Normally, I can't say I read a lot of tips real estate agents give one another. It's sort of like reading plumbers' toilet installation tips or retinal surgery do's and don'ts for ophthalmologists — just not universally relevant. But this real estate lady's tip on the Web jumped out at me:
"Real Estate Agents: Please encourage your listing clients to remove name signs such as the one above. (Her blog shows a girl's room with the name "Brecka" in cheerful wooden letters on the wall.) While charming, they could put a child at risk. ... Parents, if your house is for sale, PLEASE remove any and all references to specific information regarding your children. This may include name banners, awards, certificates, report cards, signs, etc."
Uh, how exactly does seeing some kid's "Student of the Month" certificate above her desk translate into danger? The idea, immediately endorsed by a slew of commenters — "Excellent info! Better safe than sorry!" — is this: A predator will be perusing the real estate listings as predators, presumably, do (while taking a break from their normal duties as birthday party clowns, I guess). The creep will see a child's room among the photos. He will see the child's name on the wall, and he will then...
What? Write down the address of the home and the name of the kid and head over to kidnap her because now he finally knows 1) where some child lives and 2) her first name? Does that make any sense at all?
Only in the world of "fantastically unlikely horrible things are extremely likely to happen" — in other words, the average American mind.
It's this same mentality that is leading parents to keep all photos of their kids off the Internet because it's "too risky." It's the same mentality that makes parents snarl like rabid wolves when someone is taking a picture, even at a public park, and their child might be in it: "Delete that immediately!" It's the same mentality that leads parents to freak out at the idea of their children's wearing soccer jerseys or backpacks with their names clearly visible. All because somehow we have come to believe that predators not only are everywhere but also are doing "CSI"-level work to home in on our kids.
But are they?
"There may be a case or two where a molester or abductor used this strategy," says David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, talking about the idea of predators reading kids' jerseys to pretend to the kids that they're a family friend. "But there are so many ways of finding out what a kid's name might be — for example, just listening to kids talk. Why not propose that all kids call their friends by aliases to make sure listening predators don't hear the real names?"
I'd say "how silly," but a Disney website instructs parents not to put their kids' names on backpacks. The real estate agent is just taking this kind of concern to its next (il)logical conclusion: Anytime anyone can see a child's name, that child is in danger.
The problem isn't just the paranoia this reinforces. It's not even the self-centeredness: Of all the children in the whole world, a predator is going to glimpse mine — the world's cutest (or at least with the world's cutest room) — and move heaven and earth to get her.
No, the real problem is the fact that all this fear isn't keeping kids any safer. The vast majority of crimes against kids are perpetrated by people who know the children's names all too well — family members and close friends. Why keep worrying about some creep slogging through every single picture on the Internet for some stranger to pursue when the best protection you can give your kids is this: Teach them to recognize, resist and report abuse.
Then they can hang that "Student of the Month" award anywhere they darn well please — and even wear a personalized jersey.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.