Friday, December 03, 2010

TSA: Let's Play the I'm Gonna Touch Your Junk Game!

If you know me on Facebook, you'll be aware that I'm a little irritated by the new Grope & Scan TSA screenings. And by "a little irritated" I of course mean, "you probably don't want to get me really going on the subject if you have somewhere you need to be in the next few hours."

Of all of the outrageous articles I've read, this is the one that truly chills me to the bone (emphasis added).

Addressing the controversy over pat-downs of children last month, TSA regional security director James Marchand told the press the TSA was working on new practices to make children more comfortable during the pat-down process.
"You try to make it as best you can for that child to come through. If you can come up with some kind of a game to play with a child, it makes it a lot easier," said Marchand, promising to make it part of TSA training.
[Ken] Wooden [a child safety expert], who has testified before Congress on child safety issues on numerous occasions, says he was told by a TSA agent that the practice has been used.

I sure hope that making the screening of children into a "game" has not become part of TSA training as the regional director promised. Because what the child safety peopleguy says is entirely correct (emphasis added):

Telling a child that they are engaging in a game is "one of the most common ways" that sexual predators use to convince children to engage in inappropriate contact, Wooden told Raw Story.
Children "don't have the sophistication" to distinguish between a pat-down carried out by an airport security officer and an assault by a sexual predator, he said.
The TSA policy could "desensitize children to inappropriate touch and ultimately make it easier for sexual offenders to prey on our children," Wooden added.

I'll venture another reason the I'm Gonna Touch Your Junk Game is a bad idea: it has the real potential to encourage kids to just comply cheerfully and blithely with whatever rights-violations the government chooses to impose upon us.

Now, you may think this new screening by the TSA is perfectly warranted and within acceptable limits and is the best way to screen out terrorists and protect our country. But let's leave whether or not this is a good policy (and whether or not we agree on the issue) aside for the moment, if we can.

We all need to jump through government-imposed hoops to live our lives, even if we vehemently disagree with the legitimacy of those hoops. I conscientiously object loudly sometimes, but the truth of the matter is, I have a driver's license, and file taxes for our businesses and personal income, and have never--no matter how many times I've tried--purchased alcohol at a store on a Sunday in Georgia. And you probably shouldn't get me started about the Sudafed thing.

But when I comply with rules and regulations that I find intrusive and invasive and ridiculous and pointless and rights-violating, I do not pretend to myself or others--and most especially to my children--that I'm okay with it. I do not like the rules, and I feel frustrated (or sometimes, complete despair) about having to follow them, and I do not evade that fact. And most certainly, I would never, ever, EVER pretend that it's fun.

It sickens me to think that the TSA guy is suggesting to his employees--and to parents--that they try to make this groping a fun experience for children. Making unpleasant experiences into a game is a great parenting strategy. You do that when the kid needs to get blood drawn. You do that when he's stuck his head between the banisters and you need him to relax in order to pop his head out. You do that when they are afraid of things that go bump in the night. You don't do that to help him pretend that someone he doesn't know isn't touching him all over his body when he doesn't want them to.

The I'm Gonna Touch Your Junk Game does directly contradict any sensible advice about teaching kids how to know about inappropriate touching (of course, the entire TSA groping procedure itself contradicts the standard "only mom, dad, and your doctor should touch you there," too). It directly goes against Gavin de Becker's advice that you never ever tell your child to find someone in a uniform to help them when they get lost (because predators pretend to be cops in order to trick kids into a false sense of saftey).

If getting groped by the TSA feels icky, it's because it IS icky. It's icky to have someone touch your crotch when you really don't want them to. And if a kid doesn't like it, well then I think that's a good indication that his "someone is making me feel uncomfortable" radar is working properly. And that is a radar that you WANT to be in good working order.

But making the groping into a game for anyone, not just children, is more dangerous than the fact that it could impair a child's ability to distinguish between proper and improper touching. Teaching children to "play along" with whatever "game" the government decides to impose upon them affects their minds as well as their bodies. It will encourage them to accept rather than question; comply rather than resist; follow along rather than even think for a second about whether it's worth it to them to accept or comply.

Too many adults do this already, even without having been tricked into thinking it's fun and games. What chance will today's children stand when we've taken this idea one step farther down the road from Don't question it. to It's fun! ?

I have no plans to fly with my kids in the foreseeable future. We have no trips scheduled that require flying (we are choosing to drive over flying though in one case, so there is some lost revenue for the airlines there). I'm not willing to say we'll never ever fly until this policy is reversed--I can think of a couple of situations where we might choose to fly and risk the TSA due to the distance, time constraints, and importance of certain events. I'll do my very best to avoid this as long as I can.

But if we ever do need to fly, I will tell the kids what is happening and what I think about it and we'll probably have lots of talks about it. I will be honest and upfront about what I think is wrong about it and why. I will comfort them if they have any strong negative emotions about it. I will do what I can to help us move past it as quickly as possible and get back to pursuing our values.

I will not allow a TSA person to joke about it with my kids, or make it fun for them. I will step right in and ask that person to be quiet and finish their task. And if my kids scream their heads off or kick or cry, then so be it. I don't really care if the experience is easy on the TSA person.

I will never, ever evade what happened, or teach my children to do the same. There's too much at stake.


Stephanie Ozenne said...

Thank you for articulating what's been vaguely in my head. The pat-downs seemed worse for kids to me. As an adult, I can make the decision to fly, risking getting a pat down. As an adult, I can "hold my nose" and deal with the inappropriate touching if I have to. But I really don't want to take that risk for my kids, and I think the reasons you've articulated here are what I was feeling with my gut. They're too young and vulnerable to make the distinctions I can make, and I will not participate in desensitizing them to abuse.

Like you, I don't have much need for flying - our family is an 11 hour car ride away. I was thinking of flying to visit friends soon (with my kids) but I hadn't made any firm plans, so we're just not going to bother.

You've seen the letter from the UCSF staff about the safety unknowns of the backscatter machines? They might be safe, but they haven't been evaluated correctly yet. And of course, even if you go through them you may still require a pat down.

Timbo said...

Well said, Jenn.

I haven't travelled since the new policies have been in place. I am not looking forward to it for myself, and particularly with my kids.

But you have definitely helped me describe the approach I will take with them when the day comes.


Rose said...

Jenn - I would happily get together with you and rant for hours on this subject!

Stephanie - Thank you for the PDF link. I'm passing it on to people who think they must be safe.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thank you for this good post. This is one example of many situations in which we have been upfront with our children (now mostly grown) about government violation of their rights. For example, we have practiced road block behavior with our son, after we were taken by surprise at a road block coming home from WalMart on a Friday evening. He was driving on his learners permit, and the cop was entirely inappropriate. She got that he was a new driver, then she teased him, pretending to find marijuana on his lap. I was horrified.
He answered their inappropriate questions: "Where are you going" and "Where were you?". Later we explained that they could ask, but that he was not required to answer, and that if he chooses not to answer, he needs to reply forthrightly but politely with: "I am an American citizen traveling freely within the borders of my own country", which is the stock phrase we use at immigration checkpoints and inside the so-called "constitution-free zones" near the border.

It is frightening enough that our government is now violating our rights on a regular basis, but the fact that they are now wanting to make a game of it is terrifying.

We have chosen not to fly, even in the event of an emergency. We have three licensed drivers now, so we could drive right through. But we talked about it at a family meeting and determined this together. The airlines have already lost 4 roundtrips based on our decision, with more to come.

Rose Lake said...


This is SO GOOD. Thank you. May I copy and send the text to my congressman? I doubt very much that he will accept (or read) a link to the page.

UzhasKakoi said...

Thank you, Jenn

This is very good. I am (perhaps one of) the last person to defend a government. And here what I thought.

Lets play devil's advocates. Lets assume for a second that our intelligence intercepted information that terrorists prepare attacks using kids. Would the TSA action seem more reasonable/rational?

You would be correct to point out that it may make sense to say to the public just that ... and I'll wholeheartedly agree with you.

Now, what if releasing this information would endanger our sources that gathered this intelligence in the first place? Why not hide then behind the political correctness that I deplore ...

Lets finish our game. Yes, in the end I would wholeheartedly agree with you that I've given our government too much benefit of a doubt ... thought of it as way to rational and reasonable ...

Amy said...

You really captured what is wrong with the TSA procedures at a fundamental level by focusing on the issues for children. Excellent post.

Anthony said...

"Lets assume for a second that our intelligence intercepted information that terrorists prepare attacks using kids. Would the TSA action seem more reasonable/rational?"

I'm sure they have intercepted such information, and no, it's still not reasonable. Not to search everyone, and not to search people randomly.

If that is indeed what the TSA is doing, patting down children without any specific reason whatsoever to suspect them or their parents, I hope someone refuses and then takes them to court over it.

That said, I went through airport security three times a couple weeks ago, on a trip to attend a funeral, and I didn't get body scanned or patted down once.

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks, everyone! I am going to try to distill the main point into a very short LTE this weekend.

Rose, please send it to your representatives! I'd be interested to hear what they think. Just link back to me if you don't mind.