Panic on the playground

New anti-pedophile measures bar adults without kids from visiting parks and museums

Playground panic

Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

When it comes to playground safety, New York isn’t taking any chances. In June, police ticketed two women eating doughnuts on a bench inside one of the city’s public playgrounds; another doughnut-eating pair on a nearby bench also received tickets. The quartet, who had bought their snacks from a cramped doughnut shop across the street, had broken the same municipal law as a group of seven men who were ticketed last winter while playing chess at another playground. They disobeyed a sign posted at the entrance, forbidding adults from entering—part of the city’s measures to safeguard kids. “It’s pedophile panic,” says New York writer Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids and host of new reality show Bubble Wrap Kids, which will debut this winter. “We think everyone is a pedophile until proven otherwise.”

While the doughnut eaters will have to appear in court this summer to learn their punishment, other U.S. cities, including Miami Beach and San Francisco, also have measures in place banning adults from entering public playgrounds unless they are accompanied by a child. Though Pocatello, Idaho, doesn’t have such measures, it shares in the spirit: in July, after witnessing an older man snapping pictures at a playground, a mother angrily confronted him and chased him away. The police were alerted along with the local news, which issued a detailed description of a “suspicious man spotted taking pictures of children,” driving a “tan/brown van.” Shortly after, the man in question called the police and identified himself. He had been photographing his grandson; the only reason he left, he added, was because a woman was yelling at him.

The playground restrictions mirror similar measures instituted at other children’s venues, including libraries, some of which bar unaccompanied adults from entering the children’s book sections. At one Pennsylvania library, even parents face constraints: it prohibits adults “unaccompanied by their children” from using the restroom. And last year, an elderly Florida couple drove 160 km to visit the Miami Children’s Museum, but without kids, they weren’t allowed in. Some museums do allow adults to enter, but only under certain conditions: the Boston Children’s Museum states that “adults unaccompanied by children must provide proper photo identification (i.e., driver’s licence or passport).” That’s even for events likely to interest mostly adults, like this summer’s Wizard of Oz exhibit.

These sweeping anti-pedophile measures are occurring at a time when U.S. violent crime is falling rapidly, including crimes against children. Between 1990 and 2005, sex crimes against children dropped 51 per cent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A recent Gallup poll, however, revealed that 74 per cent of Americans believe crime is getting worse, suggesting, perhaps, a reason for the panic. That’s bad news for doughnut eaters, chess players and, some might argue, children. “When you start treating everyone as evil, you can’t have community,” says Skenazy. “I for one would want a couple of women sitting in a playground. That’s an extra set of eyes.”


Panic on the playground

  1. So, now, enterprising kids will not bother with summertime lemonade stands, but will hire  themselves out as guides to take adults on tours of museums, or rent space on park benches so that an adult can sit awhile and enjoy a cup of coffee and a doughnut.

  2. Wow!  We used to joke about borrowing someone’s kids so we could go to an animated movie.  Now that is becoming a reality.  The sad thing about this approach is that the pedophiles will find a way around this while people who are innocent will feel persecuted.

  3. The aheader we go the behinder we get.  If the cities are that paranoid, get CCTV and staff it 24/7 !  Stop treating your citizens like criminals.  The people with the sick minds are those making these laws.

    • Thinking that you need CCTV surveillance 24/7 means that you think your citizens are criminals too. How about just pointing out when politicians and the media are lieing about reality. Every time one of them tries to ratchet up the fear level through lies and distortion call them on it. Harper and Stockwell didn’t like having the cold light of facts show them that their rationale for new prisons and get tough on crime was based on nothing but pandering. This means neither would the headline seekers elsewhere.
      We just have got to stop being cowardly and submissive and stand up to those who would enslave us; not ask them to install cameras everywhere.

  4. What of the uncle attempting to buy his nephew a book to read, the older folks who rest at the park halfway through their daily walk. It is in cases like this where assuming makes an ass of you and me.

  5. “…after witnessing an older man snapping pictures at a playground, a mother angrily confronted him and chased him away… He had been photographing his grandson; the only reason he left, he added, was because a woman was yelling at him…”

    A classic example of paranoid assumptions leading to the creation of problems that don’t exist.

    Think of poor grandpa here. How must it feel to have some stranger assume you’re a pedophile and end up being hunted by police as a result? And what about his poor grandson who no-doubt had to have witnessed at least some part of this situation? What messages is that sending to him? I bloody well hope this woman was made to apologize for her insanity, because frankly I can think of few things more terrible than accusing an innocent person of being a pedophile.

    Careful guys, at this rate every last one of us may end up tagged with a GPS and followed electronically all the days of our lives. You know, just in case.

    After all, pedophiles are almost always men right?

    Oh screw it, let’s just wire everyone up with cameras. Then we can REALLY be sure nothing bad is happening right?


  6. Not terribly surprising. Once again the problem with media being paid by advertisers mean that their primary focus is attracting viewers. You don’t attract viewers by reporting on things seen every day because, well, that’s not news — that’s olds.

    So instead, you report the uncommon. The more uncommon the better. As crime rates descend, reporting of crime will increase and people who aren’t thinking about how the media works will become more fearful.

    In some ways this boils down to a failure in our primary education systems. We’re still teaching kids the skills required by the boomer generation and not their own.  We teach kids to memorize multiplication tables when calculators are as cheap as a pack of gum — assuming they don’t already have one included in their cell-phone or some other device — and yet we don’t teach them how to budget or how to read a sales contract.  They graduate knowing the basics of interpreting a novel, but nothing about how to watch the news.  We hammer in a bunch of facts about history, but never really teach them how to evaluate the sources of facts.

    And then we wonder why people are having reactions like this.

    • I don’t really understand where you are going with this, Thwim.    My father has 9 children, 18 grandchildren & 11 great grandchildren (so-far).  He is 84 years old.  He always says the loveliest sound is the sound of children laughing… so do my sister & I.  I always talk to little kids I meet (with their parents) at the airport….everywhere.  It is not perverse.  Thank goodness THE MEDIA is telling us we might get in trouble for our behavior.
      As for your belief that children don’t need basic math skills….I beg to differ.  I had the head of mathematics at Mount Royal University teach me a mathematics course.  She refused to allow us to use our calculators.  She cared that we knew how to get the right answer.  What if the batteries crap out or you have a solar calculator and you are in the dark…you will need to know how to figure out the answer or estimate the right answer.
      I won’t even get into your comment about the uselessness of intrepreting literature….

      • Thank goodness the media told you that you might get in trouble?

        For sitting in a park playing chess?

        For accompanying your grandson to the park and taking pictures of your time together?

        For essentially doing nothing but being human?

        Thwim is obviously and painfully right here. The MEDIA has pumped people’s heads full of nonsense over the years and generated this type of ridiculous over-reaction to normal human public behaviour, all in the name of ratings, under the cover of “public education”.

        Giving up our public rights will solve nothing. The majority of abusers target children they already have close access to, and most carefully “groom” their victums over long periods of time in order to protect themselves.

        This notion of the dangerous stranger lurking in the park is a media hyped outlier that apparently has people freaked to the point of ludicrous.

        If we want to protect our children, the number one point of consideration should be how much alone time they spend with adults who are not their direct biological parents.

        Beyond that, honestly, there’s not much we can do beyond being vigilante.

        That may be a scary reality, but not one solved by a police state.

        • Everything you are saying about pedophiles is exactly right and that, Phil is the point of the article.  The media in this case is just telling us the measures that governments are taking to fight pedophilia.  I am not sure where you got the scare mongering part.

          • I’m not suggesting that this particular article is scare mongering, but instead that a lot of misinformation and scare mongering has resulted from media hype over the years and has been allowed to trump logic and fact in the formation of laws and by-laws.

            That we have a media to spread awareness is a wonderful thing.

            The problem is that the most popular stories, ie the ones that draw the most ratings, are those most removed from reality, and thus most likely to be repeated, warping our sense of reality.

            So now we see laws being made based on irrational fears that limit the rights and freedoms of everyone.

            If you consider that between 2% – 3% of the population are thought to be child abusers and subtract the 95% that aren’t wandering parks looking to abduct children, this means that on average there are less than 2 child abusers in a population of 100 000 people.

            So 100 000 people can’t go to a public park to play chess, do ti chi or eat a bloody donut because there may be one or two miscreants somewhere? Sounds like pure insanity to me.

            I guess my issue with your position is the suggestion that the most notable thing about this situation is that you were warned about the “new rules” ahead of time.

            Sorry, but that just boggles my freaking mind.

      • So you’re saying if we impose arbitrary limits on using our technology, we have to go back to older methods. Wow. You stay up all night thinking that one up? Under that logic, we better all know how spin yarn in case modern manufacturing goes belly up and we need clothes.

        Taking a math course from the head of mathematics implies a significant interest in it, and at that point, yeah the theory and basic means of doing it becomes important. But at the primary school level, don’t waste time teaching rote memorization when we have ubiquitous technology that can handle the task. Basic math skills means understanding what addition, multiplication, and subtraction mean. It doesn’t mean drilling multiplication tables into their heads. It certainly doesn’t mean trigonometry. Not when that kind of knowledge comes at the expense of time that could be spent learning how to budget, how to interpret media and advertising or basic first-aid and dietary care. We teach kids all kinds of facts about history that they could get within 10 seconds of access to a computer, but we don’t teach them how to evaluate whether a fact is likely to be true.

        As for interpreting literature, I never said it was useless. But when kids graduate knowing how to interpret literature but not a sales-contract, we have a problem. After all, which one is going to have a more material effect on their lives?

        • “wow did you stay up all night thinking that one up?”….Thwim, you come across as the most condescending, arrogant, nasty piece of work.
          No, the same head of mathematics believes that everyone needs to know all the basics of math.  She made us re-memorize our times tables.  She wanted people to know why math works the way it does.  She said the reason children fail at math is because their teachers don’t know enough about mathematics to teach them.  This woman can teach 10 different ways to approach a mathematics problem.
          As for basic first aid – my daughter took CPR in grade 10 phys’ed which is mandatory in Alberta; dietary care – They teach the Canada food guide in health but look around you we have problems with 50% of our population of adults adhering to that; Budgeting – I have two kids that budget better than I do; Media savy – parents should be talking to kids and teaching them critical thinking skills.
          As for your assessment that this pedophilia in the park is a media attempt to scare us all, I think you are way off.  This is a government approach to assure the public they are doing something about the problem of child molesters when in truth, it is a useless measure.

          • Arrogant, I’ll willingly grant. I’m condescending when people show they haven’t thought through what they’re saying at all.. speaking of which:

            Holy, a head of a university mathematics department who says that everybody should have the basics of math? Why next you’ll be telling me that a Cardinal thinks everybody should have the basics of the bible. Who knew.. oh wait.. pretty much everybody but you, I guess.

            On the plus side, thanks for providing a sterling example of the failure of our educational system to teach people how to determine if facts are relevant.

            As for your examples, yeah, I had that single day in phys’ed as well where they taught CPR. If only all injuries were heart failures..

            Of course the following two weeks were spent on field hockey/softball. I’m sure you believe that’s a far more useful skill to have then knowing how to treat a twisted ankle, poison ingestion response, or anything like that.

            The Canada Food Guide is not dietary care. Never mind the arguments that it may be entirely inaccurate at this point, it does nothing to teach kids how to choose foods at the super-market, or make them into some semblance of a meal. Which, incidentally, ties directly into your 50% stat. If teaching people how to prepare simple recipes from scratch was part of the required curriculum I’d be willing to wager dollars to donuts that we’d shed a lot of our weight problem (literally) in society.

            Whether someone is better at budgeting than you are you realize is less a testament to their abilities than it is to yours. However, that said, I will also point out that you are using anecdotes. Perhaps your kids have simply gone against type and are extremely intelligent critical thinkers. If so, congratulations. Now what about the rest of society? Or doesn’t it matter if it’s not in your direct experience?

            And while parents should certainly be teaching their children critical thinking as well, you could make that argument for absolutely everything. Butsince we’ve decided we have a school system to send kids to perhaps we could take the opportunity, while they’re there anyway, to teach them the skills their parents may not have.

            Finally, how clueless are you? I never said it was a media attempt to scare us. I said it’s a media attempt to draw ratings. That people get scared is entirely irrelevant to the media, other than that it provides further fodder for stories, like this one, about how people are over-reacting to an extreme unlikelihood.

            What I’m not sure of is what you’re defending. Do you believe those women should have got arrested for sitting at a park bench? What’s your answer?

          • Enjoyed your rant.   Glad you recognize you are arrogant & condescending…although your tendency to blame it on my perceived “short-comings” is another testiment to your willful dismissal of your own lack of manners.  Perhaps that is the fault of the school system as well.
            You are so right though….parents could be and in my humble opinion should be, held accountable for teaching their children about critical thinking, budgeting, eating properly and unless they are sociopaths themselves, conducting themselves appropriately in polite society.
            Put a bunch of condescending, arrogant students into a classroom and guess how much they will get out what wisdom a teacher has to impart.
            It is not that people don’t know that they should do better is that they can’t or won’t be bothered to do better.  They want instant gratification and that comes from purchasing items they cannot afford and eating foods that make them fat.
            As to “how clueless am I?”  Maybe you should ask yourself…”how unclear was my message?”….I did not know what you were saying and that is why I asked you clarify it. 
            I already made clear that I thought it was ridiculous to arrest people just for being around children without one of their own.,

        • I stopped at rote memorization. seriously, you think that teaching kids to use their mind and imagination to learn how to multiply and divide is not  essential? I’m guessing you are one of those people who also thinks teaching kids to do more in the kitchen than boil water is not essential either.
           however, punishing adults for going somewhere kids play is like punishing them for being human. I really hope the judge throws the  cases out of court and tells the politicians  and fear mongerers where to stick their signs

          • I’d suggest you stopped thinking a long time before that. Otherwise you’d know that making half-assed assumptions about what someone says before reading all of few paragraphs is a good way to make yourself look like an idiot.

            Case in point, I specifically point out that we should be teaching our kids not only how to cook a basic meal, but how to shop for it.

            Then again, maybe you can tell me how teaching a kid to recite the multiplication tables actually teaches them how to multiply.

  7. I wouldn’t tend to go to a playground without children, but the library? Some of the best books are in the children’s section.

    • The article seems to suggest that the playground was in a park and that the people just happened upon one of the benches there….however, you are so right about the library.

  8. You spoilt the whole article with the quote:-

    “I for one would want a couple of women sitting in a playground. That’s an extra set of eyes.”

    An extra set of male eyes I suppose would be pedophiles.

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