In any event, T. and I both consistently wear bicycle helmets because while I do not believe in bicycle helmets, I do believe that if you violate a bunch of norms regarding parenting, other people Will Get Involved. _That_ I do believe in. In reading "Guilty as Charged" in the latest issue of Brain, Child, I was powerfully reminded of this principle. Bridget Kevane dropped five kids (a couple 12 year olds, a 7, 6 and 3 year old) off at the Bozeman Gallatin Mall one afternoon for a couple hours. The 12 year old (girls) had taken babysitting classes and had a detailed and specific agenda which they violated to go try on some clothes at Macy's, leaving the 7, 6, and 3 year old otherwise unattended where the women working cosmetics could work up some Righteous and call security antics ensue.
Big tragedy for Kevane, obviously, particularly since she comes across as Very Aspie and thinks the whole thing is about Self-Sufficiency (well, she can be forgiven: she _is_ in Montana), when of course it is actually about her violating a core belief in our society: Strangers are Evil, Vicious Pervs until proven otherwise, when we'll all be Shocked that they actually did something helpful when disaster actually does occur. (In reality, strangers are typically decent, helpful, law-abiding, ethical, blah, blah, bleeping blah who can be counted on to do minor helpful things if it doesn't cost them anything, but if we admitted that, who knows _what_ might happen. Probably the world would end. Or maybe it wouldn't and _that_ would be a problem.)
But that's at the surface. I actually think Kevane did screw up, and apparently hasn't figured out the right lesson from this, so I'm going to (it's my blog after all) supply my $.02, worthless as it is. Kevane failed to understand 12 year old girl psychology, and how that would predictably interact with the task she had assigned them and it would come back to bite Kevane on the butt Big Time.
12 year old girls at the mall are going to want to try on clothes. If they didn't, they would not go to the mall in the first place. Therefore, any task assigned a 12 year old girl at the mall must be compatible with trying on clothes, or someone else is going to have to run interference (either prevent the trying on of the clothes and/or keep them on the other task and/or do the other task for the absent 12 year old girls). When I was a wee one babysitting, parents were very obsessed with the Not Having the Boyfriend Over. While this was often perceived as a buzzkill for young girls who want to make out with their male toys, I knew then (and am still convinced now) that the real reason for this obsession was because parents knew perfectly well that babysitters who had a choice between paying attention to their male toys and paying attention to the offspring too young to be left unattended weren't likely to be making the kids dinner and making sure they ate their veggies. In fact, they probably couldn't be relied upon to keep them away from matches, or murdering their siblings. As a for instance.
The next question, of course, is whether there were likely to be serious consequences when the girls predictably abandoned the 7, 6 and 3 year old to the Tender Mercies of the Cosmetics Counter Women. And the answer is, _YES_! DUH! Women working cosmetics represent a limited wedge of women in general, and that wedge isn't going to be particularly forgiving of other women who don't Toe the Line. (They are working _cosmetics_. Are we paying attention here?) What we learn from this is that Kevane is not socialized in a way that prepared her for working class harpies, but again, I did mention the Aspie-ness, right?
Once the cosmetics team turned her into security (a very expectable outcome), the next question is whether security could be expected to play this down, or escalate. In response to that, I have one phrase: Rent a Cop. Specifically, these are the guys who are generally not able to get a job as a Real Cop. Can we say, poor judgment at a minimum and leave it at that? Really, Kevane's only hope was that the local version of child protective services saved her butt, and I think they might have, except for that Aspie-ness. Which then left us with one remaining question: How Bored is the Prosecutor's Office? And the answer to that is, it's Montana. Pretty bored!
I don't think Kevane should have put 12 year olds in charge of anyone but themselves at the mall because I remember being 12 and I know what my compatriots were like. I don't really think anything particularly awful was going to happen to the kids (like, say, being forgotten in the back seat of a hot car -- they were in a climate controlled building) one way or the other. But I do _not_ like the reliance upon the cell phone that shows up in the story -- particularly since security prevented the kids from using the cell phone (clearly, they needed to be told to keep the cell phone's existence secret, in a pocket, and have a quick-dial panic button -- only slightly joking here). And retail environments are loaded with whack jobs. I've been lectured for leaving my bag a yard down the aisle of books from me when I was sitting on the floor at Borders reading. I've been lectured for leaving my stroller a yard down the aisle from me when I was browsing the clothes at Costco. As a teenager, I was interrogated at length as to why I was shopping for clothes during school hours -- on a teacher inservice day.
If there's been one lesson I've learned about the retail environment -- from shopping, from tagging along, from working -- it's that that's a place where The Appearance is all that matters. Reality is irrelevant.