I'm waiting for my wife outside the women's restroom at SFO when a mom shows up with her boy in tow. The kid looks to be about 9 or 10 years old. As the boy starts to go towards the men's room, he is brought up short by mom. “Sean, no you can't go in there.” The kid says, “Why not Mom. I have to go.” She says something like “We've been through this before. I don't want you going in the men's room by yourself. If you have to go, you can come with me.” Next thing I know, she is pulling a very unhappy boy with her to the ladies room.
A few minutes later, when my wife emerges from the ladies room, I ask her if she happened to see a boy in there. “Yes, I did. The poor kid was standing against the wall with his eyes on the floor. He looked terribly embarrassed to be there.”
I've thought a lot about that incident at the airport terminal. Obviously, the kid's mother thought she was being protective of her boy. In her mind a public restroom in the airport is a dangerous place for a ten-year-old boy, even if he will be there only a few minutes to take a pee. Whatever went through her head (kidnapping? sexual abuse?) it made her drag her 10-year-old kid into the ladies room. Never mind the embarrassment she caused him. He would be safe.
You know something? As a male I am appalled at the behavior of this mom. Does she really think that airport restrooms are the favorite hangouts for sexual deviates? If not, what kind of message is she sending to her son? Maybe that the world is over run by adult males who cannot be trusted around kids?
I don't know whether it is the few high profile cases of priests abusing kids or the Michael Jackson case or the invitation we all have to track down the names and addresses of sex predators on the internet, but there is a great phobia that has descended on the land. We are finding perverts under every rock. Despite crime data which tells us that the vast majority of child abuse is perpetrated by members of a kid's own family, we persist in the belief that if we could keep out kids away from the stranger on the street corner, all would be well.
Fear, especially irrational fear, can cause all sorts of mischief. When I was in the seminary many moons ago, fear of homosexual behavior was so strong we were required to follow a regulation with the Latin name of “Noli me tangere” (literally,Do not touch me.) So fearful were the seminary authorities that we might get intimate with one another, they didn't permit any touching at all. Judging by the track record of a number of priests, that no touch rule didn't work very well.
What would happen if we changed our perspective and stopped blaming the shadowy predator outside the school gate for the child abuse in our society and looked within ourselves and our families for the solutions ? What would happen further if we ceased looking upon male coaches and Boy Scout leaders and teachers with suspicion and started honoring them for being positive role models for children. You know something ? When a kid gets a pat on the back from his coach it's normally not a prelude to molestation. When a teacher gives a congratulatory hug to her third grader , it usually means nothing more than she takes pleasure in her student's accomplishment. Most touches are appropriate. It's time for a return to common sense. For starters, for God's sake let your ten-year old boy go into the men's room by himself.