Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Is That Man Creepy?

On the weekend I accompanied my son to one of his ever increasing athletic carnivals. These are usually the event I enjoy the most with him as I help out at his events, but for the rest of the time I am merely a spectator like most of the parents. I'm not in the sun all day running an event for every age group for the entire day/weekend. Just for the record, I will be doing just that in a little over a week.

No, this time I was able to relax in between events. having time to just be at those times enables me to bear witness to many things that would otherwise pass me by, or I would only hear of them second or third hand.

There were some very interesting developments that really are side stories to the main reason for my writing. Perhaps I'll get to them one day, but don't count on it.

While sitting in my chair watching the action going on around the ground a little girl, no older than 2, who was sitting nearby with her family began approaching me. First it was to show off some Lego characters she and her siblings/peers had been playing with. Some of them had no heads so that lead to a discussion between us about where their heads might be. She soon returned to her Lego and I went to help out at another event.

A while later the girl returned and gave me a piece of paper. On it was a single blue line drawn in crayon. She told me it was for me and it was the sky.

Near the end of the day she stood nearby with a very small bouncy ball in her hand, shaping up to do a very accurate simulation of a shot put technique. As her mum was busy elsewhere the girl shouted towards me, "Hey, look at me! Look what I can do!" After several demonstrations mum finally came over, scooped her up in her arms and told her it was time to go.

Throughout these interactions and thinking back on them later, the thought kept creeping into my head what people might think of the man engaging with this young child so. Such thoughts never cross my mind on the job. It's what I do and people need to accept it. In public however, it's a different matter. I am naturally drawn to young children and it often seems they are likewise drawn to me. They must sense some sort of affinity between us. Not that I go out of my way to interact with them or anything. I might pull a funny face, wave or simply smile.

Anyway, in the public sphere people will generally not be aware of my occupation and therefore have no context in which to place the behaviour they see, other than there in front of all those people.

My question to all you readers out there is this. Would you think it was creepy for some strange guy to speak with, interact with and even engage in mild play with a young child? Would it make a difference if you knew the child/if it was yours? I am not fearful of such interactions and relationships, but I am mindful of what others may think.

Of course, the whole scenario would more than likely be thrown into a completely different light if I was a woman, but that's a debate for another time.

So is what I did creepy to you? Would you be comfortable with any adult engaging similarly with a young child or are there limits to what you consider acceptable?

I would greatly appreciate your feedback.


  1. No, not creepy at all - and if it had been the mother would have intervened much earlier - I think if you had been encouraging her to come closer, had been staring at just her all the time, and not been involved with other children and events then yes it would have been a little creepy - as I would also think that would be creepy if ANYONE did that - male or female - to have an unusually intensive interest for a particular child in a crowd (unless its your own child of course)

    Then of course you are there where there are lots of parents and children and really most would not be able to place parent and child together - so I would say the vast majority would not have even thought about the interactions.

    I have worked with a man that was accused of being inappropriate with children - and the whole having to watch everything for the children's sake and also for the teacher's sake is a nightmare - sadly in this case the allegations were true. BUT also happy to say I have worked with many men that have been fantastic colleagues and I have never once had those kind of concerns despite my first encounter with a male colleague was so negative - sometimes you can just sense a genuine interest in a child's development and their natural curiosity and an interest in something more - but I guess there is no guarantee of that either.

    I have two male colleagues right now - and until you mentioned this now it is something I have never thought about or considered. BUT here in Sweden parental leave is for mothers and fathers - and fathers are very active in the parental leave - so society will always accept that men interact with children...

    It saddens me that you have even had these thoughts - it ought to be the most natural thing in the world to engage with children regardless of gender - as children have mothers and fathers...

    it will be interesting to see how others view this...

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Suzanne. The mother didn't intervene because she sense danger. I think it was just time for them to leave, but I can see how I may have misrepresented her in the way I put it.

      While I do have these thoughts, they do not overwhelm me. it's more that I am aware that people may view what I am doing in that way. I agree society generally do (& should) be accepting of both genders building relationships with children. However, there are still many out there who hold on to the more traditional view that woman care for children and the main role of men in that regard is to teach them to do active stuff like ride bikes, play sports or do 'men's' work.

      Sadly I am aware of far too many who still think this way, but it won't change the way I interact with children. I am who I am.

  2. Greg, I think there is definitely a divide here depending on the gender of the adult who engages with a child they don't know. I also find that 'strange' children gravitate towards me, but parents are generally not anxious about it.

    Mind you, I make a point of interacting with the child's caring adult too, very quickly. If I wave or smile at a baby I will comment at once to the parent/carer about the baby's social reaction to my presence. If I start to play with a child I don't know, I might say something lighthearted to the parent/carer like "They always seem to KNOW that I'm comfortable with kids- how do they know I work in childcare? Is it tattooed on my forehead?"

    Maybe if you also used these strategies you could put your own mind at rest about being thought 'creepy'. I think it's definitely possible that a 'strange man' who plays with others' children and either avoids contact with the parents or is all over the parents like a rash would send out alarm signals, but some parents of course are even more anxious than that- often unfairly.

    1. Agree Candy. I think ANY adult who interacts with an unknown child should also attempt to interact with the parent(s). Candy's suggested dialogue is perfect!

    2. Thanks Candy and Karen. I will make a comment to the adult accompanying the child from time to time. In this case the mother always seemed to be engaged in conversation with someone else or her attention was elsewhere. Having said that, she did make a passing remark to my wife early in the day that the Lego blocks generally keep her daughter occupied for hours on end. perhaps that was all that was needed in this case for her to feel at ease with us. We were also in fairly close proximity so unless I whispered, all that I said to the girl and anything I might have done would be easily heard and seen.

      I often find in shopping centre food courts that babies and very young children stare at me if they are situated fairly close. These are often the times when a funny face, smile or wave automatically burst forth.

      Good advice though and I'll try to keep it in mind.

  3. more men in preschools - that is the answer. Let society see that its not a woman's job - its a people job!!!

  4. As a male Early Childhood Educator, I experience this situation often, and still am not sure what the best course of action is. As a father, seeing a stranger interact with my child always makes me alert and pay attention, but as an educator who finds engaging with children easy and natural, I am often in the situation of being the 'stranger' that the child interacts with.

    My current 'best practice' (and I am open to suggestions and review) is to engage, but maintain a professional distance - i.e. I don't encourage the child to engage, but reciprocate warmly when they do. If, for example a child smiles at me, I will return the smile, but use body language that shows to the parent that I am not looking to approach or extend upon the child's invitation. In a nutshell; I let the child and parent/caring adult initiate and guide the interactions.

    I've found this (often difficult) balancing act both ensures that the child is not rejected, ignored or brushed aside, and the parents understand that I am not engaging in predatory behaviour.