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Hands to Yourself Please

Over this past weekend, a father posted a video on YouTube of his toddler being searched by TSA agents at a Chicago airport. The video shows the child, who not only is three years old but also happens to be in a wheelchair, looking mighty uncomfortable while being patted down by a total stranger. According to the father, during the search he was not allowed to hold his son's hand or even stand near him to comfort him. In retrospect (this happened back in 2010) he feels the whole thing was highly inappropriate and he wishes he had protested more.

The response to the video was predictably indignant. Many blamed the agent, while others admit that he was just doing his job and blame the entire airport security system. A few (those without kids I suspect) say that this is just the price we have to pay to be safe from terrorists.

I used to be the director of an afterschool program. Since I was basically the "principal" I often got kids in my office who had broken the rules in some way. One afternoon,  a kid was sent to me who had gotten in a fistfight with another boy in his group over a basketball game. He claimed that the other child had slammed into him (in an effort to steal the ball I imagine) and so he punched him. Later on that evening, I relayed the incident to his father who said quite simply "Yes. I teach my son that if someone hits him he should hit them back." "I understand. But we have rules here and no hitting is one of them." The dad, who was not in the least bit angry at me or his son, replied, "Of course. And he will do whatever punishment you feel is required.":

As a martial artist, I can't help but admire this attitude. Were his son out on the street on his own, this would often be the right advice. However, in a school setting we cannot have kids constantly punching each other, regardless of the reason. There has to be a safer protocol.

It may seem hypocritical that in the same class where we are learning punches and kicks,  I tell my karate students to keep their hands to themselves. But I have a no tolerance policy for contact in all my classes except for sparring (obviously). The 3-4 year olds (who never do sparring) are rarely even allowed to work with a partner. I am also constantly reminding them that karate moves are for class only, not for their little sister (or their mommy or their buddies at school).

Do you know where most elementary school bullying happens? In the bathrooms. Of course, if we allow adults in there then they might do something inappropriate. So we send the children down the hall alone and then act shocked when they come back crying. Can you blame a father for teaching his son to hit back?

I don't know an easy solution to this problem. When it comes to self defense, I tell my students that if someone is doing something they don't like, their best weapon is their voice. Tell them to stop, very loudly if necessary. If they do not listen, tell a grownup. If there is no grownup around (or the grownups are useless which unfortunately is the case in many school environments) then you make them stop. I tell my daughter the same thing. No one is allowed to put their hands on her without her permission. (Or mine) If there is no one there to help her, then (and only then) she is allowed to do whatever is necessary.

But what is necessary?

There are a lot of people who are allowed to touch my child. Matthew and I of course, as well as two sets of grandparents, an uncle and numerous other family members. Her teachers at school may touch her(at least in ways that are appropriate to the classroom setting) and of course her friends, who are constantly hugging and holding hands with each other. Then there is her pediatrician (who is allowed touch her everywhere), not to mention any other doctors she may see throughout the course of her childhood.

And me? Well I had a baby so I allowed a doctor (and some nurses) to frequently probe me in my most private areas. (Once you have given birth in a hospital there is no longer any use for modesty.)Then there is my husband (who I occasionally still want to touch me even after a full day of being a mommy) and Maya (who sometimes climbs all over me when I least want her to). And since I practice jiu-jitsu I also allow numerous friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers put their hands (and their feet and their knees and their chests) all over me.

I feel for the dad who posted the video. I am the first person to say that the Iraq war was bullshit, and that all this crap about "don't let the terrorists win" is usually just scare tactics to win elections.  But unfortunately, as long as we live in a world where human beings think it is ok to fly a plane into a building full of thousands of other human beings, we also live in a world where it is ok to pat down a three year old at the airport. Is there some sick fuck out there who would strap a bomb to his toddler's Elmo doll? Sadly, there probably is. So while I don't like it one bit, go ahead and search my little girl. But please do it with dignity. And please, when we are dealing with a scared child at least allow the parent to be near enough for comfort. Physical comfort. The kind that involves touching.

On another note, I am writing this blog while getting a much needed pedicure. (On a Tuesday. Yup that's how I roll. ). This nice Chinese lady (who I do not know from a hole in the wall) is currently rubbing lotion on my feet. Sometimes it is ok to let a stranger touch you. In fact, sometimes it is necessary and one might even say that sometimes it is positively blissful.


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