Friday, October 10, 2008

No answers

I was reading Kidology's Blog Watch the other day and found myself thinking most about the "Lap-sitting Policy" article - not even about the article but the policy.

I need to preface this by saying that I truly truly truly understand (as a once un-safe child, a very watchful parent, and a careful teacher) the very real worries, concerns, and legitimate need for "appropriate touching" policies to protect children. I believe it's absolutely the responsibility of anyone caring for children to protect them. I also understand that, although I prefer to give parents the benefit of the doubt, that sometimes people outside the family need to protect a child from members of their own families. I also imagine that for anyone who truly loves children to be falsely accused of inappropriate behavior it must be devastating. People have spent more hours than I want to count defining rules and boundaries for policies like this (hopefully) because they love kids.

Having said that, it still deeply grieves me that children left in the care of others have to be deprived of appropriate tactile caring in order to protect them from the inappropriate. It bothers me. Different generations and cultures define "appropriate" differently. And I don't think "common sense" - is a universal anymore. I had a lengthy discussion about this with my daughter. She's a 3rd year student currently majoring in psych and criminal justice and (not to put her in a box) she's been leaning heavily towards counseling. She would be a WONDERFUL counselor.

So patient with my banter and wise beyond her years, her recurring comment was that one of the primary reasons for setting policy is to take away the subjectivity - no question about what's appropriate and what isn't. No question about whether or not someone crossed the line. We tend to set the boundaries well within the boundaries so there isn't even a chance of someone mis-reading what's happening - observer, grown-up, or child. Understood.

I would never want someone to get away with mistreating a child nor be falsely accused of something they had no intention of doing. But part of me worries about the long term. Maybe I would feel differently if young children were only in an environment that requires such policies for 1-2 hours/wk, but most children are cared for under guardian policies like these during the better part of their waking hours. What I recall as educator, parent, and child is that developmentally, children need touch (appropriate and in adequate amounts) from their primary care-giver for healthy social, emotional, and mental development. The short range affect of our policies is safety. But what will the long range affect be if these policies are in operation in a child's life most of their waking hours?

Relationships are so subjective but so necessary. Trust is important. Safety is important. Appropriate physical affection is important for children. Is the only way to grow trust and protect those we love to keep adding policies, rules, and regulations? Are institutions so much a part of our children's lives that we have to worry that appropriate touch at home might be falsely labeled as inappropriate? If my 1st or 2nd grader climbs into my lap for stories and tells his teacher - is that a problem? What of my pre-adolescent - a time when kids keep jumping back and forth between wanting to be a child and wanting to grow up - girls who need a timely appropriate hug or kiss from a responsible dad or uncle or grandfather? Will I have a social worker at my door? Will that be misconstrued by people who have never known lots of appropriate physical love?

We set policies carefully restricting our physical contact with children, at the same time media images equating love and care with sex constantly bombard pre-adolescents, teens, and adults - families. So we enforce a very strict touch policy with children only to launch them into a world that equates caring and loving with something sexual. What alternatives can we offer? Are we launching pre-adolescents hungry for appropriate physical attention into this environment? Can we legally model something different? Maybe we can now. How about 20 years from now?

My fear is that we keep trying to put bandaids on bigger deeper issues that we can never solve or resolve with band-aids but I don't know what the answer is. Something is breaking and we can't let it break.

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