Opinion: Will they pat down little Sally?
Over the river and through the body scanner to grandmother's house we go!
What a fun, new twist on traveling with the kids this holiday season. Parents get to choose between a scanner that will generate portraits of your kids looking like nude ghosts and, according to some reports, give off questionable levels of radiation, or they can take the little ones for a rubber-glove pat-down that will upend years of stranger-danger training.
After the Transportation Security Administration announced these more invasive pat-downs as an alternative and sometimes in addition to the body scanners, dozens of stories of groping and humiliation have surfaced online from adults.
Upon hearing these stories, parentworld, predictably, went bananas. On playgrounds, at play dates and across e-mail groups, parents railed against the TSA, wondering whether its personnel are pedophiles with badges.
The TSA backpedaled after that first wave of parental blowback, announcing that children who didn't go through the body scanners would undergo "modified" pat-downs. Officials provided limited detail -- for security reasons -- of just what that means.
Without those details, parents were left to imagine that kids will be fondled and groped. How do you tell your kids that it's now OK for people with a blue uniform and a badge to touch them in any kind of an intimate way?
"People should refuse to be molested. And NEVER permit your child to be molested," one poster railed on Flyertalk.
The folks at child abuse prevention organizations are fielding questions about what to do, and it's making people queasy.
"You need to have a conversation with your child based on what is going to happen," said Nancy McBride, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va. "Tell them they have to conduct this examination and they have to do it to be safe. This is just something that has to be done."
But the key here is to let the child know that this kind of search can happen "only in an airport, only by these people and only when I'm here with you," McBride said.
I'd already begun to worry about how these new searches would fly with my own children, who are such seasoned travelers that they remind me to pull out their Crocs when we are heading to the airport: "Those are easier at security, Mommy," they tell me.
So I spent some time at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to see how it's been going. I talked to dozens of parents right after Thanksgiving.
Not a single parent said that a child had been invasively searched, both at airports with the new scanners and without.
So far, there have been just two cases making the Internet rounds involving kids at TSA checkpoints. One is about the 3-year-old daughter of a Tennessee TV reporter tantrumming hard when a TSA agent runs her hands up the girl's legs and arms. This child was unhappy before she got to the checkpoint.
The search did not look invasive, but, like all searches of little people who just want to smuggle Laffy Taffy onboard, it appeared needless.
The other case was a video of a child with his shirt off being searched. The dad said he had taken his boy's sweatshirt off to make the search faster, probably exasperated by the theater of it all and ready to get moving. The kid didn't look unhappy. I know mine would be stoked to go shirtless and might even strip down to their Spider-Man underpants.
None of the child abuse groups I spoke with has received a single call about a child being touched in a sexually inappropriate way.
My guess is the TSA's refusal to give details about the kid searches is fueling a needless frenzy among parents.
"So tell me this: Can TSA agents touch a child's genital area? That's really what all the fear is about, right?" I asked Greg Soule, a spokesman for the agency.
"We can't go into specifics about the procedure," Soule said.
"I can say this. They will be less thorough in sensitive areas."
I think that is the kind of detail that parentworld is eager to hear. Now how to deal with the remaining six hours of the journey?