Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Reader Insists: Dr. Singer, Practice What You Preach! Now You Decide

Pediatric Nurse Cindy criticized me after reading my October column about the man I saw mowing his lawn with his infant in a snugly on his back. My question remains: Isn't there a big difference between taking action when a child appears to be in danger and the child's parent is right there? Here is my follow-up parenting column on child safety published on January 3, 2010 in the Home News Tribune:

If you see a child in a dangerous predicament, would you intervene? Assuming your answer is yes, what if the danger unfolds in the presence of the child's parent? That's a different story and I'd recommend using common sense. It burns me up to see a parent acting irresponsibly. In fact, a Connecticut mother was recently charged with a felony (risk of injury to a minor) after police discovered that her 3-year-old child wandered from their home alone and crossed a busy street.

Home News Tribune reader Cindy took umbrage with my October column that described an irresponsible father mowing his lawn with his infant in a snugly on his back. Didn't the father recognize this as a dangerous situation? Cindy insisted, "Most inexcusable is that you did see the danger Dr. Singer, but did nothing. As a marriage therapist, I am quite certain you could have communicated in an appropriate and effective way, the danger of the situation and the risk to this young child. Practice what you preach, Dr. Singer! Child safety is everyone's responsibility." You won't be surprised to learn that Cindy (an RN) worked in pediatric I.C.U. for 5 years, and now works at a children's rehabilitation hospital, where the primary diagnosis is traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury.

Cindy wants to change me from being a passive observer of human behavior into an activist. But I wonder if child safety is really everyone's responsibility? Or is it only in the absence of the child's parent?

Here's my absence-of-a-parent story that took place last January in Jerusalem in the Old City. My wife, daughter and I sat down to a slice of hot pizza in an outdoor cafe on a chilly afternoon. I noticed a mother nearby with an infant in a stroller and a young Israeli boy (about 4 years old) with a huge knapsack on his back. A few minutes later, I glanced back and saw the boy, but the woman and infant had disappeared. Had the woman forgotten her toddler? The young boy shuffled away alone and I put down my pizza, grabbed my knapsack, and followed him.

My wife asked where I was going, and I responded that I think a mother just walked away and forgot to take her toddler. The little boy proceeded up dozens of steps, which overlooked the Cardo archeological excavation, and turned right onto a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. I was 20 feet behind the toddler, when my daughter came running after me and reprimanded, "Dad, you are going to get arrested for stalking that little boy! He obviously knows where he's going and if he turns around and sees a six-foot American man following him, he'll be scared to death."

Nearby, a middle-aged woman asked us if everything was OK, and I expressed my concern that this child wandered away from his mother, and is lost and walking the streets alone. She replied, "I live nearby, and he's not lost. Children in this neighborhood usually walk home from school by themselves. It's like the old days when people felt safe about their children being on the streets."

As a father, I could not sit and eat lunch while a little lost boy (in my mind) was wandering through the streets alone. I now understand that there are significant cultural differences when it comes to child safety, and the question of whether child safety is everyone's responsibility. Bottom line for me: in the absence of a parent, take action when a child appears to be in danger.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site, www.FamilyThinking.com