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Are All Adults Potential Predators in Kids’ Eyes?

Have parental warnings made our children too suspicious?

My husband Rick, who coaches a youth soccer team, was waiting with our 14-year-old son, Danny, for the rest of their team to arrive when they saw a teenage girl kicking a soccer ball. Rick asked the girl if she wanted to practice with his team and she politely declined.

That well-intentioned invitation earned my husband the moniker “creeper” from Danny, as in “Dad, you’re such a creeper.”

Now, my son doesn’t really believe my husband is a stalker or predator but it seems that these days any adult can be dubbed a “creeper” merely for speaking to a child he isn’t coaching, teaching or parenting.

Have we drilled one too many warnings into our kids so that they interpret the smallest act of friendliness on the part of an adult -- in broad daylight with other children around -- as “creepy?”

When I was growing up, I had adults in my life -- parents of friends -- who became second parents to me. True, I was closer to the mothers than the fathers, but by the time I was a teenager I felt comfortable talking with the fathers and I certainly didn’t consider them “creepers.”

I asked a couple of parenting experts if kids’ hyper-suspicion of adults is the price we pay for keeping children safe from real predators.

Rochelle Freedman, coordinator of Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House in Bethlehem, wasn’t ready to concede that.

“There’s too much fear and sometimes that takes away from children’s capacity to have relationships with well-meaning adults,” Freedman said. 

Bill Vogler, executive director of Family Answers, a nonprofit counseling service based in Allentown, said his children have called him a creeper for the same crime of friendliness of which my husband was accused. 

“I tend to be outgoing and gregarious and talk to strangers and they’ve called me the same thing,” he said. “I’ve always felt that teaching kids about ‘stranger danger’ is a two-edged sword.”

For example, if a kid is lost at a mall, he needs to be able to go to an adult -- but he should be advised to pick a mother with a stroller rather than a man in a trench coat, Vogler said.

Both Vogler and Freedman said parents’ focus on “stranger danger” obscures the fact that the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse of children are perpetrated by a relative or someone very close to the victim.

“When you study predators, they do not randomly choose victims… there’s a period of grooming,” she said. The best way to protect your children is to make sure they feel comfortable telling you anything, that they have peer relationships and aren’t otherwise falling through the cracks.

And they should be allowed to “go with their gut” instinct if someone makes them uncomfortable, Vogler said. “More often than not I think our gut can be right about stuff.”

So, what do you think? Have we created a generation of hyper-suspicious young people and is that necessary to keep them safe?

Chris Miller September 16, 2011 at 03:03 PM
Here is the real problem. we allow known creeps to walk around after spending some time in jail and getting some sort of treatment. Keep in mind that all the well known authorities know that molesters should be in jail forever because they cannot be cured. Put them away forever and you will begin to see the word "creeper" disappear.
Jim Willenbrock September 16, 2011 at 07:19 PM
Well I'm sure we all have an opinion on convicted sexual offenders, my opinion is a little different but along the same lines. I think when a person is convicted of sex crimes against a child they should be taken out behind the courthouse and face the dieing end of a 45 cal myself. The term "creeper" will never go away though, there will always be sick freaks among us in society. My first reply was pointing out the obvious, kids are in danger from being violated at all times. You lessen the chance of them turning up missing if you teach them NEVER talk to strangers. I also see a problem with this little girl's parents if they are not always having their eyes on her, focused on protecting. Again, I'm referring to the letter, which sounds like her parents were not near by or the proper thing for coach to do would be ask her parents if she might like to practice with them boys. In any case there are ways of going about things and going through proper channels. If you teach your kids to use their own judgment before they are grown up it can end tragically. Another adult or a friend's parent as was stated in the letter should 100% of the time check with the child’s parent before making decisions on their behalf.
Jim Willenbrock September 16, 2011 at 07:21 PM
There was a case in Florida where a man who was the father of a girl showed up at his daughters friends house when her parents were not home. In this case he told her to he was taking her to a swim party and that her friends were there waiting on her. He then proceeded to take her somewhere else and have his way with her. My point is no adult should be given the chance to make decisions for your children, that's the parents job. Coach assumed that her parents would not mind him asking her to do anything. While his intentions were I'm sure good ones they were incorrectly executed. Don’t ever approach another person’s child and ask them to do anything, approach their parents.
Chris Miller September 16, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Jim We are on the same wave length when it comes to child molesters. My wife and I have a son in his forty's, two grandaughters in their twenties, two grandsons, 13 and 6, and two great grandchildren, young Caidon who is going to be two and beautiful Lilly pushing 3 months. My smile comes a lot faster today because of all of them. But when I hear or read about a child molester, particularly those who get out of jail and molest again, well the hot lava just starts pouring out of my ears. It is a shame that if we see a lost child in the mall that we have to think twice about approaching the child to help them. I am sure most parents would be happy if we did help get the child to them or a safe place but one has to wondder about the reception one might get. It is indeed better to teach the child to stay safe as you recommended
Jim Willenbrock September 17, 2011 at 02:09 PM
I hear ya Chris, I got that hot lava blood syndrome as well. At the mall there are Security personnel that are there to help protect public safety. If you see a child wondering and are concerned it is good to report that to security. If you are anywhere and see a child and feel their not safe, please report it to the authorities. Like I said before, there is a way to go about things. A child’s parents should be their first line of defense and should be the person most focused on their children.

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