My husband Kevin just accepted a job at a church to be a children’s ministry director. Already, we are discussing how to keep him safe from accusations. It’s a scary world for a man to take a job working with children.
That is the topic Jeffrey Zaslow addresses in his article “Are We Teaching Our Kids to Be Fearful of Men?” He considers the growing crack-down society is putting on interactions between men and children. He writes:
Are we teaching children that men are out to hurt them? The answer, on many fronts, is yes. Child advocate John Walsh advises parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers. Soccer leagues are telling male coaches not to touch players.
Child-welfare groups say these are necessary precautions, given that most predators are male. But fathers’ rights activists and educators now argue that an inflated predator panic is damaging men’s relationships with kids. Some men are opting not to get involved with children at all, which partly explains why many youth groups can’t find male leaders, and why just 9% of elementary-school teachers are male, down from 18% in 1981.
Like I said, being a man working with children is a liability in this day and age. Zaslow cites one particularly extreme example of male profiling:
Now social-service agencies are also using controversial tactics to spread the word about abuse. This summer, Virginia’s Department of Health mounted an ad campaign for its sex-abuse hotline. Billboards featured photos of a man holding a child’s hand. The caption: “It doesn’t feel right when I see them together.”
The implication? That a man holding a child’s hand is up to no good — based on a gut feeling. You can see where this is going. In a follow-up article, Zaslow points out a type of societal double-standard:
It’s true that men are far more likely than women to be sexual predators. But our society, while declining to profile by race or nationality when it comes to crime and terrorism, has become nonchalant about profiling men.
After reading both articles, I had mixed feelings. I am disheartened by a society that makes it seem inappropriate for a man to ever touch a child — even in a healthy way. And yet, as someone who has worked in children’s ministry for more than 15 years, I understand the necessity of protecting children. It’s part of coping with the sinful world in which we live. Many churches have instituted strict rules for how men may interact with children, not because they dislike men (in fact, churches are clambering for male volunteers), but because they want to protect men from false accusations.
Kevin is more than willing to follow the rules if it can protect a child from someone who is less well-meaning. And I have never seen children be afraid of my 6-foot-8 husband. Yes, I am saddened that as a society we no longer celebrate healthy interactions between men and children. But, despite that reality, nothing makes me happier than seeing a gaggle of delighted third graders pepper my husband with high-fives.