Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
April 29, 1999

Teach Caution but not Fear to Children

No one warns us about the fear.

No one warns little girls as they play with their baby dolls.

No one warns young men when they fantasize about playing catch with their firstborn.

Gynecologists do not mention it when they confirm a first pregnancy, and practitioners do not mention it during childbirth classes.

Even future grandparents keep the secret.

No one ever tells us that from the moment our first child is born until we parents die, we will never again be free of fear. By the time we realize this, it is too late.

From childbirth on, every time we hear of something terrible happening to a child -- an accident, a natural disaster, an illness, an assault, a death -- we will feel not only sympathy for the parents of that child, but terror that it could happen to ours.

The greatest fear is the sexual predator. The thought of our child, torn from our midst in a moment of inattention, alone and helpless in the hands of a sexual deviate, is unendurable.

Some of us deal with this fear by frightening our kids. We teach them that all strangers, and maybe some relatives, are dangerous; these poor children grow up stunted and terrified, running from anyone who smiles or talks to or tries to hug them.

Some of us deal with the fear by pretending that the government will protect our families. When judges let us down by setting sex offenders free, we urge our legislator to create a sex offender registry so we at least know where they are. This, of course, doesn't protect our children from the first-time offender who might live, unrecognized, next door. And unless we plan to keep watch day and night, it doesn't really protect them from the known offender either.

The fact is, there is no safety, not on this earth, not in this life.

Another fact is, that for most Americans at least, there isn't that much danger either.

Child abduction by sex offenders is so rare that it still makes the news. It's so rare that we still feel outrage when it does happen. It's so rare that most of us don't personally know any family that has experienced it.

Almost all children grow to adulthood without any of the above-mentioned terrible things happening to them. They grow up relatively fearless, fall in love with a stranger, then go on to have a child of their own.

Even after they discover the fear, some of them have more children, and become too busy to dwell on it. Most of us, for that matter, are too busy to dwell on it. From what I've read, most of us are too busy to even check the sex offender registry to see if there's one in our neighborhood.

There's nothing wrong with having a registry. If someone is convicted of a serious sex crime, lifelong registration should be part of his sentence, to follow the prison term. This serious crime, however, should be a real one that endangers children or strangers, not just politically-incorrect harassment or the imaginary offenses that jailed innocent people like the Amiraults of Malden during the daycare hysteria of the '80s.

As parents, we have more to fear than fear itself. But fear itself can harm a child, a family, and our quality of life. We should keep a reasonable eye on our children, teach them what to do if they are improperly approached, then get on with enjoying our lives and theirs.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation.  Her syndicated columns appear in the Salem Evening News, the Lowell Sun, the Tinytown Gazette and other publications around the state.

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