Rod MacKenzie
Rod MacKenzie

Paedophilia, paranoia and becoming strangers to our children

I stroll through the Now We Are Six woods not far from my home in Birkdale, Auckland. Any second Piglet will bounce out.  I shall ask him, ‘What day is it today?’ Piglet will squeak, “It’s today.’ And I shall exclaim: ‘My favourite day!’

The streams are laced throughout Auckland suburbia, with bridges over them and thickets of trees nestling and hugging the running, childhood waters. The bridges stretch from small shore to small shore like paths to secrets. They bring to mind that profound moment when Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh toss sticks onto the stream from a bridge and then scamper to the other side to see whose stick comes bobbing past first. “Mine wins, mine wins!” The sheer delight in something as simple as two sticks and the play of a stream keep these two characters absorbed for hours in the natural world.

AA Milne was using a typical activity of children and how they find the marvel, the intimations of immortality, in ordinary things: sticks, or pebbles skipping across a pond.  Or the hush and glow of the woods after the “seeker” in Hide and Seek hollers, ‘coming! ready or not!’ Remember this game? How often do we now see children playing like this? The stick or skipping pebble has been replaced by the smartphone and there is something sinister about children perched in bus stops, faces glued to those miniature black tombs.

I have had the privilege of teaching children most of my adult life. I love talking with them, playing with them, “nurturing my inner child”, breathing in the wonder of every moment. But it has shocked me to discover we can no longer speak to “our” children for reasons not only to do with smartphones. Coming back from years in China into the West again, here in New Zealand, I have experienced such paranoia when it comes to dealing with children. ‘I have no more male teachers in my school,’ laments one primary school headmistress to me, eyeing me. I know seasoned school principals like her pick up that I am great with kids. She would love to take me on as a mentor to the senior boys. Many kids come from “complex” or dysfunctional family environments and sorely need a proper male model in the flesh.

In the flesh. Ah, therein lies the pedophile-paranoia rub. Men have left the teaching profession in New Zealand in droves for fear of touching a child by mistake. Grandparents are frowned on for taking cameras along to school sports events to capture their grandchildren’s moments in the limelight. I have mentioned to people that I chat to children at bus stops about what cool stuff they like doing, and I got “the look” from those people. One man even muttered that my speaking to children at bus stops is weird. Subtext of weird: sick. So I no longer talk to children as I may be deemed to be sick. I notice other people steadfastly ignoring children in public. I have heard conversations like, ‘do you know he baths with his kids? We need to call the authorities’.

Another man I know, divorced, tells me about wandering along one of those hundred acre wood streams with his son, whom he has for weekends. He is taking videos of his boy and his boy is taking videos of him. They laugh and skip and run. It is their favourite day. Then they hear the whoop of sirens, and two policewomen run up to them, hands on their truncheons. See how grimly the police stand between father and child, asking lots of questions. See how the bewildered father is manhandled into the police car and taken for questioning. A record is made of the event before the father is released with his equally bewildered son. Though “cleared”, sort of, the father has a record against his name. For life. He has been “done”, just as surely as a man caught driving over the alcohol limit is “done”.  He is too scared to relate to his own son the same way again.

Undisclosed people were watching that father play with his son. Undisclosed people were saying: ‘This will not do.’ What they were really saying was, ‘an adult playing with a child must be regarded with deep suspicion.’ ‘There is a pedophile under every rock.’  The abuse done to the boy for the way the “suspicious activity” was handled by the police went unnoticed.

Of course the rights – and boundaries – of children should be enshrined. Of course there must be severe consequences for abusing our little people. I have been an advocate for banning corporal punishment in my blogs. Of course children must be taught not to take candy from strangers. But we are becoming strangers to our children, from whom we have so much to learn. By becoming strangers to our children we lose our Tigger-like wonder about everything, and sticks in the water are just the bare beginning.

I walk through the woods in winter, a place where Tigger could still bounce out and exclaim, “Tiggers eat everything except haycorns!” On the grass near a bridge teenage girls are sitting on the chilly grass, immersed in their smartphones in another world far, far away. Some are not wearing jerseys. I want to say, ‘aren’t you cold? I would put on a jersey.’ But I don’t want to be done. I cross the bridge and its whispering secrets and go up the hill where I see a flock of primary school girls laughing as they skip up the slope. They are dressed in a tartan uniform and I want to ask which school they go to. I shan’t ask. I might get done. One turns and sees me. More turn round and glance at me. They laugh less. Shoving my hands into my jacket I walk to the other side of the road and carry on up the hill, resolutely looking at the ground, head bowed.

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    • Momma Cyndi

      That hit me right in the cry zone!

      If it is any consolation (which it won’t be). My mom-in-law was ‘let go’ as a primary school teacher in the UK because she put a comforting arm around a little girl who was crying because her parents were getting divorced.

      With the child molestation in SA at the moment, it is not long until this insanity hits us too. Even now, mothers think twice before allowing their own brothers or fathers to take their children for icecream.

      It just feel so wrong that the innocent are imprisoned by the constraints of society but the criminals seem to have the run of the streets

    • bernpm

      The emphasis of society on “woman and child abuse” seems indeed to be over the top at times. Might make you feel depressed because you -as a man- are immediately suspect if you show an interest in children or women.
      As a keen photographer, I love to capture faces of children because their spontaneous and natural response when encouraged. They are equally interesting when captured while unaware of being observed.

      While dangers for children are very real, it seems that your NZ police force needs a little re-schooling to read situations from a distance. They seem to use their authority to harass more than control and prevent.
      A black cloud over the island under the white cloud.

      .

    • http://www.premiumprizes.co.za Pleiades

      Amazing article. What a sad, sad day it is when children cannot be children and where adults and children are kept apart. Our children are kept indoors for fear of being hurt and molested outside. Yet how else can they learn to cross the street, not talk to strangers (catch-22 that one), and learn to fend for themselves on the “outside”. We keep them safe inside until they are 18 and then expect them to know right from wrong and how to keep themselves safe? A bird cannot learn to fly if it is never allowed to leave the nest for fear of falling to the ground.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/martinyoung Martin Young

      Great post. The actions of a few have spoiled everything for the rest of us who have no ulterior motive.

      Not just here, but in many things.

    • Sue

      Once again well said Rod. I have learned more from my children than I ever dreamed possible, from birth to adulthood, and I am still learning from them.

      What a tragedy, for both adults and children, that those invaluable lessons are being lost as a result of suspicion and paranoia, as you say. What lessons will our children teach theirs? Or will all information now come from the ‘safe’ pool of common knowledge which is the internet?

      I find that even more sinister.

    • Barbra

      What an insane world we live in. And how incredibly stupid we are to allow the sick few to determine the way of life to the innocent many.

    • http://M&G Diana

      Excellently written and a very sad state of affairs we as civilized people have created for ourselves. Pedophiles however are not only males, females are also abusing children. This is from “.An influential study in the US in the 1980s suggested 20% of all offences against boys and 5% against girls were by females”. The same people who are there to care and protect them.
      Keep up your great work with children. You made me remeber my childhood fondly.

    • So sad.

      Very apt to call it a catch 22. And very sad for the majority of us who are really wonderful people and parents. Perhaps we are OTT, but my little daughter almost fell into the clutches of a paedophile while she was waiting for me to pick her up from shool after a swimming class (she went outside instead waiting for me in the classroom as usual). What was frightening was his breathtaking casualness as he tried to cajole her to get into the car. He was like a kindly grandpa. She was only seven. Fortunately I arrived as she was in tears and trying to tell him she was not allowed to get lifts with anyone but her mother. He was old and he had no answers when I asked what the hell he was trying to do. He skedaddled faster than I could take down his numberplate. (no cell phones in those days). My very normal friend’s husband also turned out to be a “groper’ of kids and I ended our friendship when he exposed himself to me very professionaly, while his wife and othe visitors were siting in the lounge. He was primary school teacher and as “normal” as can be . All of my friends have at some stage had similar experiences. So yes, we are OTT but when kids do get molested parents look for someone to blame and unfortunately schools and other such authorities take the fall for not having been more vigilant. So one understands their (over)reaction. Its a symptom of the sick society we live in. My son is a teacher and he won’t touch a child (male or female). sad, but a reality.

    • Karen

      I have no sympathy for men crying victimization within a world which men alone have created. A world in which not only is mother nature raped, 1 in 3 young children and women are too.
      You feel judged do you? Unfairly do you?

      Well try earning as much as a man, without a man expecting something in return.
      Try having a small percentage of your chest showing without all men staring at it as if its the latest commercial for a porsche.
      Try promoting rights for your own gender without every man accusing you of being a man hater!

      What have YOU done to prevent promote women’s rights or even to promote equality for all? Most likely nothing, but you’ll sit and write a whole long story bemoaning your pathetic lot because you were considered a pedophile while walking your son.
      I feel no pity for you or any men because you have only had a small taste of what its like to live in a world where you are judged by how you appear and until the world we live in isn’t privileged for YOU, and all of your kind THAT will never change.
      Wake up and smell the roses, mate.
      This is the world you wanted.
      If you don’t like it… change it.

    • http://www.goldenladder.com.cn francois williams

      What to expect from living in NZ??

    • Anrie

      Dear Karen, Why are you so angry at men.
      Most of the things you name are small stuff, things that do not matter in the larger picture of live.
      AND read Rob’s piece again. NOT al men are abusers just as all women are NOT angels.
      And you sound like one of those women that want all the rights for yourself but forget that without men this world would be poor indeed. I am sorry that you feel this way about men. I love them. I always found that they will be helpful in a gentlemanly way when you give them the chance.
      Yes there are bad men but they are the a minority. The rest are not so bad.

      Rob this piece has made me so sad. It is a really sad world we live in. It is always such a joy for me when I see a dad and his children interacting together and you can see the joy and love that they have in each other.
      First society moaned about the absent father and now they curtail his interaction with his children.
      We are really making our society so much poorer. I sometimes wonder what will our grandchildren say of us?

      Rob keep on writing and I hope that everything will go well for you.