Child Predator at mall

We can all agree that motherhood and fatherhood communities are great. They’re a helpful resource of people who also have kids, and in them, you can learn informative things, like what sunblock SPF your baby needs in the sun, best bikes for toddlers, misandric paranoia, how to hide vegetables in fun foods…wait, what? One of those things doesn’t belong. But when my wife got an e-mail yesterday from Circle of Moms, that’s exactly what she got.

In an article called “How to Spot a Child Predator,” Sharon Silver walks us through a scene where a man in a a local eatery in public, in plain view, is loudly asking some children questions.

I know, you’re thinking – call the cops, lock this guy up, burn his penis off with hot pokers and make sure he can never do this again. The nerve! Talking to public? What is this, the 50’s?

So now that we have that out of the way, let’s see what really happened. Silver says the man is talking louder than the crowd, asking kids questions such as:

  • “What grade are you in?”
  • “Who do you want to marry when you grow up?”
  • “What’s your favorite subject in school?”
  • “Who is your teacher?”
  • “Do you like astronomy?”
  • “What’s your favorite planet?”

Now, I won’t say that all of these are totally normal questions. While questions about school and its subjects seem normal to me, asking a kid who they want to marry is a little iffy. You’ll get that much, Silver.

So, “like a thunderbolt,” Silver gets the feeling that the boys are being “groomed” – a term to describe when a predator predator familiarizes himself with the kids to gain their trust and make kidnapping or molestation easier.

She asks the kids a couple of questions, and the kids are more or less unresponsive. She has a staring competition with the would-be predator…and wins. “I promptly walk to the counter,” says Silver, “and say as loudly as I can, ‘Miss, I’m concerned about those two boys. They don’t seem to be with any adult. There’s a man over there, the one sitting by the door, asking them questions he shouldn’t be asking! Do you see them? Do you see the man? Please look after them and call the police if they leave with anyone other than a parent!’

Look. I get it: we need to be careful with our kids in public. We need to make sure no one’s going to snatch them up and drive off with them. I’m on board with that idea. But why’s this story have to be about a man, with no explanation later that women are also possible predators? As a commenter in Silver’s story asked, “Would you have had the same thoughts if it was a woman instead of a man talking to the kids?”

Here’s where I get kind of mean. You’ve been warned.

I have no real stats here, but what I see in the media is story after story of female teachers having sex with their students (except for this guy). These are community leaders who we trust (relatively alone) with our kids. But with such a high volume of female teachers having sex with our kids – am I suggesting we be wary of female teachers? Am I suggesting we pull our kids out of any classes with female teachers, or suggest that the principal sit-in on all female-taught classes? After all, it would seem that odds are, if you’ve got a female teacher, she’s having sex with one of her students – right?

No, of course not. And that’s not really what Silver is saying about men, I would hope.

Problematically, we can’t perpetuate the idea that a man talking to a kid in public is an automatic predator. In an age where fathers are trying to recoup their public profile and create a positive image of fatherhood (and manhood), you’re going to see a lot more fathers at the park. You’re going to see a lot more at the mall. You’re going to see a lot more talking to their kids, and – gasp – maybe even your kids. Articles like Silvers are well-meaning, but make people – many of her article’s commenters to start – uncomfortable with the idea that if they talk to a kid in public, they’re a predator.

Articles like this make men want to shut up in public, keep their head down and not make eye contact with mothers or their kids – and that doesn’t create a community. In an age where it’s easier to meet your neighbor on Facebook than just walking next door, it’d help to not cultivate fear in your community for all of its members every time someone talks to your kid.

Now, are there predators out there waiting for someone to drop their guard? Definitely. But these days, thankfully, more involved fathers means more watchdogs. What could be better? Now that dads are at the park more often, we’re keeping an eye out for baby-snatchers too. So don’t teach your kids that men talking to kids equals child predator. There are just as many women out there as dangerous as men. Talk to your kids about kidnappers of all shapes, colors and genders – but also teach them to make informed judgements about their conversations. We don’t need “stranger danger” – we need community.

Silver concludes, “I’m not writing this so we can have a debate about how to deal with predators or situations like this. I wrote this so you’d read about the types of questions a potential predator uses so you can prepare your kids.” This was after admitting she doesn’t know if the guy was a predator. So, really, she’s saying she doesn’t know also if these are the types of questions one would ask. So, that’s that. She’s not writing so we can have a debate. Sharon Silver knows, and you don’t. So shut up and tell your kids to accuse friendly men as predators grooming them for a kidnapping.

Coincidentally, there was a guy who was “grooming” my kid at the Zoo yesterday, asking him which animals he liked, if he had lunch yet and which animals he was going to see next. Also, he looked like a disheveled Tony Bennett and gave my kid a high five (and then five more as “change”):

He was awesome. Suck it, Sharon Silver. Love, 8BitDad.