Twitter

Friday, September 19, 2014

'Not Every Stranger is Out to Harm' Child-Predator Fears Today Fuel Policies, Questions By Michael Hartwell

 
'Not every stranger is out to harm', September 18, 2014
Child-predator fears today fuel policies, questions
By Michael Hartwell

LEOMINSTER -- Every so often Doug Davis, co-owner of the Davis Family Farm Adventures in Sterling, has to turn a customer away.  

For the past decade, Davis Farmland has required all adults visiting the business to have one child 12 or younger with them.  

Davis said sometimes adults, men and women, miss the sign and try to buy a ticket to Davis Farmland. He said those adults misunderstand what the place is.  

In fact, requiring adults to be accompanied by a child is a growing trend that has attracted both accolades and criticism from parents.  
 

"We want to have the most wholesome family environment that we can have here," said Davis 

Davis Family Farm Adventure has several recreational attractions, and tickets are sold separately or in bundles.

The corn maze, zip lines and laser tag are for all ages, while Davis Farmland, a farm and playground attraction, is geared toward children 8 and under.  

Barbara Maciel Lando, a mother of two from Leominster, likes policies like the one at Davis Farmland.  

"Adults without children are never a good sign in a children's play land area. It makes an easy target for someone to snatch a child and run," said Lando, 45.
 
She said child predators are a serious risk today.  

"You nor I wouldn't know if there was a registered offender or a drug trafficker where children are," she said. "You never know. You cannot trust anyone these days. Even a priest can't be trusted."  

Others disagree. 

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City-based writer, public speaker and mother, said these policies are what she calls "worst-first thinking." She blogs at www.FreeRangeKids.com and says parents today are unreasonably fearful.  

In a phone interview last week, Skenazy said the same mentality is behind New York City's ban on unaccompanied adults at public playgrounds. Police have issued tickets to men using park tables to play chess and women eating doughnuts on the benches.  

"They think if there's an adult there, it couldn't possibly because they want to sit," she said. "It must be because they want to screw 'em and slice off their heads."  

Skenazy said parents overestimate the dangers kids face today based on sensational media reports, when study after study shows today's crime rate for child endangerment is equal to the risk kids faced in 1963. Crime rates went up in the 1970s, but have fallen every decade since.  

She said instead of trying to create an airtight environment for their kids, parents should teach their kids how to be safe, like recognizing what's inappropriate, resisting attempts to harm them and knowing they can report any harm they've experienced without feeling guilt or shame.  

"Those things are going to keep kids far safer," she said.  

Kim Flynn Fitzgerald, 32, of Leominster is a mother of three. She also thinks modern parents are too paranoid about child safety.  

"Not every stranger is out to harm our children," she said. "Parents are being sent to prison for letting their children do things that when I was a kid were typical of children. Honestly, we're raising a generation of children that won't know how to be adults."

She said she has taught her children how to handle bad situations so they will be prepared when they grow up.

David Gilmore is the general manager of Legoland Discovery Center in Somerville, which requires parties to have both adults and children.  

"It's really about an experience. We're looking to create a safe, fun environment for families and kids," said Gilmore. "We don't apologize for it at all."  

Gilmore said Legoland wants to keep potential predators at bay, which parents appreciate. It also wants a familial atmosphere, which would be hard to achieve if groups of adults were mixed in.  

"We have those one-offs where people come and are turned away, but they understand," said Gilmore.

The Legoland center has two interactive rides, a movie theater, building workshops and Lego creations to view, including replicas of famous buildings in Boston and Somerville. Because those things appeal to adult Lego fans too, they have an "adult night" every third Wednesday of each month.   

At Davis Family Farm Adventure there are farm animals, like cows, sheep, goats and chickens, as well as playhouses where kids can pretend to be a farmer or a veterinarian. There are playground structures and farm-themed activities all designed for young children. Even the bathroom fixtures are tiny, with low sinks and little toilets.  

"Developmentally, this place is very specifically designed for young children," said Davis. He said some kids at the top of their age bracket lack interest in all of the park's features. Simply put, he said, there's nothing there adults without children would want to see.  

The business also uses numbered wristbands to make sure children leave with the same adults they came in with. Davis said parents appreciate the policies.

"They are much more comfortable here," he said, as the policy lets vigilant parents relax. "Children want to have the freedom to play and make decisions to do what they want to do. They can do that here. They don't have to have the parent right over them the whole time. If they lose sight of their kids, the parents don't get worried."  

Crystal Surett, 34, of Fitchburg is a mother of three autistic children and has a brother, Jeffrey, with an intellectual disability. She said until a few years ago he used to take cab rides to Chuck E. Cheese's in Leominster. They have a policy against unaccompanied adults and he was in his mid-20s, but she said they would let him in.  

"He has the mind of a child," she said. "If the parents are supervising their children then what's the big deal about having single adults there? There are single adults at other theme parks."  

Robert Walsh, 54, of Fitchburg is single and lives alone. He said too many people treat adult men with suspicion and it hurts people like him.  

"I don't go to places like the movies and the beach by myself for that very reason," he said. "I don't want to take that chance that someone might get jumpy and judge me by flying solo."  

He said he understands why men are viewed suspiciously but wishes people would learn more about spotting warning signs instead of assuming guilt so people like him can feel comfortable going out in public alone.

Jamie Cortes is general manager of Roll on America, a roller skating rink in Lancaster.  

"We don't personally have that rule here, but we can understand why some do," she said. "We cater to all ages. We have a good following of adults, as well as some grandparents who bring their grandchildren.

Cortes said as long as people behave appropriately any age can come in to skate.

Omayra Santos, 38, of Leominster, is a mother of two. She said requiring adults to be accompanied by a child a reasonable precaution at certain businesses.

 "I wouldn't want to go to a child-based place without a child," she said. "That's only a date I go on with my 11-year-old these days."