Skenazy address and debunks a wide variety of “child safety” myths in her book, including many from the online child safety front that I spend so much time dealing with in my work.  In one of her recent posts, she addresses the rather silly concerns of one elementary school teacher who wanted an author of children’s books to speak to her fourth grade class using Skype.  However, “since the school and the author are 1000 miles apart, the author suggested using the video-chat service Skype. The teacher said no — not unless he could come up with a way the kids could see HIM, but not vice versa.”  When Skenazy pointed out how this concern was likely greatly overblown, one commenter on her site responded: “The teacher is likely (legitimately) concerned that the kids’ faces could end up plastered all over the Internet.”  Skenazy responds to that notion with a rant worthy of a George Carlin monologue, albeit without as much swearing, mind you:

Excuse me? Legitimately concerned that (1) A children’s author she has invited will turn around and take photos of her class and post them without permission?  That that’s what men do all the time? Can’t trust ‘em for a second? (2) That boring photos of a 4th grade class are so exciting that they will take the Internet by storm? (Because, of course, there are so few photos of school children available.) (3) That someone will see this particular photo, obsessively focus on the kid in the third row and move heaven and earth to come find this child and stalk, rape or kill him/her? And that we must keep Third Row Kid safe at all costs?

These are insane fantasies! Perfect, text-book examples of the way so many of us now jump to the absolutely WORST CASE SCENARIO and then work backward from it, preventing something harmless or even wonderful from ever taking place just in case. Using this method of risk calculation, a teacher could politely request that from now on, no one serve her students lunch at school. Because what if one of the lunch ladies is secretly a psychopath and she is intent on murdering the kids one by one? It COULD happen, right? Let’s be prepared for the ABSOLUTE WORST! After all, we’re only thinking about the good of the children!

I am so sick of this “We must protect the children” attitude when we are NOT PROTECTING THEM FROM ANYTHING! We are simply seeing everyone in every capacity as a potential nut job and then we act accordingly. Who’s the nut job there?

In this case, take your pick:  The paranoid teacher preventing an author from Skyping her class. The paranoid commenter saying, “She has a legitimate safety concern.” Or the paranoid country that thinks every time a child has ANY interaction with ANY adult, even from 1000 miles away, those children are in GRAVE DANGER.

When people think that way — and congratulate themselves for being so ”caring” (not to mention clever! And proactive!) — THAT is when I despair.

Amen, sister!  Seriously, where has sanity gone when it comes to child rearing?  Some parents actually believe these worst case scenarios are typical — especially online — when, in reality, they are exceedingly rare (and in this particular case, completely outlandish.)

It’s really quite sad when you think about what kids are missing because of this “worst case scenario” mentality.  In this particular case, these kids missed out on the opportunity to potentially hear from an innovative author of popular kids’ puzzle books (Eric Berlin, author of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.)  That’s troubling enough.  But just think what other interesting people or topics these and other kids may never get to experience because of this mentality.

Thank God we have Lenore Skenazy to challenge this insanity.

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  • MikeRT

    This is all part of a greater anti-male bigotry that came into our society as feminism became mainstream. The underlying root cause is the belief that male sexuality is dark and predatory, and women are more moral by nature. You see it all the time in this particular type of moral panic with people automatically assuming that a man who has any interaction with kids not related to him just might be a pedophile. Bloggers like Dr. Helen have written volumes about this issue, and this particular post is only one of many symptoms.

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  • MB

    MikeRT- I don't accept that viewpoint in this case, this is not a gender thing. I can't be sure, but I strongly suspect that the 'paranoid teacher' would have taken the same exact 'precaution' if the author had been female. It is more a combination of a) a psychology that creates worse and worse situations and motives, and then attributes them to other people (thereby appearing clever, caring and virtuous by comparison with the villains that you have just labelled the rest of the world), b) a creeping fear of litigation if the imaginary 'worst case scenario' does come to pass, and c) a failure to realistically assess risk and probability. A failure to understand probability is why we have the National Lottery and why we have Health and Safety legislation. People go through life really believing that they might win a million, they might have a piece of the space shuttle land on their head, fall down a manhole, or the nice children's book author might abuse their children over the internet. The fact that all these things are millions-to-one against doesn't seem to particularly trouble these people…. and they would say I am irresponsible and have a cavalier attitude to safety because I ignore risks that are more than a few hundred thousand to one against.

  • MB

    Actually we had a classic example of this today, my (6 yr old's) school asked for help from parents on school trips, but have made a rule that parents can't help out on any group that includes their own child. Rationale: “this is in case your little darling falls and then your concentration may waiver [sic] and neglect others in the group”

    Apart from the curiously litigious mispelling of 'waver' (maybe they were thinking about 'waivers' to sign while writing) the most disturbing thing here is the huge mental leap from 'a parent might conceivably….' to 'all the parents obviously will….'- it is that leap that branded the poor old author as a potential abuser (he might be so let's just assume he is), and indicates the whole rotteness at the heart of this problem (and in the heart of the bureaucrats who so blithely and openly assume everyone except themselves is either malignant or a fool).

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